The UK American Express Leadership Academy is a Common Purpose Programme in partnership with the American Express Foundation for not-for-profit leaders. It was held in London in October 2018 and supported new leaders for tomorrow by providing them with a fresh perspective. Fran Martin, Head of Fundraising & Marketing at DENS, shared her experience as a participant on the programme. 

The American Express Leadership Academy was probably the most valuable learning experience I’ve ever had, and it was nothing short of excellent. I was in a managerial role, looking to progress my career to a more senior level so I applied to the Academy to develop my leadership skills, as well as my confidence.

The four-day intensive programme was packed with a comprehensive and varied curriculum. The facilitators were exceptional, as were the inspirational business leaders and advisors from a range of sectors who gave up their time to speak with us. It was also helpful to meet previous Academy alumni who gave us insight into what to expect and how to make the most of the week.

One of the biggest learning insights from the Academy, that lightbulb moment for me, was the importance and need to ‘review and reflect’; I naturally tend to focus my efforts on moving forward. I experienced ‘walk and talk’ – an outdoor, on-the-go, positive, reflective chat with my peers. The more time I spent reflecting, the more natural the process became, and by the end of the week I’d totally bought into to the fact that reflection is a key part of learning and developing. I now ensure that I build in time to reflect each day.

I found the individual coaching session powerful. My coach helped to identify my weak spots and equipped me with the tools to achieve one of my goals, which was to build on my lack of confidence – particularly as I was heading into a new Senior Executive role as Head of Fundraising & Communications at DENS, a medium-size homeless charity in Hertfordshire. I was able to bring some of these techniques with me on my first day and was amazed at my level of confidence and how comfortable I was being ‘me’.

Additionally, I was fortunate to share this incredible learning environment with a diverse group of talented emerging leaders, where we shared our knowledge and experience, as well as our vulnerability. The networking opportunity was a key area of development for me. The inclusive environment of the Academy made it easy to engage and I made a concerted effort to build lasting relationships with everyone in the room. Our cohort are now firm friends, connected via social media, and we regularly support each other with leadership issues, inspiring stories, and encouraging and motivating conversations.

As a result of the Academy learning, I now have the tools to lead with confidence and feel comfortable in difficult situations, when crossing boundaries or taking risks. The Academy has taught me to see the bigger picture and that there are no limits; I have the capacity and experience to develop myself even further. It is only my self-belief which holds me back – which is something I’m working really hard on.
I would recommend that every emerging leader in the not-for-profit sector should apply for this incredible life-learning and memorable opportunity.

Thank you, American Express and Common Purpose.