My authentic leadership journey

A little over a year ago, as part of my Clore Leadership Short Course, I had the luxury of spending a little over 24 hours reflecting on myself, my strengths, and how to lead authentically. It was tough but transformational. We’d been set some homework to complete in our rooms the night before the workshop, and I suddenly regressed back to a 15 year old version of myself panicking about making it as perfect as I could. After about 4hrs of thinking, planning, and drawing, I came up with my lifeline.

My lifeline

My lifeline

The next day I shared this with two of my group, who were incredibly generous with their time and listened to my story, asking interesting questions to encourage me to reflect more on the common themes which bring together the things I’m good at, things I’m interested in, achievements I’m proud of and people who have been influential during my life. This was a brilliant exercise for me and really helped me identify some common strands to what drives me. After some more reflection thanks to group exercises on our motivators, I managed to bring it all together to identify my three core guiding principles which I then presented back to my group. I’ve continued to develop in various ways since the day I spent thinking about these, but my values remain the same – and I imagine they will do, as they’re core to who I am. They have been present through all areas of my life since childhood.

My guiding principles

So what are my authentic values?

1. Understanding how things, and people, work

I’ve always been incredibly inquisitive (to the point of frustration for some people!). I love learning how things work; Chemistry and Physics were two of my favourite subjects at school, though I loved most subjects as I just love learning. This has continued into adulthood; personal and professional development is something I’ve always been very engaged with.

2. Sharing my learning with others

I’ve wanted to share my learning with others from a very young age – in reception I apparently used to help other children read (I learnt to read quite early thanks to my parents). I’m fortunate that I’ve always enjoyed Maths, but appreciate many people don’t, so have often helped my friends understand some of the Maths and particularly Statistics needed in courses (I did this a lot during my undergraduate Sports Science degree). One of my favourite parts of the jobs I’ve had in libraries has always been teaching, and of course I have always enjoyed blogging (I currently have four blogs).

3. Showing appreciation for the wonderful people I come into contact with

Appreciation comes in many different parts of my life, and although I’m not great at showing this verbally (but am getting better, again thanks to Clore), I like to do small things to show my appreciation. I enjoy making things for people to thank them; this is one of my favourite things to do in terms of crafts. I also love getting gifts and surprises for people and spend a long time planning these.

Your guiding principles

Of course, the fact that one of my guiding principles is to share my learning means it makes sense for me to share this learning about my authentic values to help others learn more about their own guiding principles. I’ve discussed it with some people in person, and have included some aspects in workshops, but thought it would also be useful to share my experience in a blog post. I’d love to encourage others to do a similar reflective exercise as it was so useful for me.

I was delighted to be contacted by the Leadership and Management Division of SLA who were keen for me to run a workshop for them at the SLA Conference this year. The proposal I put forward was successful so I’ll be delivering the following workshop in Philadelphia in June:

Leading with Authenticity: Understanding Your Strengths and Utilizing Them (Sat 11th June, 1-5pm, Philadelphia)

I’m really looking forward to the session, and hope it will start a similar process for attendees as my experience at Clore did for me. If you’re coming to SLA this year and are interested in authenticity I’d love to see you there.

I’ll also be talking about my own leadership journey, my guiding principles, and my experience coordinating the CILIP Leadership Programme in the following session:

Reflections on Leadership: LMD Afternoon Tea with Jo Alcock (Tue 14th June, 2-3.30pm, Philadelphia)

If you’re not coming to SLA Conference but would like to learn more about authenticity, please get in touch as I really do love to share my learning 🙂


Bill George – Discover Your True North (and the accompanying Fieldbook which has reflective exercises similar to the ones I did at Clore)

Just over a year ago I completed my Clore Leadership Short Course; a 2 week residential leadership development course. I wrote a blog post summarizing some of my main learning points but said that I thought I’d probably be reflecting on my experience for along time to come. So have I? ABSOLUTELY!

I commented at the time that I came out of Clore a different person to who I was when I started. In a way this was true, but I think I’ll always be evolving – those two weeks just had a dramatic impact so I felt totally different. However since then I have continued to develop, and as I wrote in a recent tweet:

I feel like Clore was a catalyst to beginning a different kind of learning journey. It’s one that crosses all areas of my life; professional and personal. It’s one that challenges me to reflect on a very regular basis to try to understand more about myself – my needs, my motivators, my strengths, my preferences, and my desires. I’m learning all the time, and I love it.

