Robert Thorburn, Clore Fellow:
From what I believe these days is termed a ‘portfolio career’, my work has taken me across a broad range of organisations and geographies that have seen me lead, and be led, in a range of situations. Throughout this time, one of the enduring idioms I’ve found myself considering more than any other, is “When the only tool you have is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail”. Since hearing that, it has resurged to the forefront of my mind numerous times as I’ve observed many hammer wielders smash their way through situations that certainly weren’t nails. The shock that things hadn’t worked out as expected was fascinating to behold and I, of course, was also guilty of leaning on my favoured way of operating. I can list more than one occasion where I’ve reached the end of a project and fiercely tried to reconcile with myself the reason something I’d led hadn’t turned out as expected.
When I learnt about the Cobseo Emerging Leader Programme I saw a genuine opportunity for me to learn more about how I liked to work and, crucially, how others liked to work. Ultimately, I craved access to that critical insight and experience from renowned experts who’d honed the craft of leadership and so could help me become a better leader.
I hadn’t appreciated at the time of submitting my application, just how much more I would get from this programme/experience/journey. It certainly met these expectations but also introduced me to a network of inspiring and experienced peers, a space to experiment with new techniques and the time, not just to hear the information presented, but to listen properly and consider it thoroughly.
From online learning, several residential packages, coaching sessions, group tasks and challenges, a full spectrum of quality opportunities were presented to me and my fellow students. These were all led and delivered by a range of expert speakers and facilitators with no question left unanswered, or any discussion that didn’t reveal something of use. There’s so much to write it’s overwhelming just to think of it all, so I will have to revert to the clichéd You’ll have to see for yourself. It is a busy and packed programme and you have to work hard; but what you get at the other end is completely worth it.
Having finished the course I will claim several things: I was somewhat surprised that I wasn’t told to put away my old hammer, in fact I am now able to swing it harder and faster for use in those situations where I really am faced with a nail. The focus of this programme isn’t just on learning new methods but recognising and building on your existing skills and style. However, I also now know that this isn’t my only option, my only capability or my only approach. I now have a box of tools I can confidently reach for when I’m faced with different, complex or new leadership tasks or challenges involving people who operate differently to me.
Throughout the course, I really felt struck by the difficulties of leadership. The cacophony of voices online and in print, the distractions, the lack of role models, the mistrust and a seeming deficit of what can be considered ‘good leadership’. When was the last time you read a piece of independent writing that positively represented a leader? Or heard someone talk about a leader they admired? And for any positive pieces, how many negatives have there been?
If you’ve read this much of the blog I hope you’re considering this course, and if you’re asking yourself whether it’s right for you, then believe me, it is. We’ll all lead at some point in our lives whether professionally, socially, domestically or otherwise, and the variety and intensity of challenges of leading when operating in the climate mentioned above makes a programme such as this not only useful, but necessary. An holistic leadership journey travelled with the support of experts and peers will give you and your organisation the best possible preparation you can undergo in order to confidently lead and succeed in your life.
This course is for you. It is challenging, and will require a frank conversation with your employer. But I’m confident you can ask anyone from the course and they’ll say that it’s 100% worth doing. I certainly would.
Rob Thorburn is the Grants Officer at Forces in Mind Trust, a member of the Army Reserves, and the Trust’s leading fly fisherman.