Having attended a two-day leadership workshop with Professor Marty Linsky, of the John F Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, Marie-Thérèse McGivern passes on the key lessons and messages she picked up.

I first came across Professor Marty Linsky when I read Leadership on the Line, a
book he co-authored with Ronald Heifetz around 2002.

At that time I worked in local government and was grappling with creating a new vision for the city of Belfast as we turned from conflict and set out to create a new and forward looking city.

I was attracted by one of the opening lines — ‘to lead is to live dangerously’ — which definitely had resonance for the city I was working in then.

Fast forward to the present and I find myself as a college principal living in times of change again, an experience increasingly shared by many like me across the UK.

It is clear to me that what started as ‘austerity’ has now become a paradigm shift in what we recognise as public service.

The question for all of us as public servants is how we can continue to transform people’s lives for the better, which is surely why we turn up every day, while also trying to create the sustainable resource base to continue doing the work.

It is clear to me that what started as ‘austerity’ has now become a paradigm shift in what we recognise as public service

What is clear is that the old givens are going and we will need to find new ways to truly change the world for the better.

We are in the business of changing ‘hearts and minds’ more than just systems.

So, when the 157 Group managed to secure two days’ of Professor Linsky’s time as part of our challenging leadership programme, I was delighted to participate.

And it was worth every minute of the two days spent with more than 30 other passionate colleagues as we sought, against many odds, to keep open the bridge to opportunity and life enhancement that FE offers.

We were introduced to the concept of Adaptive Leadership — the premise of which is that many of the challenges that we face cannot be solved with purely ‘technical’ solutions as they may have been in the past.

The pace of change is now such that many of our obstacles are complex and interrelated and require more flexible and adaptive approaches.

What was clear from the beginning of the workshop was that we were not there to learn some new techniques for heroic leadership.

Professor Linsky made it clear that the capacity for leadership is everywhere and lies with everyone, even in the most mundane of situations.

While we did pick up many tools during the two days, what really enhanced the experience for me was the space to explore from a distance how we could assist leadership in all parts of our own organisations.

Perhaps most powerful was the notion of ‘getting on the balcony’.

This is a conscious decision to actively ‘stand back’, to watch the action, to notice what exactly is going on and, thereby, to get a true perspective.

It sounds deceptively simple but, in the cut and thrust of what many in FE are going through presently, it seems like a luxury to just stop and check.

It’s a practice I am determined to embrace.

There were many ‘a-ha’ moments and the ability to share with other FE-ers built a tremendous solidarity that was at times very emotional as we worked through our own particular challenges with the assistance of Professor Linsky, Mary Joyce and some of the finest practitioners and thinkers in the sector.

Linsky finishes his book with these words: ‘Opportunities for leadership are available to you and to us every day.

‘But putting yourself on the line is difficult work for the dangers are real.

Yet the work has nobility and the benefits for you and those around you are beyond measure.

‘The world needs you.’

Two days with Professor Linsky has left me reinvigorated, determined to unlock adaptive leadership in others and, perhaps, more ready to live in dangerous times.