Throughout June, we caught up with some of our alumni who are part of the LGBTQI+ community, and who actively work and campaign in this field. We want use our platform to celebrate their leadership stories, as well as the impact that they’ve had both at work and in society.

Alan Eagleson is the Scotland Hub Manager at Terrence Higgins Trust and is responsible for the delivery and leadership of the charity's first sexual health and wellbeing Hub. He is a graduate of the 2018 American Express Leadership Academy in London. Here, Alan shares his own leadership story, as well as how he has continued innovate as a not-for-profit leader through the COVID-19 crisis.

Work keeps me busy overseeing the day-to-day running of a range of HIV and sexual health services, both as part of Terrence Higgins Trust’s Glasgow centre and across various contractual and grant funded initiatives in Scotland and the North of England. Within my role, I also work to develop collaborative offerings with service partners and statutory providers and to represent the charity through a range of policy and steering networks.

Outside of work, my partner and I are keen explorers, photographers and videographers. I love nothing more than spending my weekends, camera in hand and faithful greyhound in tow, taking in and documenting some of Scotland’s less discovered sights. I’m passionately political and driven to champion causes close to my heart, such as LGBTQI+ rights and inequalities in physical and mental health. I’m lucky that my job role aligns very closely with many of my passions. In its outward looking nature, it also connects directly with my purpose to influence change and ‘lead beyond authority’.

Crossing boundaries and growing as a leader

Thinking back, even as far as childhood, there are situations where I have always naturally assumed a leadership role. In my working life, I have been employed in leadership roles for more than twenty years. That said, even to this day, I sometimes struggle to see myself as a ‘leader’. During my time at the American Express Leadership Academy, we talked a lot about ‘Impostor Syndrome’ and it is something I think most leaders struggle with from time-to-time. My confidence as a leader has built over the years; each time I try something that scares me and it works out well, I grow a bit more. I can’t advocate highly enough the benefit of leadership programmes such as the AmEx Academy where you have the privilege of meeting so many people whose different leadership styles you can aspire to.

During the American Express Leadership Academy, I began to recognize that it’s perfectly normal to struggle with confidence and learnt new techniques for managing leadership anxieties. Hearing directly from senior leaders about their successes, concerns and personal journeys, and learning some of their tried-and-tested methods helped me to develop my own leadership skills. 

"There is always greater power in what we humans can achieve together and the greatest accomplishments I have enjoyed as a leader have been the shared successes and efforts of many.”

Learning to confront my fears

Like most leaders, at times I can limit myself due to lack of self-belief. For me, I think this is related to being naturally introverted. I also believe there is something about growing up as part of a stigmatized minority and the lasting effect that seems to have. I always feel a great sense of achievement when I confront my fears head on and find success. A good example of this would be securing the job role I have now; I joined Terrence Higgins Trust as a volunteer four and a half years ago, after a difficult period in life, and I did not expect at that point that it would lead my career in this exciting direction.

I have found that when it comes to crossing leadership boundaries, it is important to be humble, to listen to your instincts and to trust the instincts of people who believe in you. For me, there is always greater power in what we humans can achieve together and the greatest accomplishments I have enjoyed as a leader have been the shared successes and efforts of many.

Inclusive leadership in the LGBTQI+ community

It’s always important to lead by example, but perhaps even more so in the LGBTQI+ community. A curious feature of marginalized groups seems to be the tendency to stigmatize minorities within their minority. I think it’s incumbent on leaders in these situations to be visible in behaviours they passionately believe are respectful and inclusive. I am lucky that I have a platform to do this within networks associated with my job, such as Pride organizations across Scotland, Glasgow’s LGBTI+ Third Sector Network and Police Scotland’s LGBT+ Reference Group.

I don’t currently have a great deal of capacity for this work outside of my job role but in recent times I have been championing the ‘No LGB without the T’ messaging in solidarity with Trans comrades. I believe that they are currently experiencing some of the worst discrimination, abuse and associated poorer health outcomes of any marginalized community, and it is vital to influence as broad support for equal human rights as possible.

Innovating during COVID times

COVID has been a real challenge for everybody. As not-for-profit leaders, we’re some of the best placed to innovate in the face of crisis because it’s a big part of what we do anyway. Personally, I’ve had to adapt quickly to supporting my teams through rapid changes, adjustment to alien ways of working, and the particular anxieties experienced by those who are unable to do any of their regular work and therefore have been placed on furlough.

Financially there are concerns not just on the immediate impact but also the longer term implications for the funding and income generation of third-sector organizations. However, there have also been opportunities; we were very quickly able to devise an emergency suite of support services to assist our core client groups during the COVID-19 situation, and successfully secured finances to enable their delivery. This ‘back to basics’ support work has seen the team taking medication and other essentials, such as food and hygiene supplies, to the doorsteps of vulnerable people in isolation whilst enhancing remotely delivered emotional support and access to economic hardship aid.

In some ways, being forced apart has brought people closer together; it has made us look at how we communicate with each other and how we take a ‘bigger picture’ view of our daily work. For example, we have opened a whole new chapter of conversation around digital innovation of service delivery. Additionally, new partnerships and collaborative working efforts have been established – partly through necessity but also with a conscious view to using this time wisely and focusing on developing long term plans that there never seemed to be quite enough time for before.