“A leader is someone, anyone, who takes responsibility for finding potential in people and processes, and having the courage to develop that potential.” – Brene Brown

 

The Research and Development People and Culture Strategy published by BEIS back in July gave a clear message that: Leaders at all levels need to have the right skills to support their teams in developing their careers, and to lead them through major transitions and transformations. It goes on to say: “People are often promoted to leadership roles because of their expertise and reputation within their field. Less consideration is given to the skills and behaviours needed for leadership of people and teams.

Sound familiar?

The Strategy speaks of a commitment to “ensure leadership and management skills are actively developed and supported in talent programmes and in grant holders’ terms”. But navigating the transition between being a technically competent, excellent researcher to becoming an excellent leader of research and researcher can be challenging for any emerging leader. So what distinguishes leadership from being a great manager or very competent at what you are doing?

Leadership involves change, movement and looking forward. It requires strategic thinking, taking people with you and inspiring them to achieve a vision, but there are other factors at play too. Leadership is a habit that develops over time. It is not a skill or theory we learn on a one-day training course which then equips us to lead. We develop habits by, firstly, noticing the need for change, the benefits of changing, and the costs of not changing. Then we practice something new (thoughts, feelings and actions) little and often. We notice a benefit and this motivates us to continue.

Back in one of the very early ‘Bridging’ sessions I facilitated for the Future Leaders Fellows Development Network, we explored formal theoretical models, considered what leadership actually means in a research context and tried to elicit some of the skills, traits and behaviours that make leadership in research effective.

I strongly believe the FLFs and Innovators in our Network already know what good leadership is, because they have all experienced it in some way, however small or fleeting. They know what it is about that leadership that helped them develop their potential. In the session, participants considered someone whose leadership has had a real impact on them: someone who has enabled their success. In groups, they reflected on what made that leader impactful: what they did, how they behaved, what they said? And how that felt?

As participants fed back their list of impactful leadership traits to the group, we found they converged around some common themes:

  • Creating a positive space
  • Building trust
  • Investing in wellbeing
  • Providing opportunity
  • Developing others
  • Giving recognition

What strikes me (and repeatedly does so when I facilitate these discussions) is that the list of behaviours, traits and skills identified were predominantly related to emotional intelligence. The impactful leadership the participants described focused on people, rather than on tasks and knowing everything. As an emotional intelligence (EQ) practitioner, I’m naturally rather passionate about emotionally intelligent leadership. The good news is that research shows there is a positive correlation between the measured emotional intelligence of leaders and their performance in a range of success factors.

Would you consider yourself an emotionally intelligent leader? I define EQ as:

  • Noticing how you are feeling
  • Naming it: What’s going on? Why might you feel like that? What are the impacts on your effectiveness as a leader and researcher?
  • Choosing: What is the best way forward? What could be different? What, if anything, needs to change to be more effective?
  • Communicating: Letting others know (if appropriate) or communicating and being honest with yourself

The good news is we can develop our EQ. If you want to learn more, we’ll be launching more leadership workshops in 2022 but, in the meantime, here are two books I’d recommend:

  • Dare to Lead, by Brene Brown (a very easy read and full of ideas for practices you can try)
  • The EQ Edge, Steven Stein & Howard Book (describes elements of EQ and gives practical activities to develop EQ)

“One of the most important applications of EQ is helping leaders foster a workplace climate conducive to high performance. These workplaces yield significantly higher productivity, retention, and profitability, and emotional intelligence appears key to this competitive advantage.” – The Business Case for Emotional Intelligence, Six Seconds

Take a look at our list of impactful leadership skills below, it’s not exhaustive but it’s a great start.

  • What would you add to this list?
  • Do you see areas of strength or which you need to develop?
  • What one small thing could you do in an interaction today that would make your leadership more impactful?

Impactful Leadership download – PDF

Resources

By Dr Kay Guccione, Head of Researcher Development at the University of Glasgow, and FLF+ Network Mentoring Specialist.

