My fellowship on the Clore leadership programme has entered a new phase. I’m taking six months out of my job at The National Archives to focus fully on the fellowship – I’ll not be back until the end of July.
There won’t be any time to twiddle my thumbs. I’ll be doing two work placements in different organisations, going on various training courses, researching and writing a paper on an aspect of leadership, attending a two-week residential course with the other Clore fellows (the sequel to our first Bore Place experience), and much else besides.
I’m immensely lucky to be able to make the most of the fellowship by spending time away from work. Not all the fellows are doing the same. Yet whereas the six-month hiatus felt like a long time when I thought about it in advance, it now seems to be speeding by at an alarming rate.
The question isn’t how I’m going to fill my days, but how I’m going to prioritise all the things I want to do, bearing in mind that I won’t have the time, energy or capacity to do them all. The work of organising, timetabling and budgeting for my chosen activities is considerable, and that’s before I’ve even done them. Of course the fellowship is a once in a lifetime opportunity, but I keep telling myself that it’s only meant to be one stage in a lifelong process of learning.
The three-month work placement is one of the compulsory elements of the programme. Not being a person who makes life easy for herself, I’ve elected to split that time between two organisations: Battersea Arts Centre and The Sage Gateshead. I’m actually very excited by the prospect of doing two placements, as I think the points of comparison between the two will stimulate my thinking and give me a richer set of insights than if I was going to just one organisation.
During my six-week stint at Battersea Arts Centre I’ll be working within one of the project teams to market the next ‘Cook Up’ – a season of performances in May and June that will include finished pieces and works in progress – and I’ve been asked to evaluate the methodology that the staff use to carry out their projects, based on my own experience.
I’ll be heading up to Gateshead after Easter for about seven weeks. As if to prove that you can’t take the archives out of the girl, I’ll be working with the staff of the Sage to create an archiving strategy. I’m also hoping to learn a little about how they do their musical programming and spend time with the orchestra: those who know me know that I’m a big fan of classical music and spend an unhealthy amount of time in the vicinity of the Royal Albert Hall during the Proms, and this will be a fabulous opportunity to see behind the scenes at a pioneering music venue.
Setting up a work placement can be tricky, and I’ve had a smoother ride than some of the fellows. The placement needs to reflect the fellow’s learning objectives, and there has got to be a meaningful project that benefits both the fellow and the organisation, at a mutually convenient time. Fortunately I’m all set, and after only a few days at Battersea Arts Centre I’m discovering how invigorating it can be to immerse myself in a place that’s completely different from my normal surroundings.
One of the issues I want to explore is how organisations deal with risk and change, and I can’t think of a better place to do that than Battersea Arts Centre, which positively thrives on risk. It’s packed with young, energetic and passionate people, and it’s currently going through an extensive building programme, the most dramatic impact of which so far has been the creation of a massive hole in one of the walls to enable the redevelopment of the café. So we’re working in a building that is being remade around us.
Alongside all this excitement and fun, I’m dealing with some personal challenges at the moment. The fellowship programme itself is all about change, and change can create turmoil. Leaving my job, albeit for a clearly defined period, has proved unsettling, and my fretful attempts to stop thinking about how my colleagues are getting on have been replaced by more terrifying questions about who I really am and what I have been/am/will be doing with my life (delete as appropriate).
The decisions I’m making about how to spend my training budget are directly connected to who I am as a person: the training I choose will deepen my self-knowledge, whether it’s about coaching skills, personal impact or resilience. But while I can improve on some of the things I’m not good at, no training course will alter me fundamentally. Indeed, I think one of the intended consequences of the Clore programme is to help each fellow to accept who he or she is.
It’s just as well that none of us is going through the programme alone. We’ve each been equipped with both a mentor and a coach, who provide support and assist the process of personal development. And the reach of the Clore network never ceases to impress me. I’m realising that there is never just one Clore – wherever I go I’m meeting people who have done the programme themselves, or know people who have.
The email and face-to-face contact between the current fellows (known as ‘Clore 9s’ because this is the ninth year of the programme) continues apace. We’re making time to stay in touch with each other despite being geographically scattered. If I was asked how many Clores it took to change a lightbulb, I would say one, plus at least 20 others to give encouragement and talk it through.
So it’s been an exhilarating time – exhausting, disorientating, surprising, and utterly unmissable. I don’t know what the next few months of the programme will bring, but I’m pretty sure that it will continue to feel like a big adventure. I just hope I emerge in one piece.