The week after my Clore course, my partner and I put our house on the market. Due to some unfortunate circumstances (poor estate agent choice and the fact the house was a leasehold property) it took longer than we’d hoped to sell. I found the whole process incredibly stressful, and learnt a lot about myself and the way I cope with things. Mixed in with that we had mental health issues, financial worries, counselling, and psychotherapy. I didn’t find any of it easy, but I learnt so much about myself and my partner. During this period I was holding onto the hope that moving would help with some of these problems. We moved in December, and fortunately it has helped enormously so far. It’s thrown up new things though, most challenging of which is managing a more active social life and understanding how that impacts other areas of life (and how an increase in socialising affects me and my energy levels – I’ve had some form of socialising every day for the last 11 days and I’m exhausted!).

Throughout all the challenges over the last year, I’ve been using many of the skills and techniques I learnt and practiced at Clore including coaching, effective listening, solving problems creatively, giving feedback, and receiving feedback. I’ve always been reflective by my nature (hence blogging as part of my process) but this last year I’ve allowed myself time and space to reflect more regularly, and it’s been incredibly useful.

One of the big themes from Clore for me was authenticity. I absolutely loved the session we had on authentic leadership – I had a number of lightbulb moments that day, and what I reflected on and shared with my group has stuck with me and still guides me in terms of the way I do things now. It’s something I find incredibly useful to remind myself of on a regular basis, as it helps me stay true to myself and harnesses my strengths. I was delighted to be able to put this into practice in a recent training course on public speaking, and plan to blog about this soon.

I’m a big advocate of authentic leadership, and have encouraged the Library Leadership Reading Group I co-ordinate to include readings on this. I’ve also facilitated a leadership workshop which incorporated elements of reflection on authentic leadership, and am building on this to deliver a full workshop on this topic for SLA Conference in Philadelphia later this year. Please do consider signing up if you’re coming to the SLA Conference – more information is available in the programme.

Clore also introduced me to a group of amazing people. We bonded whilst we were on the course, and got to know each other very well over the two weeks. We helped each other through the more difficult parts of the course, and celebrated with each other in the good times. Since then, we’ve continued to support each other. I feel very fortunate to have met each and every one of my group as they have all taught me something and been a great sense of support. Some in particular have had a huge impact on my life and I’m sure will continue to do so for many years to come. Last October I went to Blackpool to our first reunion, and we have other reunions planned. I love spending time with them – they’re all excellent listeners and ask such effective questions that always get me thinking.

With some of my Clore group in Blackpool

With some of my Clore group in Blackpool

Fortunately, I also get the opportunity to have a ‘Clore top up’ every few months as my group organised Action Learning Set training after our course, and have now established a number of regional Action Learning Sets (which are open to anyone who has completed a Clore Short Course, Clore Emerging Leaders Course, or Clore Fellowship). Mine met for the first time a few weeks ago and have our next one scheduled. These work really well, particularly because we’ve all had similar training and practice in coaching.

So, yes, what I learnt at Clore has had a huge impact on my life and will be with me for many years to come. As I use the techniques and approaches I learnt there more, they become a more integral part of my life, but they’re things I can always improve on and intend to continue to practice where I can.

In case you can’t tell by the gushing, I can’t recommend the Clore Leadership Short Course highly enough. If you work in the cultural sector and are interested in learning more about yourself and your leadership (in all areas of your life) I would encourage you to apply. More information is available on the Clore Leadership Programme website so keep an eye out on there for future opportunities.

Back in February I attended one of the Clore Leadership Short Courses, a two week intensive residential course for people in the cultural sectors to reflect on, and develop, their leadership skills. For anyone who has discussed it with me since, I apologise – I feel a bit like I’ve been indoctrinated into a cult and have been extolling its virtues and encouraging everyone to experience it for themselves. It really was incredible though. I’ve been interested in leadership for a long time, and have learnt a lot through reading, attending courses and events, and reflecting on my own behaviour. Often this is in small snippets though, and the Clore Leadership Short Course enabled me to really focus on leadership learning for two weeks. It was really intensive but so worthwhile. I wanted to blog some of the things that have stuck with me and that I’ve been continuing to reflect on since the course.

Authentic leadership

Authentic leadership is something I first learnt about at the CILIP in Wales Conference in 2012, and was a common theme through many of the presentations there. I’ve since included some reading on authentic leadership for the Library Leadership Reading Group, and have enjoyed learning more about how we can all lead in a more authentic way, building on our strengths and staying true to ourselves. This was a key theme throughout much of the Clore course, but in particular we had a one day workshop to help us reflect on our own authentic leadership. The evening before we were set homework of recording a timeline of our life including any things we’ve been good at, things we’ve been interested in, proud achievements, and inspirational people. It took me right back to my school days and of course I spent far too long thinking and planning before committing anything to paper. I found the process really useful though; I’m a reflector by nature so spend quite a lot of time thinking back on things, but usually within my adult life. This took me right back from my young childhood and helped me identify some of the key themes of my life.