This blog is part of a series written for our FLF+ Network Leadership Mentors, and is provided open access so that it can be used by anyone who is interested in improving how they ask coaching questions. I draw my examples in this post from across the different mentoring programmes I’ve worked on, but you will recognise that these ideas also apply to personal tutoring, doctoral and masters supervision too, as well as to line management.

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I have been enjoying working with a range of different new mentors, on various schemes, in recent weeks. Part of their orientation to mentoring practice is introducing them to a facilitative coaching style and, as I wrote about in my earlier blog post, a ‘repertoire beyond advice’. This enables them to work with a diverse range of mentees, with a range of career backgrounds and development goals. It also allows them to bring a depth to their practice beyond a superficial advisory role.

New mentors who are trying on the coaching style and trying to avoid giving advice as a default option, often ask me what coaching questions they should ask their mentees. I could define ‘a good question’ in many ways from ‘non-incendiary’, to natural sounding, to incisive, to transformational, but what I understand these novice mentors to mean is ‘what is a helpful coaching question?’. Meaning, what could they ask, that will help their mentee to reflect and learn?

Coaching and mentoring disciplines stem from a learner-centred educational philosophy which aims to develop learner autonomy and independence by putting responsibility for the learning path and decisions, into the mentee’s hands. What this looks like in practice is the mentor sitting back and allowing the mentee to drive the conversation, supporting them to reflect deeply, to think creatively and ultimately to choose their own way forward. It won’t surprise you then that my answer is that a good question to ask is the question that works for that person, at that time. However, all irritating hedging aside, I offer some general guidance below on constructing great coaching questions, with examples.

Setting the ground rules.  It’s still worth beginning by setting some focus for the coaching conversation, for example asking “How do you want to use the time together?”“What are you hoping this conversation will bring?” or “What specifically do you need from me today?”  Even brief ad hoc coaching conversations can have an impact, but this only happens if both parties are clear about the purpose the discussion.

Start at the beginning and take it from there.  For some mentees a simple “How are you?”  or ”How have you been getting along?” will set them off on a long and reflective retelling of recent experiences. It’s OK to keep them talking. Don’t feel that you have to interrupt with a question to be more ‘coach like’. Listen, and take in what they are saying, and ask clarifying questions as needed.

Keep questions ‘open’.  An open question is one that invites your mentee or coachee to give a considered answer, recount an event, or think out loud, in some way processing their experiences and making sense of them. It’s usually a question which doesn’t have a simple answer but requires some contemplation and evaluation of the matters at hand. As such, open questions spark reflection, and help them bring implicit thoughts or thought processes out into the open. Often, what mentees need is for you as the mentor to open the conversation, and they’ll talk it all out.

Keep the conversation flowing.  For others, perhaps mentees who are more skilled at mastering their own thoughts internally, more naturally reserved, or those who are more nervous or who are feeling a bit upset, “How are you?” will elicit the short response of “Fine.” and you will have to think again about how to open up the conversation. My own favourite choice in this situation is a question along the lines of “What have you enjoyed in your work recently?” or ”What have you had on your plate the last couple of weeks?”. You can keep the conversation rolling by using a drawing, mapping or other visual approach and this is particularly effective if stress or frustration make it difficult for your partner to convey their feelings in words. Coaching side-by-side, for example working together at a whiteboard, or going for a walk together or separately whilst chatting on the phone, can also reduce feelings of confrontation or embarrassment for your mentee, and allow them to talk more freely. Make sure your mentee knows you are not asking them a question for which they need to produce the ‘right answer’ this can help them to overcome a fear of saying the wrong thing, and so be willing to speculate out loud.

Let silence be.  All mentors have to practice feeling comfortable with allowing silence to be a regular part of the conversation. Silence between you may sometimes signal that it’s your turn to move the discussion forward (as in the example above). But often it will indicate that your mentee has had an idea, is thinking about a new insight, or is considering how best to phrase what they want to say. You can help them best in this case by waiting, or by using ”Keep going”, ”Go on”, or ”Say more about that’,  to encourage them to stay with the thought and follow it to its conclusion. It can take time to marshal a web of ideas in one’s head into a linear sentence. Don’t butt in on that thought process.

