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Presenting potential positively

Written by: Craig Clarke is head of GatenbySanderson’s interim leadership practice.
Published on: 27 Oct 2022

Much has been written about the growing risk to talent pipelines in these pages in recent months. As the sector grapples with the impact of pent up retirements as we emerge from the pandemic, Frazer Thouard’s recent article ‘What price experience’ (The MJ, 8 Sept) strikes a chord and presents an increasingly compelling argument. It has led me to consider some of the practical considerations around the ‘how’ in the sense of ‘how do we support the rising stars to present their potential in the most positive way?’

What is it that marks an individual out as being ready for that next step? What evidence is available to demonstrate the level of their potential? How can they show an understanding of the future challenges facing the sector and their readiness to respond to those challenges?

I don’t think anyone working in local government would feel they are time-rich – and yet it is the important matter of finding time to prepare that is crucial. That preparation is not simply for an assessment process as part of a recruitment exercise. It actually comes much earlier. Ongoing professional development can be hard to achieve when balancing the challenges of work and everyday life.

So, I think it is important to consider the broader opportunities to learn, to develop, to network and to build a tangible proposition when it comes to presenting potential. Formal development and leadership programmes can be extremely helpful, and I read with interest the positive posts from the 2022 Upon programme cohort that commenced this autumn; a programme designed to give future leaders in children’s services the best opportunity to be future-ready. It gave me pause for thought about the wide range of programmes that we support at GatenbySanderson across central Government, housing, the NHS, not for profit, education and transport sectors. But there isn’t necessarily always the right programme available for everyone at the right time.

So, what else? I’ve seen great learning taking place by way of peer reviews, both for those reviewing and those being reviewed. Sharing good practice, innovation and being challenged to think differently again takes time but can often unlock opportunities that might have felt beyond reach without external challenge to thinking.

In addition, I see the value in attendance at conferences, and this is being written with one eye on the programme for NCASC 2022 (in Manchester, 2-4 Nov) and the return of in-person attendance. Conferences are a great opportunity to hear about innovation, to network with peers, to collaborate and take a little time to reflect upon potential responses to the emerging challenges. It’s encouraging to note that a number of directors are giving their senior teams the opportunity to attend NCASC this year to broaden their experience and exposure to the developing thinking around service improvement, outside of their own direct service experience.

One further observation is how to present your commitment to your own ongoing development. The use of mentors and coaches is well regarded if presented with a positive narrative. Demonstrating that you understand what your areas for development are, and that you are proactively working on these, can be portrayed as a strength as opposed to a perception of them being a weakness yet to be addressed. 

I would suggest that for many prospective applicants seeking to step up into more senior roles, there is already much they are doing that can be used to evidence their readiness. Finding the time to consider what they wish to present, and how, is arguably the biggest challenge. This is far less about qualifications, and a beautifully crafted supporting statement, and much more about the broader question of how to present potential using a wider range of evidence of professional development.

Craig Clarke is head of GatenbySanderson’s interim leadership practice.