Case Studies

The American Express Leadership Academy; Incredible, overwhelming and insightful

Incredible, overwhelming, insightful… the list of words I use to try to describe the American Express Leadership Academy goes on and on.

There is something quite inexplicable about the whole thing; it’s both a deeply personal yet profoundly shared experience.

I had recently transitioned from the role of manager to leader of a team and was searching for greater confidence and understanding of what it meant to be a leader. I really wanted to fully empower my team to become more creative, curious and entrepreneurial. As well as discovering and cultivating my own voice and style of leadership.

Having the space to properly reflect is absolutely incredible; I don’t think I have ever spent so much time thinking about me! It felt pretty uncomfortable to begin with, because we constantly build these barriers so we don’t show weakness at work. We compartmentalize and try and have all the answers all the time. But with each day, you peel back another layer, revealing something else about yourself, about the group and the charity sector.

One of the most profound things for me was the people. Everyone’s commitment to the course and working together made the experience much more powerful and insightful. The guest speakers were incredible: candidly sharing their experiences, golden nuggets of knowledge and their unique approaches to leadership. The level of detail and orchestration from the Common Purpose team was seamless; every minute was planned and structured which meant we had dedicated space to think, reflect and develop. Everyone involved was truly inspirational, and to see such dedicated, intelligent and diverse people working across the sector was phenomenal and, on quite a basic level, reassuring.

Something very tangible that came out of the course for me was that I now embrace my dyslexia. Having been diagnosed at a really young age I had encountered my fair share of hostility and scepticism. I had never told my team and I developed all manner of ingenious coping mechanisms. Through a combination of 360 feedback and lots of group work, I quickly realized it wasn’t holding me back at all; in fact, it was completely tied into my strengths. So on day one back at work I underwent something of a ‘coming out’ process. By leading first and exposing my own vulnerability I learnt more about my team and it created a real shift in the dynamics.

What has really stayed with me since the Academy is authenticity. Understanding your own core beliefs is hugely liberating and provides you with real clarity both personally and professionally (the two are inextricably linked), allowing you to see beyond just your role and enabling you to truly lead effectively.


Ali Forbes,
National Theatre