Beyond the conversation: supporting action and accountability.  I consider it an essential component of my own mentoring practice, to ask mentees at the end of the dialogue: ”What action(s) are you committing to, before our next session?” This helps translate ideas into reality and makes action more likely. This is because it gives your mentee impetus to identify the time and resources to complete the task they have set for themselves, and the deadline by which they want to have taken action. Further accountability can be encouraged by enquiring about the consequences of inaction, for example “What will happen if you don’t do this task?” and from a mentoring partnership perspective “What do you want me to say to you next time we meet if you don’t do this task?”

Questions for mentors to field test

Below is a list of generally applicable, or adaptable, questions for your consideration and tailoring. This is a menu of questions from which you can select those that appeal to you, rather than a structured process model. Feel free to try them out, and to adjust the language to suit your style.

  • What exciting things have you been doing since our last meeting?
  • What have you been able to make progress on since our last meeting?
  • What’s working well for you?
  • Are there any unknowns you have right now that are blocking you?
  • What’s on your to do list that you’re avoiding?
  • What would make it easier to tackle that thing?
  • What’s the first thing you’re going to do towards [objective] after this meeting?
  • When do you need to do it by?
  • Who could support you to succeed with this?
  • What does achieving [objective] mean for your progress?
  • What are your hopes for how [objective] will turn out?
  • What could arise to prevent [objective] from happening?
  • What’s the most important thing you need to get done at this point?
  • What’s on the horizon that you know you need to think about now?
  • What is pulling your attention, is that something you need to do right now?
  • What fun things have you done this month?
  • What do you find enjoyable about this work?
  • What’s prevented you from taking action on [objective]?
  • What would make it more likely you will take action on [objective]?
  • What [time/people/support] resources do you have that you’re not making best use of?
  • What are you doing that’s stopping you from being at your best?
  • What might you try instead? What else? And what else?
  • What can you do today that gets you one step closer to that [idea/aim/objective]?

The important thing about developing coaching questions as part of your mentoring repertoire, is to reflect on the approach you take, and the type of responses that your questions elicit from your mentee or coachee. Notice the effect you have on your partner’s thinking, and combine this with their feedback, to really understand what makes for an effective question.

By Dr Kay Guccione, Head of Researcher Development at the University of Glasgow, and FLF+ Network Mentoring Specialist.

This blog is part of a series written for our FLF+ Network Leadership Mentors, and is provided open access so that it can be used by anyone who is interested in improving their listening skills. I draw my examples in this post from across the different mentoring programmes I’ve worked on, but you will recognise that these ideas also apply to personal tutoring, doctoral and masters supervision too, as well as to line management.

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Are you really listening, or are you thinking how to reply?

A common expectation for mentees is that they’ll be able to get answers to their questions by asking their mentor. Not a terrible assumption. A good mentoring partnership though, if fulfilling more than the bare minimum transaction, should not come across like a Q&A session where the mentor supplies the answer to the mentees queries.

You may have noticed that your mentees (or whomever you’re working to support or develop), will often come along to meet you for the first time, and adopt this model: either coming with a list of questions for you to answer, or none at all, but sitting down attentively to hear your oration about ‘what they should do.’

This is antithetic to the idea of mentoring as person-centred learning, as it makes the conversation all about you, the mentor; your advice, your wisdom, your opinion. The short time you have together is filled with tales of your experience, and any actions coming out of the meeting are then yours to own.

It’d be preposterous to say there should be no advice given, or stories shared, there’s a right time and place for advice within your mentoring practice. A good mentoring partnership offers more than that though. I wrote more here about the pros and cons of giving advice if you’re interested to know more.

The idea I want to focus on in this post is the idea of the role you can play as a ‘sounding board’. A sounding board is an acoustic device that is put in place to ensure the speaker’s voice is heard and as a metaphorical sounding board, you act as a listener who amplifies the learner’s voice, not your own. By listening to understand, not to reply, you support the mentee to think out loud, to externalise their thoughts, in order to support a sense-making process: This helps them to:

(1) articulate what they have experienced, how they have reacted to it, what they understand about it and what they learned form it; and then (2) to decide how to proceed and move forward.

