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Equipping the chiefs of tomorrow

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West Midlands Employers has been developing a leadership programme to develop a cadre of chief executives for the challenges councils face over the coming years.

Traditional programmes focus on a known set of skills and competencies which may be of little use in an unknown and uncertain future. Part of a leader’s role is to make a path to that future so - as part of a team working for Capita - I set about designing a process to help them do just that.

At executive level, leadership development is most effective when developing the wisdom to apply an individual’s experience to novel or recalcitrant problems. The Transcend programme is therefore not structured around classroom learning but instead sets small teams of participants real problems facing chief executives and asks them to work together.

To do this I interviewed many of the West Midlands’ chief executives, from all tiers of council. Each spoke candidly about the issues their authority faced over the coming years. From this we were able to develop workstreams for the programme.

Although the snapshot reflects particular circumstances in the West Midlands, experience suggests that these challenges are also felt more widely.

Chief executives are actively considering how to properly connect on contested issues with localities. They are also looking at how to truly transform local ­public services and gain the benefits of Total Place approaches. And they are considering how it might be possible to inspire and energise places through better understanding the nature of their social capital.

To see these as distinct themes is to miss the point. In the complex world of people’s lives, and how they connect to the modern state, dividing activity along clear-cut lines is rarely helpful or even possible.

Leaders of the future, across the spectrum of local public services, will need to become adept at operating in this messy complexity. The Transcend programme is designed to do just that through pitching participants headlong (albeit supported) into this difficult environment.

Chief executives are already working in ways that move us forward, and in West Midlands Employers (formerly Improvement and Efficiency West Midlands) and Capita, they have partners who are prepared to be bold and innovative in helping future leaders connect and evolve new approaches.

The article overleaf provides a synopsis of the conversations. I hope you find it gives a valuable insight.

John Atkinson is leadership adviser on the Transcend programme

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Readers' comments (1)

  • Please note Improvement and Efficiency West Midlands (IEWM) have commissioned West Midlands Employers (formerly West Midlands Councils) to develop Transcend leadership programme in response to West Midlands Chief Executives' views expressed at IEWM's annual All Change conference back in 2011.

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