Laura Ward, Head of Development Operations and Regulation at the British Museum, attended the UK American Express Leadership Academy in London in October 2018. Through attending the programme, which is run by Common Purpose and tailored to not-for-profit leaders, she learned how to say ‘yes’ to new opportunities whilst remaining true to her most authentic self. 

For me, the biggest learning insight from the American Express Leadership Academy was just how empowered and confident I felt after attending the programme. I now truly understand what is meant by leading beyond authority.

I was grateful to be working in such a diverse group and was surprised by how much I had in common with people from incredibly different parts of the non-profit sector. I learned a lot from my fellow attendees, and I found that I listened more intently to their experiences because I found them so fascinating. The group felt respectful and inclusive.

I have always approached my work and my leadership in an inclusive way; cross-culture and inclusivity benefits us all, particularly in my area of work which is heritage and culture. However, there are some aspects of my community work which have been inspired by the American Express programme.

I was inspired the most by the people who really stayed true to who they are and I have now found the confidence to be the most authentic version of myself. While their styles varied, for the most part I was inspired by their approaches and journeys. The direct result I applied was to promote more of my ‘personal brand’. Participants and speakers encouraged me to not hide bits of myself – the full version of someone is usually more interesting and engaging.

I have applied knowledge learned from the Academy on leading beyond authority and demonstrating successful leadership skills by accepting projects that I may have otherwise turned down; two of which are incredibly exciting. I am now a special advisor to a project outside of my day-to-day work and I am a temporary delegated authority due to my boss having moved on.

Numerous challenges have come my way since attending the programme, but I’ve had the confidence to manage them and succeed. From being a temporary delegated authority, to a finalist in a photography awards (which I entered soon after the course), to successfully running two Skype advisory clinics with photographers needing advice. Previously, the latter would have filled me with trepidation, however the programme has really helped me to plan effectively.