Many of us often need to get complex intertwined thoughts out of our heads (and their associated feelings, off our chests) in order to make sense of our experiences. Once we have the chance to talk it out, and hear what we have said, we can start to understand what we think. The ‘giving advice’ model skips step 1, the important sense-making step, and offers a way forward that’s not based in the learner’s experience and preferences, but in yours.

Additionally, being listened to and getting things of our chest gives us emotional relief. Not being listened to because the mentor-is-talking-now, or being constantly interrupted with well-meaning advice, anecdotes, or related topics, does the opposite. It can be experienced as frustrating, invalidating, and disempowering, and perhaps ultimately as a waste of time.

Real listening also means you will retain more of what your mentee, (or colleague, student or team member) is telling you. Meaning that the frustration of repeated conversations or ‘I told you this last time’ can be avoided. Retaining information about people and their work helps you to make connections when opportunities arise. It also supports understanding and therefore trust building between you both, and makes for great working partnerships.

Listening to reply  is how we converse most of the time. Instead of actually paying attention to and really hearing what the other person is saying to us, we are inside our own head, thinking about what we want to say in response, that might help them.

When I teach workshops on the principles and practices of mentoring conversations, I give participants a practice run of just 10 min where I ask them to keep the mentee talking, and avoid jumping in, even if that means long pauses or awkward silences. I then ask the conversational partners how it went, and we unpick the impact of that act, on the quality of the conversation. Mentors will tend to feed back that they experienced the exercise as ‘hard work’ because it’s an ‘unfamiliar’ way of working. And that’s OK, practice makes perfect.

But let’s listen to the mentees, look what they say about the opportunity to sound out their thoughts in an uninterrupted way [data shared with the mentee’s consent]:

“When I got a chance to talk it out and vocalise the ludicrous situation I was in, I had to put all my jumbled thoughts into a coherent sentence, that means that I had to make it make sense as a story instead of, you know, turning it over and over in my mind, going back and forth over bits of the issue in my head. So, like, then I thought about what the story I was telling actually was, and it meant I came to understand what my own role in that story was, and it all became a lot clearer that what I need to do is go back to my colleague X, who I’m feeling weird about. The one that I had the, er, awkward conversation with. I have to do now, what I wanted the person in my story to do, it’s the obvious thing to do, so, and when I laid it all out clearly it was very obvious.”

“When I got to the end of describing the problem I’m having with the new module, I felt like I’d already made up my mind about what I could do, I talked round in a circle and through sorting the facts I became very determined all of a sudden to do that thing, I went right off to do it. All my mentor said, was things to reassure me, like ‘oh that makes sense to me’. What I was saying wasn’t nonsense, and my choice about what to do about it also made sense.”

“It turned out, when I got to really going into detail, not to be one issue but three different things that need sorting out. Now I’ve separated them. It’s funny because I came here saying I wanted to get advice, but when it looked like my mentor was going to give me some advice, I was like, hang on through, I need to finish this thought, because I think I just had an idea. I want to get that out before I hear the one you’re going to say. I didn’t want my thought to be interrupted cos I was on a roll. My mentor’s cool and did a great job but he can’t possibly, well, get to grips with how complicated this is for me, and how much it’s ground me down We only had just a 10 min chat so not his fault that he couldn’t get the complexity of the situation.”

‘Listening to understand’ and to support your mentee to understand what they think and feel, is a practice, and it takes practice. Your role is not to hear the question and then to provide the solution. Instead focus on keeping your mentees thinking and processing their thoughts through talking. Keep them talking until you start to understand their perspective. Your key mentor tools here are ‘summary’ and ‘paraphrase’ — different ways of reflecting back what your mentee has said to you. Summary, is to summarise in their own words. Paraphrase, is to give a short recap using your own phrasing of the situation. Either way you are reflecting their experience back to them, not jumping straight in with your own.

Listen past the words too; when they discuss their work, listen for excitement, be sensitive to their energy levels, and notice what they are not excited or energetic about. Offer an observation to keep them thinking and talking e.g. “When you talk about X you get really enthusiastic, is that right?” or “I notice that when you talk about Y your head went down, what’s happening there?” 

