Posted on: 13/09/2021

Future Leaders Fellows Development Network: Year One lessons learned

Future Leaders Fellows Development Network: Year 1 Lessons LearnedWhat a year it’s been!

No, not for that reason.

It’s hard to believe that it’s been nearly a whole year since our consortium – made up of six research-intensive universities – was awarded the contract to establish the FLF Development Network, to support Cohorts 1-3 of FLFs and an additional group of research leaders nominated by the Research Councils. Our vision was to create a bespoke development programme in partnership with you, this extraordinary community of some of the most innovative, dynamic, and influential researchers and innovators across the UK. From day one, it has been thrilling work.

We came to the Network with many years’ experience of supporting fellows and research leaders, so we had some ideas for what you might be needing and wanting, and we hit the ground running with our bridging programme of workshops, which ran over the late autumn and winter. Over 87 of you attended these sessions, and feedback was extremely positive.

Yet the core of our Year 1 work was to take a deep look at the FLF community’s training and development needs, in order understand how we could shape an ongoing programme that would meet the goals of so diverse a group of future leaders – that is, how you, individually and collectively, could enhance your leadership potential, not only in achieving the research ambitions you have set but also acquiring the confidence to act as agents for change in the UK’s rapidly shifting research & innovation sector. This organisational and cultural change is a key part of many stakeholders’ thinking – not least UKRI’s and the Government’s – and it remains central to the ethos of the FLF scheme.

Through our busy first year we’ve delivered 45 workshops and courses, insight sessions and surgeries, regional coffee mornings, the Research Encounters event, and the Plus Funds competition. Through these, as well as through myriad informal interactions, we have listened to what you have told us, and we have fed this information back to UKRI. Perhaps the two biggest sources of information have been the 360 leadership survey and one-to-one coaching conversations with Bridget, our Community Manager. In this post, we capture some of the insights and lessons learned from those sources.

360 coaching

In the spring, 50% of you opted to participate in our bespoke 360 feedback survey, which included 90 minutes of confidential one-to-one coaching. Despite the varying lengths of time for which you had been fellows or members of the Network, not to mention the variety of research interests and host organisations which you represent, it was remarkable how consistent the results were. Two findings stand out especially starkly.

First, results were massively loaded toward top of the scale. Our expert partners at Talent Innovations, who design and deliver 360 training for, inter alia, all of the UN agencies worldwide, reported that they had never seen such ‘supremely high’ scores. It’s true that senior colleagues tended to score slightly more conservatively than other rater groups, but their scores were nonetheless excellent. Put another way: you are perceived – by your junior colleagues, peers, and senior colleagues – to be an exceptional group of individuals. And before you say it: this positive finding is not a flaw in the design of the survey (we looked carefully at this).

In fact, the survey indicates that you are likely, as a group, to find it hard to accept the perception of your peers and reconcile this with your own feelings of impostor syndrome. This was the second stark finding of the survey: there was an unusually high discrepancy between how you scored yourselves and how your raters saw you, with you judging yourselves more harshly than your colleagues.

Harsher you may have been, but, interestingly, the results still tracked: there was a clear correlation between your scores and your colleagues’ in terms of which leadership competencies scored highest and lowest. For example, all groups identified “managing others’ performance” as a priority for development, whilst competencies such as “responsible conduct” and “respecting diversity” were top-rated.

Alongside these formal survey results, your coaches were asked to submit (anonymous) anecdotal feedback after every one-to-one session. The top priorities identified through your coaching conversations were:

  • navigating the sector​;
  • team dynamics​;
  • personal effectiveness ; and
  • networks and engagement​.

1:1 Engagement

In recent months, we have also begun a programme of one-to-one engagement through our Community Manager, Bridget. So far, she has conducted more than 60 one-to-ones with the FLF community, in order to explore your development priorities and identify suitable activities, as well as delivery partners whom we might bring on board.

We picked up requests for a wide variety of opportunities including: academic career pathways; project management for R&D; time management; grant funding and managing funders; revising research goals and timelines; performance management; delegation; conflict resolution; and supporting researcher development. There has also been strong interest in: finding out more about options and pathways for commercialisation; and how to build collaborations and develop projects that are truly interdisciplinary.

Hardly surprisingly, many of you have talked about delays brought about as a result of Covid and, in particular, a concern that the impact of the pandemic on research is not wholly understood by the wide R&I community.

* * *

We have learnt so much in this first year about what you want and need in order to fulfil your ambitions (the above is only a partial snapshot), and we are working continuously to adapt our programmes according to what you are telling us. For example, you told us that although you valued what the Network was offering, you were starting to feel burnt out, so we shifted to bite-sized workshops of 45-60 mins, and smaller, more intimate sessions to give more opportunity for open discussion. In the coming weeks, we will start to implement further changes to the way we organise and present our activities.

One theme which has come through with particular resonance is that you would like more opportunities for community building and peer learning, with more emphasis on networking and engagement. After all, the real value of any Network is its people – the peer-to-peer conversations, encounters with people you wouldn’t normally meet, the support that can come from being part of a large group. These are the opportunities we will be creating more of in the programme ahead.

If you have any ideas about potential development opportunities we could provide in the future, please don’t hesitate to contact our Bridget at In the meantime, we look forward to working with you in Year 2.

The FLF Development Network Team

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