Essential Skills for Leading Change Repository

Introductory Learning Material

Programme Overview

This short video introduces the programme overall, explaining the purpose, giving an overview of the full curriculum, explaining how the peer-led sessions will work and setting out how we will learn together.

Theme A: The foundations of systems leadership

This theme is about exploring what it means to think through a systems lens, and to understand the particular system you are trying to influence; the mindsets and approaches suited to exercising leadership in this context; and your role in leading change.

Module 1  – Thinking in systems video

This module lays the foundations for system leadership. It asks: What are systems? What is systems change? How should we engage with complex challenges? What do we mean by systems leadership? We are joined by Jason Fergus, Director of Active Essex, about why is increasing levels of physical activity a system challenge, and the role he and his team have played in addressing it in Essex.

Module 2 – Your role in leading change video

This module is to enable you to gain a deeper understanding of your role within the system you are seeking to change. It asks: What is the difference between the persons you are and the role you play? How does your role affect how you act? How does your role give you authority you can use to exercise leadership? And how can you exercise leadership beyond your authority? We are joined by Jo Turton, Chief Fire Officer for Essex, who shares her insights about how she has combined the formal authority she was given through her title with the informal authority she has built by modelling the values she believes in.

Additional Resources

Module 3 – Understanding your system

This module helps you to gain an understanding of the system you are seeking to change. It asks: What do I need to know about the system to be ready to think about action? How can I broaden my view of the system? What types of patterns and trends am I looking for? How can I work out where to focus? And how much mapping is enough mapping? We are joined by Damien Smith and George Cull, both heads of development at North Yorkshire Sport. They share insights about how they have acted beyond their authority to create change across a complex local system, focusing on the importance of strengthening relationships and cultivating advocates for their work.

Chris Boardman compares cycling in Holland and Britain

Theme B: Becoming a system activist

This theme is about developing the skills and behaviours you need to become more effective in creating systemic change.

Module 4 – Skills and behaviours for systems leadership

This module provides an overview of the repertoire of skills for systems leadership, including relationship building and empathy; understanding biases, valuing difference and living with disagreement; storytelling and narrative development; facilitating change conversations; and influencing and negotiating.

Module 4 skills session 1 – relationship building & developing empathy

Module 4 skills session 2 – Practice and reflection Understanding biases; valuing difference

Module 4 skills session 3 – Storytelling; change conversations; influencing

An example of how you can combine a story of self, us and now to mobilise people to action. Listen for the moments of challenge, choice, outcome; for how he uses details to make it real; and for the values he speaks to in himself and in the crowd, and how he has a clear call to action at the end.

Theme C: Building collaborative capacity and taking collaborative action

Systems leadership is a team game. With this in mind, in this theme we will shift our focus from the personal towards the organisational and systemic, and understand what is needed to take sustained collaborative action.

Module 5: Building collaborative capacity

This module focuses on the importance of collaboration to systems change. It asks: What enables collaboration? What inhibits it? And what is needed to sustain collaborative efforts over time? We are joined by Hayley Lever, CEO of GreaterSport and Executive Lead for GM Moving who talks from her experience about the conditions for collaboration that have been built in Greater Manchester and those that are still developing and reflects on her personal experience of mobilising others through her work.

Module 6: Partnering with communities, partnering across difference

This module provides a grounding in how to work well with communities. It asks: Why is it important to your mission to engage everyone? What tools do you have for engaging people and how to choose them? Why is it important to pay attention to power? And why is it good to build on what’s strong – as well as change what’s wrong? We are joined by Sarah Gorman, CEO of Edberts House in Gateshead. She shares insights on how she has mobilised the power in her community to create change, the importance of relationships and relational work, and her own challenges of leading change.

Module 7: Changing systems through collaborative action

This module draws together learning from action the programme so far to focus on how to take collaborative action to change systems. It asks: How can we improve our understanding of the work that is needed, and the systemic context in which it sits? Why is system change a team sport? And how can we sustain a process of change through the tough times? We are joined by Charlie Coward, Deputy Chief Executive at Active Dorset, how talks in a very practical and relatable way about the importance of relationships and empathy, the challenges of knowing if you are succeeding, and the importance of narrative in explaining the progress you are making. 

Theme D: Learning as a driver of systems change

This theme is about the central importance of learning to systems change, how to develop and embed learning habits and culture, how to capture learning, and how to use a learning approach to inform decision-making in the work.

Module 8: Developing good learning habits and culture; measurement and impact

This module focuses on learning as a critical driver of change in complex systems. Is asks: Why is a learning approach so important to your work? How does a learning approach differ from measurement for accountability or evaluation? How can you embed and support learning within your organisation? And how do you apply a learning approach in practice? We are joined by a brilliant panel of speakers: Dr Katie Shearn, Researcher at Sheffield Hallam University; Katie Owen, Homelessness Commissioning and Contracts Lead at the Liverpool City Region Combined Authority; and Graeme Sinnott, Head for Insight and Learning at Active Partnerships national team. They discuss why a learning approach is so critical when working in contexts of complexity, how to take this approach in practice, and how they maintain a focus on learning in their own practice.