Chapter 3

Sarah's Story

I’ve been involved with Collective Leadership from the start when it was called ‘Pioneering Collaborative Leadership’, and I was part of the initial group who came together to scope out and define what an approach to collaborative leadership would look like in Scotland and how we would support this. During this time, so many people and conversations have shaped my experiences.

I’ve attended various programmes, like the facilitation programme, and Meg Wheatley workshop. They’ve been powerful, not always telling you something new, but simple and powerful ways of putting things and holding space. I think, at these things, there’s a risk that certain sectors, like statutory public service agencies don’t attend. It is possible to affect change by working and building upwards to those in these roles, but that’s much harder. There also needs to be some working from that level to meet this one working up too. The people who need to go on these workshops or courses are often the ones that don’t feel they need to. And so, as part of the Steering Group, our responsibility is to push forward Collective Leadership into our own sectors.

As an organisation, we face some of the similar challenges to Collective Leadership in terms of time pressures, and being able to able to measure impact. I think the challenge to us all is how to percolate this work out. It’s about how we continue to increase the numbers of people and organisations doing this work, making new sites, and fitting sites to people’s skills. We’ve introduced collective leadership into our own company approach; there is now a compulsory one-day coaching programme and a one-day facilitation style programme for all employees. What’s been particularly great has been seeing how people have grown in these roles. I learn a lot from others and you can also see changes in how people incorporate collective leadership into their work too. A colleague wanted to go on the Meg Wheatley workshop, but we just didn’t have the budget for it unfortunately. So she came back to me and said, I’ll fund it myself, but can I do it in work time. And that was our commitment to match hers. And so we have dedicated staff who care about and embody this way of working.

Personally speaking, collective leadership has also made me better at reflecting and thinking about how things have been, and how I acted, after they’ve happened. I’m much better now at self-reflection. But it can be difficult to make this time to reflect. Meg Wheatley suggested that we make time for meditation, but that doesn’t fit with how life is happening at the moment. So I thought I could start trying this reflection when I’m at the gym or going for a run. I’ve also learnt about the importance of being quiet and giving space. If you ask a question and there’s silence, that’s okay because it gives people time to really reflect and formulate a response.

One of my previous managers used to talk and provide solutions or thoughts himself so as I was developing in my leadership role I was concerned that people would always look to me for the answers and solutions, and I was worried I wouldn’t necessarily have them.  In the early days I also had a tendency to talk and fill awkward silences, rather than give people the space they probably needed to pull together their thoughts.  Now I’m much more comfortable using the sitting with silence approach in meetings.  I think that allows people to reflect and think more deeply and openly about what a response might be, or the things that matter.  

My aspiration for collective leadership is that we get to the stage where we don’t even need to talk about it, because it’s already happening. My fear is that, in the push for time and the way that funding cycles work, senior leaders don’t give it the space and time that it needs. Instead, they rush into the next method or option, and they don’t allow it the space and time that it needs to show the change that happens.