My lifeline

My lifeline


During the workshop we discussed our timelines with our peers, and then in the afternoon we had a short activity on our drivers to help us think about what really motivates us in life. We were then given the opportunity to reflect on these individually, and prepare a 5 minute talk to a small group of our peers to talk about what being an authentic leader meant to us. I found the whole process so incredibly useful – a lot of it was common sense but having the time and space to think about this in a focused way really helped me consolidate my thinking and has given me a much clearer idea of who I am and how I want to lead.

Importance of story telling

As part of the Clore programme, we had a number of guest speakers throughout the fortnight. Some of these are people who have done the Clore Short Course in the past, or Clore Fellows, whilst some are involved in supporting the Clore programme. They all had really interesting backgrounds and were from various different parts of the cultural sector (dance, museums, Arts Council…). They each approached their talks differently, but the one thing constant throughout was the focus on telling us their story. Some did this in chronological order, some shared key themes that have always been present throughout their lives, some shared photos, some shared challenges, some shared achievements, some intertwined their leadership lessons within their story. Many of them shared elements of their personal life as well as their professional life. All were compelling stories that told you about the person as well as their experiences. I made notes for some of the talks, for others I just listened. I took something from every single one and it really made me appreciate the importance of good storytelling to help you get your message across. This was also reiterated in some of the course workshops, but it was the examples of the guest speakers which really emphasised that for me. I’ve noticed storytelling being mentioned quite a lot recently, it’s come up in a number of our LLRG conversations as it’s mentioned in a number of key leadership texts, and it was also the focus of a recent Slideshare blog post on The Secret To Activating Your Audience’s Brain.

Quiet leadership

A number of the guest speakers at Clore spoke about quiet leadership, and this is something that interests me. I often seem to gravitate to leadership positions (gymnastics club captain for my University, chair of committees, etc.) but I don’t lead in a traditional dictatorial way. I prefer to lead by being an active member of the team and understanding more about them and their motivations, and then for me to help facilitate that. When someone on the team (or the team as a whole) performs well, it’s really important for me that they get the recognition rather than myself as the leader. Some refer to this style of leadership as quiet leadership, and it was really good to hear some real life examples of that. I’ve also recently read Quiet by Susan Cain and will be discussing this as part of the Library Leadership Reading Group tonight (8.30pm UK time on Tuesday 5th May, feel free to join us using the #llrg tag) – this is focused on introversion in general but does include elements of quiet leadership. I’d like to learn more about this style of leadership in future.

Value of coaching

One of the workshops we had at Clore was on coaching, which reinforced a lot of what I learnt on my ILM Coaching course. One of the main things for me is the shift in power to enable the person being coached to consider their options, and make their own decisions. I really struggled with coaching at first because I always want to try to help by offering solutions. This is the total opposite of to what you should be doing when coaching as the solutions come from the person being coached. However, I’m also incredibly curious and constantly question things, and this (used appropriately) can be really helpful when coaching. Most days at Clore we had an opportunity to go for a ‘walk and talk’ which often involved an element of peer coaching. I really enjoyed these sessions, and particularly enjoyed acting as the coach. I did also have a coaching session from one of the course leaders which was useful, but I most enjoyed being able to coach others in the group. I try to do this in my mentoring for CILIP Professional Registration, and hope to continue to develop my coaching skills further.

Reflective practice

The whole of the residential course was an opportunity for reflective learning and it was so valuable. Having the time and space to allow yourself to focus on your own development for more than an hour or so was so rare, and so special. It was difficult to switch off from other worries initially, but after a short time I was able to do so and really benefited from it. Within the workshops, we were encouraged to think about our own experiences and consider how what we were discussing could apply to our practice. We were also encouraged to try some of the new things out, and having a safe environment to do that in was very beneficial. Because of the type of environment we were in, we were also highly aware of each other’s learning and were able to provide feedback and support each other during our learning. We were encouraged to continue to do this afterwards too, and some of us are now forming action learning sets to help us with that. Even for those people who don’t have the support group like we have, we were encouraged to do this individually too. Many of the guest speakers commented on the fact that there is no end point and no ‘perfect leader’ and that we are all continually learning, and should be encouraged to do so. This is definitely something I can relate to as I think I’ll always be a work in progress, but it was good to know that’s OK, as long as you take time to reflect (individually or with your peers) and to apply your learning.

