14th March 2023

How would you love it to be?

Reflections on Clore Pulse

Written by Sabra Khan, Executive Director of Sampad

A Monday morning in January…..a room in a beautiful old building surrounded by classic Warwickshire countryside, there’s 22 faces looking at each other slightly nervously, some staff around and I’m thinking we could almost be waiting for Claudia Winkleman….. Thankfully not (no offence, Claudia!) This isn’t the next series of The Traitors but the Clore Pulse course, week one!   

It starts with an invitation to make the most of the two weeks of this leadership course, to reflect honestly, to be open to other people and respectful of others opinions….in effect to be kind and nice.

So…two weeks away from home and my desk have been a gift for my professional development.  Never have I had that much time before to focus on my work – away from the day to day.  I took the opportunity, particularly in the first week to not dip into my emails and tie up as much as I could before I went.  It was January so that was helpful as it is a quieter time for us.  The course is in a rural location, with excellent food on offer and comfortable rooms – we were well looked after, with coffee on tap – a rare treat.

The focus of the course is leadership – a chance to reflect on leadership skills developed to date, to unlearn what might not be useful any more or indeed harmful, and focus on what skills and tools might be useful for now and going forward.  Indeed one of the most useful sessions was with the Director of Clore, Hilary Carty but there were many workshop and session leaders during the two weeks that offered enriching insights into ways of working.  I can’t offer you all the course in a short blog but here are the key things I am taking away from my two weeks….

  • Resistance – examining your resistance whether this be to a message, the way it is delivered, who it is delivered by, examine what response it causes in you.  After a long period in the industry, it sometimes feels like you’ve seen everything before.  For me this was an interesting way of approaching conversations and meetings – with new people and with those that I know well. If I feel a resistance I’m now wondering – what am I reacting to in this way? Can I or do I want to do something about this? Can I just let it sit for a while? Thank you Hilary!
  • Hold on to curiousity – what a great thing to be, to be curious, to ask questions, to explore….often with the pace of work and life, this can get knocked to the sidelines an almost unthinking ‘I just need to get this done’. For now, I will try to reflect on whether it needs to be done, could it be done differently, could someone else do it, why are we doing it?
  • Count Yourself In! We probably all get the imposter syndrome sometimes, I heard on BBC Radio 4’s terrific programme The Life Scientific, an eminent scientist talking about her imposter syndrome last week and Jim Al-Khalili the presenter said “if you get the imposter syndrome, there’s no hope for the rest of us!”.  Well Hilary Carty would say ‘Count Yourself In’ – for jobs, trusteeships, steering groups, projects – you cannot control external forces, what is happening around a role, a programme, an organisation that is not specific to you but you can count yourself in and see where it will take you.
  • Inclusion – come at it from a point of care.  We are constantly juggling priorities – this sometimes spills over into who are the most important groups to include, who do we include first? This helped me to think about it in a different way – it doesn’t resolve the budget/priority issue – but it can help frame it.  To care about what the experience is of the artists, group or the individual participants that you are working with/wanting to work with/who want to work with you. What can I do to make that experience a good one, rather than worrying about the groups that aren’t in the room and what that might look like.
  • Coaching Skills – having the opportunity to practice these throughout the two weeks was immensely useful.  I don’t want to be a coach but I lead and manage a team – I could see that good coaching skills are a really useful way of connecting to and empowering people in your team. My team are immensely able to action and resolve issues themselves but may just need the coaching conversation that gives them the confidence or a different way of looking at things…..a top tip, hold back from the advice and ask  ‘How would you love it to be?’ and take it from there.
  • Inclusive Leadership – there was so much to ponder from this session including some new and some refreshed learning for me on the spoon theory, The 6 Traits of Inclusive Leadership and TL Lewis definition of ‘ableism’
  • A session by the immensely inspirational Jo Verrent. Her story of the new NPO, Unlimited, it’s journey via the Arts Council and how she has been and is setting it up to be the organisation she wants to lead, that people will want to work for and that will make a difference provide as a lot of food for thought.  Check out the blogs here. I’ve taken much away from Jo’s session to implement at Sampad – an organisation that has been going for over 30 years. For example how to encourage staff to ‘own’ policies rather than it being a dry review that I do at my desk and discuss at a Board meeting every year; a different kind of Away Day; a budget for freelance support to buy in resource when there is a lot going on, that any of the team can ask to use and ‘No one ever made a really good decision when they were knackered’ sleep on it!
  • Have more honest conversations – Sarah Cartwright led this session which was surprisingly funny and fun! She ran through the basics of psychological safety so that honest conversations can take place, why it was important to have honest conversations (yes let’s not waste important resources beating about the bush!) and the importance of being able to say no. Practice, practice, practice AND importantly give honest praise too.
  • A peer session from Alix Harris of Beyond Face on Theory of Change enabled me to see how I could start a piece of work around this within my organisation – a bit like ‘page to stage’!

I cannot not mention the brilliant facilitators, Amanda, Richard and Dan who were so considerate, knowledgeable and able to keep us to time! There were other great sessions too and inspirational speakers – a Leadersmithing session based on Eve Poole’s book, Immy Kaur from Civic Square talking about her leadership journey and David Price, consultant and author of The Power of Us talking about the power of communities, individuals to effect change. 

Reflecting on this course, I see that leadership is a continuous journey – something I have to make time to reflect and work on.  I learnt so much from the peer group attending this course,  we were a group of 24 and there is such a wealth of knowledge and experience amongst us. I have always used the power of networks throughout my career, recognising this. This new group of peers is a spread across the country, bringing different perspectives and gives an opportunity for honest dialogue that perhaps sometimes we shy away from in networks closer to home.  I am so grateful that I can tap into this new group now and hopefully into the future. As someone said at the end of week one course “I didn’t think I had time or space for 23 new friends…but I realise now that I absolutely have.”