Leadership in lockdown

I am sure that you are familiar with the TV ad with the strapline “We don’t make a drama out of a crisis”. That is exactly the spirit of collective leadership and determined action I have found since taking up my new post in the middle of Covid-19 lockdown as Principal and Chief Executive of Belfast Metropolitan College, writes Louise Warde Hunter.

Arriving on 20 April 2020, after a long commute downstairs to my repurposed music room (which family seriously needs seven guitars, two ukuleles, a mandolin and a violin), I logged on and my new IT promptly went caput! So, the first morning was spent talking to my new team via the phone but by noon I was up and running on Teams, Skype, email, and several social media platforms. By 2pm the sense of arrival was complete. But what a strange way to land in a new role especially one so focussed on delivering to people and to serving our wider community. A four-campus college with no sign of its 12,356 students and with its 1,058 staff all doing their best to continue to deliver their work from home.

Despite the strange times the last two months have flown. I have met, and continue to meet a good number of my new colleagues through video conferencing. Through them I have had a detailed insight into how important Belfast Met is to thousands of lives, families and businesses. I have seen at first hand the important learning community the College represents, one dedicated to serving others in developing and enhancing skills, never more important than now as we work to support economic recovery.

The speed at which our lecturing staff moved from face to face learning to remote delivery methods has been remarkable, flipping a classroom-based approach to an online model seemingly overnight. And of course that required the support of colleagues not on the front- line interface with our students. Success, in this case, really did have many mothers and fathers.

Recognition of the different needs of our diverse learners has ensured that the health and wellbeing of students, as well as staff, has been front and centre. I have grown in understanding of the resilience of colleagues and learners alike, seeking, and succeeding, to adapt to new ways of working. Resilience was also the subject of a video input I did recently with my daughter to support young emerging leaders. On a Belfast, London, Singapore link-up last month, I reflected on developing a much more holistic appreciation of resilience by learning from someone in the next generation.

The profoundly human nature of our ability to regroup, reinvent and rebound seems to me to be at the heart of the challenges we face organisationally and societally today. Linked to that, the relationship between leadership, change and communication has always fascinated me. The subject of a thesis many moons ago, I find the practice usually more interesting than the theory and have been inspired by the commitment to shared leadership, pace of adaptation and engagement that I have witnessed since taking up post at Belfast Met.

My own original engagement plan involved lots of face to face meetings. That has been replaced by online chats, virtual meetings and weekly vlogs. There’s a real intimacy in being invited in to people’s homes that I think has made us ‘cut to the chase’ a lot more. I for one hope that we hold on to that sense of connectedness as we migrate back to offices and campuses. Therein lies a whole different kind of recovery.

Belfast Met offer a wide range of Full Time and Part Time courses, including those in Leadership and Management, alongside an extensive range of business support programmes to upskill, reskill and innovate.

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