Leadership Blog: Walking the Talk

ACOSVO Chief Executive, Pat Armstrong, reflects on her time at the CSC Leaders Programme and shares her responsibility of 'walking the talk'.


"I have had the most incredible opportunity this year – and I’m only half way through!”


I was nominated to apply for the CSC leaders programme. It's a programme that bring leaders together from across the 53 countries of the commonwealth and is part of Common Purpose. The focus is on CQ – or cultural intelligence, and is built around Julia Middleton’s work around core and flex. We all know about IQ, and have been learning for some time now about EQ (emotional intelligence), but this programme focusses on CQ, how intelligent are we across cultures, sectors, beliefs and perspectives. The idea is that we have a “core” that is everything that makes us who we are, what defines you – and flex, that is the bit we can be flexible around and are open to be challenged about.  You need to get the balance of holding onto your core beliefs to still be you and not feel you are compromising your integrity, while being flexible and open enough to learn from others, have your views shifted, and be open to change and different perspectives.


As I head up a leadership organisation, I feel I have a responsibility to "walk the talk" and keep my own leadership thinking up to speed and this seemed like the ideal opportunity to push my boundaries and encourage new thinking – while the underpinning approach of the programme, the concept of peer support and learning from other leaders is very much how we work at ACOSVO.


Although I know the importance of practicing what I preach, it was still difficult to justify to myself the time commitment and the cost of the programme.  But with thanks to a partial bursary, support from the Scottish Government, ACOSVO and RBS, funding was secured and I was on my way.  The learning happens over one week in London and one in Kuala Lumpar.


So what did I find? Wow! An amazing group of people, with as diverse backgrounds and thinking as there could possibly be.  We were encouraged throughout our time to face our prejudices (referred to as knots in our core), to consider the boundaries of our core and flex, to meet people who think differently and to challenge our own understanding and thinking.


After splitting into study tours to Manchester or London to consider what makes cities resilient (my group was working on safety and security in London), we visited organisations tackling gang violence, New Scotland Yard, London First, and corporates working in digital technology and future thinking.  Following this, we had to come up with a solution that would help address the collective issues we found.  Our main finding was that thinking is not always joined up across the city and that different sectors and departments were not always understanding each other, using the same language, or working to the same goals or objectives.


Then we “pitched” our ideas for potential solutions. I put forward the Leadership Exchange idea based on an ACOSVO service for leaders to come together across disciplines and sectors to learn from each other – and thus have more potential to collaborate. It was the most popular idea which seemed great at the time but brought its own challenges – can you image 16 leaders all trying to get their voices heard and their ideas taken forward – a challenge indeed.


I met some amazing people from all different industries, sectors, countries, and backgrounds. I can’t think of any other programme that would give me the opportunity to connect and learn so widely. I'm sure some of the connections will endure after the programme and it was also good to also meet some of the alumni who continue to connect with the programme.


I was challenged in many ways – by not being too intimidated to put an idea forward when it would have been very easy to stay quiet, leading a group of leaders all used to calling the shots for a pitch, staying open and listening to those with very different, sometimes opposing, perspectives to me. We managed to complete our challenge and make a good pitch to the judges. We didn’t win, but we were up there with the best and it was an amazingly useful learning experience.


So what have I learned from stage one? On the one hand, there is nothing new in the leadership game, but on the other, there most certainly is. Learning from each other, challenging our thinking and building relationships for peer support are all key ingredients for a leadership programme.  Throw in new thinking, inputs, technology, and a diverse mix of cultures and sectors – and you get a whole new outlook (and mind slightly blown). It was incredibly full on and intense. Very long days, not much sleep, and so many faces and ideas to remember – but I wouldn’t change a thing (except maybe to take a week off at the end!).


As for the next stage? I’m ready to jump back in there, meet up again with those who already feel like old friends and have my core healthily shaken for a second time. There’s lots still to learn – but be sure I’m going to fit in a holiday at the end for some reflective time.


Watch this space!