By thinking carefully about whether we are really listening, how we listen, and what the impact of our listening is, we can start to develop new skills in developing others. Try this out in your next mentoring meeting, supervision, or staff one-to-one.

By Dr Kay Guccione, Head of Researcher Development at the University of Glasgow, and FLF+ Network Mentoring Specialist.

Building a ‘repertoire beyond advice’This blog is part of a series written for our FLF+ Network Leadership Mentors, and is provided open access so that it can be used by anyone who is interested in improving how they mentor others.

My work in mentoring, and mentor development naturally covers ‘training’ in good mentoring practice. Actually, I prefer to say mentor ‘development’, because ‘training’ is too didactic a notion to be a good way of describing how I support new mentors to get to grips with the practices involved. Mentoring is in itself a facilitative, non-directive activity which I aim to teach by example, and through offering mentors choice about what they want to include in their toolkit. Structuring and delivering good quality developmental conversations for your mentee is a personal practice as well as a professional practice.

As with all types of leadership practice, there’s not a ‘right way’ to do mentoring, each mentor chooses their own approach, style and practices, and chooses how and when to apply them in different partnerships, situations and contexts. However, there are certain frameworks into which we fit these practice choices, and the framework for good practice in mentoring, is that we avoid ‘telling’ ‘instructing’ and ‘giving advice’ whenever there’s a better way to support our mentee to develop.

That said, advice can be great. Giving advice is almost always intended as a helpful behaviour, done with the best of intentions to support our mentees, colleagues, friends, and families, who present us with a problem. But is our advice always received as intended? It’s likely not, we have all witnessed the frustrations that unsolicited advice can provoke.

When we think of a mentoring session, it’s common to think of two people who sit down together, do some talking, and as a result of this conversation the more junior ‘mentee’ gets some advice, information or tips from the more senior ‘mentor’, and ‘is developed’. However, the idea that mentoring is equal to advising, can lead us to a superficial view of what mentoring involves. Using advice as a way to solve every problem, can be based in assumptions about what the aim of mentoring is, and what the mentee wants to get out of the conversation. Take this oversimplified mentoring process for example:

  1. mentee has a problem based on a knowledge gap,
  2. mentor uses their superior knowledge to solve the problem, by giving some advice,
  3. mentee’s problem is solved because they now possess that knowledge…

But does it always work like that? Are all problems just caused by a simple knowledge gap and fixed by knowing the right answer?

Are mentoring problems always solved with the right advice?

First, let’s ask, are mentoring conversations always about problems? Engaging with mentoring is not just ‘for problems’, but can be even more effective if it’s viewed as a proactive development activity ‘for planning’. Positioning the value of mentoring as an aide to planning, prevents mentoring becoming a reactive rollercoaster of just in time problem solving. And also prevents wasted opportunities, where the mentee says at the end of the programme “I didn’t get in touch with my mentor because a problem never came up.”

Where problems do occur, think also that it’s not very empowering to have to have someone solve your problem for you. In leaping in to solve the issue, we deny the mentee the chance to develop their own problem-solving skills. We undermine their own authority to be in control of their way forward.

And say there is a particular problem the mentee wants to solve, but there isn’t a simple ‘right answer’ to the problem? What if the mentor has no prior experience of the issue? What if the mentor’s advice comes from a different set of experiences and assumptions about how the world works? What if the mentor’s knowledge is out of date, or only applies in certain contexts? Their advice in any of these situations is likely to fall short of the intended mark, and to frustrate the mentee.

Importantly what if the ‘problem’ is not a knowledge gap at all, but a confidence gap, or a motivation gap, or a permission gap or something more complex like how to improve a challenging workplace relationship. These are things that the mentor can’t just ‘hand over’ to the mentee, and so we have to think differently about how to help.

Developing a ‘repertoire beyond advice’ is a must have for a good mentor.

So as mentors we try to resist jumping straight into advice-giving mode, and instead we listen in order to support our mentee to reflect and articulate the issues they face. We amplify their voice, help them think out loud, hear what they have to say, and make sense of their situation. We use coaching questions to prompt the mentee to think out loud, dig deeper, and self-evaluate. Developing a facilitative coaching approach means you can be helpful even if you’ve never experienced what your mentee needs to tackle, and it means you can help them learn how to problem solve for themselves, handing over control, and building confidence and empowerment.

