Case Studies

3 immutable leadership lessons we sometimes forget

A couple of weeks ago, I had the privilege of being a participant on the American Express Leadership Academy for leaders in the not-for-profit sector. The Academy is delivered in the UK by Common Purpose.

For someone who is more used to running Common Purpose programmes than participating in them, it did take me a couple of hours to 'go native', but once I did, the four days I spent with an incredibly committed and talented group of peers were some of the most rewarding of the last few years.

It's difficult to fully summarize the takeaways from an experience like this—at least it will be for some time. Even so, here are some of the things I am reflecting on…

Leaders need to invest in themselves – it’s so easy to be 'too busy' to step back from the day-to-day operations of an organization. Leaders need time to see the bigger picture, consider future trends and understand the wider context. It's also important to consider your impact as a leader, and the opportunity to do this in a safe, yet challenging environment with peers from outside my organization was invaluable. I have to remind myself that I’m not indispensable. In fact, my team coped just fine without me, and the time I spent away from the office will hopefully benefit everyone in the long term.

Seek out different perspectives – It's all too easy for us to surround ourselves with people who think like us. After the initial mutual suspicion, the group soon became comfortable with sharing different opinions. We all wanted to learn similar lessons but came from different worlds. By exploring these different worlds and how people approach challenges in different ways, meant that we learned so much more. I gained valuable insights into what makes people tick and how they make a difference.

Actively seek feedback – Feedback throughout the programme and also via the 360 assessment (completed before the programme with both internal and external input) was invaluable. Of course I spent much more time focusing on the negative comments as opposed to the positive, but unpicking the feedback was illuminating and provided a strong basis to think about my impact as a leader and how I need to develop. I know I don't do this enough outside formal appraisal processes and really saw the value of what you can learn when you do it well.

Although, the programme doesn't formally finish until March 2017, we have committed as a group to stay in touch online. We have invested in one another and our challenges during the four days and I, for one, want to see how people progress and where I can add value to their continued development. I also want them to remain part of my life and be a group of supportive, critical friends I can bounce ideas off. I know they will give me honest feedback and multitude of different perspectives on challenges I face, and for leaders, that is empowering.


Claire Bennett,
Operations Director at Common Purpose