On that note, I think I’ll be processing what I learnt at Clore for a long time to come, but I wanted to share some of my initial reflections. I would highly recommend the Clore Leadership Short Course for anyone working on the cultural sector interested in developing their leadership skills.

NOTE: This blog post was drafted over a year ago but wasn’t published. I’m currently reviewing my working preferences to help my colleagues and I understand each other better and thought I’d take the opportunity to share one of the tools we’ll be looking at and show how mine has changed since I started my current job (I don’t think my scores on Belbin’s team roles will have changed much over the last year). 

On the first day of my current job, I completed a Belbin team roles survey. It was a really useful tool and something which taught both myself and my manager about the way I worked. I blogged about my results – I came out as an implementer, gatherer and completer finisher. This seemed to fit well with my preferences in a team situation, and pleased my manager as he’s not by nature a completer finisher and we’re only a small team so it’s useful to have someone happy to take on that role.

Fast forward about 3.5 years, and I find myself doing the Belbin team roles survey again, this time as part of an internal ILM (Institute of Leadership and Management) course. So have my results changed?

My Belbin team role preferences - Aug 2010 and Mar 2014

My Belbin team role preferences – Aug 2010 and Mar 2014

On the whole, my results are fairly consistent. I still have relatively high scores for implementing, gathering, and for completer finisher. My main preference (IM – implementer) is summarised as:

Implementers are the people who get things done. They turn the team’s ideas and concepts into practical actions and plans. They are typically conservative, disciplined people who work systematically and efficiently and are very well organized. These are the people who you can count on to get the job done.

This is often the role I take on given the opportunity to utilise my natural preferences – it’s consistent with some of the other tools I’ve been doing too. In my current organisation, I’m the person who plans projects and reviews progress – I keep things running to time (when I can!) and am aware of what we have coming up and try to ensure we have things in place to accommodate that. In many projects I’m involved in, even when I’m not the project manager, I’m often the person who prompts others (possibly to their annoyance I appreciate!) when things are in risk of running behind schedule or reminds them we have things coming up and need to plan for them and prepare things in advance.

It was no big surprise to me that implementer came out as the top score again. Many of my other scores are quite similar too. However there’s one quite interesting change in my scores – two roles seems to have swapped importance. My team worker role (TW) has decreased, and my shaper role (SH) has increased. Here’s what Belbin has to say about these roles:

Team Workers are the people who provide support and make sure that people within the team are working together effectively. These people fill the role of negotiators within the team and they are flexible, diplomatic, and perceptive. These tend to be popular people who are very capable in their own right, but who prioritize team cohesion and helping people getting along.

Shapers are people who challenge the team to improve. They are dynamic and usually extroverted people who enjoy stimulating others, questioning norms, and finding the best approaches for solving problems. The Shaper is the one who shakes things up to make sure that all possibilities are considered and that the team does not become complacent.

What does this mean in practice?

According to the course facilitator, it is quite common for this change to happen over time. At the beginning of our careers, we’re keen to work well with everyone we meet, but over time we shift to just wanting to get things done. The desire to focus on tasks is definitely true in my case, and I think the fact that I work fairly independently on most projects (as part of a team, but often with a specific area of responsibility) has impacted this reduction in my team player score. I was a little surprised to find that Shaper now scores fairly highly for me, but aside from the extroverted part (I’m an introvert) I can see that I do often take on that role, certainly questioning norms and challenging for improvement.

I found it really interesting to revisit Belbin, and am so glad I blogged my initial results so that I could easily compare them during the workshop. If you’re interested in learning more about the type of role you tend to play on a team, and the roles which should ideally be fulfilled for a successful team, I’d recommend checking out Belbin – the Mind Tools guide is a useful overview.

Have you looked at your Belbin team role preferences? What did you find? Do you think any of these have changed over time?

Another year has flown past and it’s time for my annual review – you can see previous ones for 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, and 2012.

2013 has been a funny old year; nothing particularly terrible has happened, but I haven’t felt as positive as I usually do and this has been reflected by a decrease in blogging and use of social media. It’s not all bad though, as another reason for this decrease is a continuation of what I mentioned last year as a major lesson – trying to achieve a more sustainable work-life balance. This year I’ve been doing a lot of other hobbies – for some months I was regularly running, I’ve been learning nail art (and building quite a large collection of nail polishes!), I’ve learnt to crochet, and I’ve been doing lots of knitting. Oh, and I’ve become a little addicted to Grey’s Anatomy. There have also been some professional achievements during the year, so I’m going to take the opportunity to highlight those as I have done in previous years.