Back in 2017 I ran focus groups with some experienced academic mentors, asking them, “In your experience what are the pros and cons of giving advice to your mentees?”

Here’s what they said…

(+) Pros of giving advice:

  • It’s quicker just to tell someone the answer, or tell them what to do.
  • You may go through all their own suggestions and they still end up taking your advice so it can feel a waste of time.
  • It shows someone you can relate to what they are experiencing.
  • It lets you as the mentor know that you have been helpful. It’s much easier to track whether you have done a good job if you had something tangible to hand over to the mentee.
  • It makes your mentee feel grateful to you, and value your time and wisdom.
  • If your mentee is stuck, it can unstick them, even if they reject it, they have to articulate why, it can get their creativity going again.
  • A mentee might expect advice and if they don’t get it they feel disappointed.*
  • Your suggestion might be insightful. It might be something outside your mentee’s awareness, or a genuine blind spot, or something totally new to them.
  • Your suggestion might stop your mentee from making a serious mistake, wasting their time or getting into a difficult situation.

(—) Cons of giving advice:

  • We don’t know as much about our mentee as they themselves do. We may make a diagnosis about what they need or should do based on very limited information.
  • Listening to your suggestion halts their thinking process. Thinking out loud is very powerful and you interrupt that process when you suggest a solution.
  • It creates a dependency-like relationship. If you solve a problem for them they come back to you next time there’s a new problem.
  • It’s disempowering to a person if you always know more than them, or always want to ‘one up’ their ideas.
  • A mentee will prioritise your advice over trusting themselves. As a mentor, you are the senior colleague so they feel obliged to take your advice, they feel they owe it to you.
  • A mentee in a complex situation can feel relieved that you’ve made the decision, and act without evaluating whether it’s really appropriate for them or not.
  • What if the advice doesn’t work? This can lead to blame, if you suggest a way forward, you always own it, you can get the credit, or the blame.
  • A mentee can get overwhelmed with good advice and feel like they have to put it all into practice before meeting with you again. You never see them again because they never complete the list.
  • We are all just more motivated to actually follow through and carry out ideas that are our own, we’re more likely to put them into practice.

Please take time to consider the reflections above, and see if you can spot them playing out in practice the next time you give advice, or choose not to.

To conclude, coaching those you aim to support rather than advising, is another string to your mentor bow. It means you don’t have to always know the right answer, and that you are supporting your mentee to build confidence, independence, and good problem-solving skills – not just solving the problem for them.

There is still always a right time for advice, usually when there is at least a semi-right answer and the issue is more straightforward. Good advice is given with permission, so help your mentees evaluate your suggestion though rather than just accepting it. Try adding “What can you take from my suggestion that would work for you?’ to the end of your piece of advice. Remind your mentee they aren’t obliged to take your advice too, and let them choose to adapt or reject it, if it doesn’t really work for them.

I hope you now feel more enabled to choose the right supportive approach for the right situation.

By: Sara Shinton, Katie Nicoll Baines & Cheryl Hewer

We’re looking forward to joining you for the UKRI’s FLF Annual Conference in a few weeks and hope that many of you will opt to attend our session on Embedding Diversity in Inclusive Research and Innovation Design. The aim of the session is to explore what inclusive research is and understand what you need to inform the development of the UK Research and Innovation (UKRI)/FLFDN Roundtable on Thursday 25th November and ensure that you have the right support to fully engage.

Inclusive Research and Innovation Design is at the heart of UKRI’s vision, which sets out an ambition for a research and innovation system in the UK that gives everyone the opportunity to contribute and to benefit. For this to happen, we need to create inclusive and safe environments where the quality and integrity of research and innovation is not compromised. Research benefits from involving people from outside the research community in a process of shared learning and discovery. This may happen in a variety of ways – co-production, collaboration or participant and public involvement. But the evidence[1] is overwhelming in that a diversity of people, ideas and knowledge enables a healthier culture, which in turn can result in research and innovation that has the widest benefit. When research and innovation is truly reflective of the diversity of the population as a whole, the credibility and relevance of that research and innovation is enhanced for all.