2013 highlights

2013 highlights

Top left: Entering the CILIP offices for the final day of my secondment
Top right: Attendees at one of my CILIP Umbrella Conference breakout sessions
Bottom left: One of my CILIP Update columns
Bottom right: Lean In book by Sheryl Sandberg (image from Google Books)

One major thing this year has been my part-time secondment to CILIP for the Future Skills Project. Between May and November, two days of my working week were spent on the project along with another project worker, Julie Griffiths. Our focus was to work on the recommendations from the Future Skills project board to prepare for the launch of the new Professional Registration (previously referred to as CILIP Qualifications). We worked on the assessment criteria, the assessment process, the handbooks, and online support materials for Certification, Chartership, Fellowship, and Revalidation. For revalidation we reviewed the process and made it much more straight forward to submit on an annual basis, rather than a large portfolio every 3 years. We also provided training for a number of specific groups related to Professional Registration – the Professional Registration Assessment Board, Mentor Support Officers, and Candidate Support Officers. After a successful member vote in November, the new scheme has now launched and people are starting to use it. I hope they find it clearer than the previous system, and I know CILIP staff will be working hard to support everyone involved to make it a relatively smooth transition. The project was really interesting to work on, and totally different from my day job; the variety was good for me, and I enjoyed working with lots of different CILIP members. It was also really good to get to know more of the CILIP staff, who are lovely and made myself and Julie feel very welcome. I feel honoured to have been able to work on the project and the experience has certainly been a highlight of my year.

Towards the end of last year, I made a conscious decision to not attend as many conferences in 2013 as I had in 2012. This was a tough decision; I absolutely love conferences and learn so much from them, both through the sessions I attend and the conversations I have with people I meet at conferences. However, I find them pretty draining, particularly when I have a presentation to prepare for and deliver (though I love doing it and it is a really important part of my role as a researcher). I knew though that attending too many conferences could reach a stage where it impacts on my work, as it’s not just the time out at the conference, but the preparation time before and reflection time after. I knew I needed to prioritise so that I wasn’t spending as much time outside working hours doing activities relating to conferences.

I decided to only submit proposals for CILIP Umbrella Conference, which is a conference I’ve never been able to attend previously. I was delighted to discover that both my proposals had been successful, though of course that meant quite a bit of work ahead of me. I was very fortunate to be working with two fantastic co-presenters who made the whole process enjoyable, and I really enjoyed the conference. The keynotes were excellent as no matter what sector you work in, there was something to take from them all. I also really enjoyed a leadership panel discussion I attended, and breakout sessions on continuing professional development.

I was invited to present at other events, and although I couldn’t fit them all into my schedule, I was able to accept some and really enjoyed the opportunity to speak about topics that interest me. I presented workshops on tools and techniques to improve productivity; getting the most out of professional development; using mobile technologies in libraries; and at Internet Librarian International I was invited to share my experiences as a learner on a MOOC (see my previous blog post for further information on MOOCs). You can see a full list of the presentations I gave in 2013 on my Presentations page.

Another highlight of 2013 for me has been writing a column for CILIP Update. This followed on from an article I wrote for the magazine in 2012 on the Getting Things Done methodology, and this year I have written tips and advice on a number of different themes to do with improving productivity. I received some really positive feedback on the column and know some people have found the ideas useful in changing their own practice. I’ve drafted a blog post to summarise the key points from the column and will share that soon – in the meantime, the columns are available from my Publications page.

Something else I’ve enjoyed in 2013 is the Library Leadership Reading Group (LLRG). I started this after the CILIP in Wales 2012 conference on leadership, and since then have hosted discussions on ten different readings relating to leadership. I’ve found the discussions really useful – sometimes I haven’t really enjoyed reading the book but after the discussion have taken more from it due to other people’s perspectives after reading it. I’ve been tending to create a Storify of each discussion and you can see them linked from the LLRG Google document. At the moment we’re reading a book on change management, Our Iceberg is Melting, which we’re likely to discuss in January. Keep an eye on the #llrg tag on Twitter if you’re interested in joining us, everyone is welcome. One particular highlight of LLRG for me this year has been reading Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg. I absolutely loved it and it has had a huge influence on my life. I’ve discussed parts of the book with so many different people, and continue to think about some of the things mentioned in the book when I have to make decisions. I’ve also become part of a Lean In circle which has been a very positive experience for me.

So there we go, my personal highlights for the year. I hope you have enjoyed 2013, and whether or not you celebrate New Year I hope you have the opportunity to mark the beginning of 2014 in some way. I’m looking forward to a fresh start, beginning with a potential break of tradition (something I very rarely do!). First though, I shall be trying some new cocktails tonight including the one below – cheers!