Some of you will already be familiar that this is part of a global movement particularly noting the introduction of Gender Equality Statement that forms part of applications for International Development Funding. (Whatever your level of familiarity, you might find the Gender Sensitive Research toolkit from Gender.Ed, an interdisciplinary hub focused on gender and sexuality studies, useful).

Additionally, teams focus on different aspects, including across UKRI where we are starting to pilot and embed diversity in research and innovation for example, through including equality questions in the application process for Doctoral Training Partnerships (DTPs) and Centres for Doctoral Training (CDTs) and other large programmes. However, we want to explore embedding diversity in all aspects of research and innovation and what this means at each stage, right from the early concept of ideas to who is able to participate, and who benefits (see diagram below).To embed EDI principles, all aspects of research and innovation must be inclusive. From its concept and planning, to the design of the questions, value and participation of people, to fundamentally thinking about the data, literature and methods. We would encourage early thinking – is it inclusive? Does it consider who may be impacted? Will it be representative of all parts of society or am I limiting who can participate and benefit? This also extends to considering the composition of the research team – is it diverse and does it represent the people in which should benefit from its impacts? Would you know how to start a conversation or how to navigate potential biases? These questions may at first be quite daunting or for some disciplines, feel irrelevant altogether. However, this is not about being proscriptive, we want to work with the FLF+ community as a key co-design partner in this work to ensure this feels relevant and generative.

Building on the work internationally through the Gender Equality Statements, there is a need to continuously build practical tools and experiment with this in practice. We have created an opportunity to explore and discuss how we can better support you and embed inclusive research and innovation design, as well as understand what this means to you and your work. We are therefore inviting you as our future leaders, to help shape this next phase of work and help conceptualise and shape what good inclusive design might look like.

We hope that you will want to learn more about Embedding Diversity in Inclusive Research and Innovation Design, particularly if you have never considered this in your own work and aren’t sure how it relates to you. To help as many FLFs as possible be fully involved in this process, we’re putting in place a short, flexible programme of webinars and drop-in sessions in the few next month to help you come to the roundtable with an understanding of the concepts and how they are applied.

Following the session at the UKRI FLF Annual Conference there will a drop-in coffee morning on October 28th at 10am. This will be an informal chance to learn more about UKRI’s plans and what’s ahead.

In November, we’ll be sharing a short series of webinars with researchers and innovations from a range of fields, talking about their inclusive design approaches and their impacts.

On November 25th from 10am – 1pm we’ll be running the Roundtable where you can help UKRI understand the support you will need and the contributions you can make to this process.

After the Roundtable, we expect some of you to want to continue your conversations and will support you in setting up a network to keep these going. We will also encourage you to think about using the Plus Funds to develop these ideas.

This partnership illustrates the distinctive approach of the FLFDN. In addition to the mentoring, training, coaching and individual support the network offers, we are working with partners in the research and innovation community to create opportunities for FLFs to shape our sector. The conversations with Cheryl and her team at UKRI are part of a wider set of discussions which are going to generate similar opportunities. If there are any opportunities you would like the network to explore and broker (with funders, industry, policy or other partners), just let Bridget know by emailing hello@flfdevnet.com

[1] Why diversity helps to produce stronger research (nature.com)

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 hello@flfdevnet.com. In the meantime, we look forward to working with you in Year 2.

The FLF Development Network Team

Last summer, in 2020 whilst I was in Donegal, Sara Shinton (Director of the Network) contacted me to ask if Queen’s University would be interested in joining a proposal to set up the FLF Development Network. Fortunately, we said yes and I have taken on the role of Northern Ireland FLFDN Hub contact. Queen’s strong reputation in the commercialisation of research is informing the programme of activity for the FLF+s. Recently, I have provided support for the FLF Mentoring Programme and I feed into the Network as a member of the Project Board.

Over past year I have been lucky enough to meet with Future Leaders Fellows at Queen’s University Belfast, where I work as a Learning and Development Consultant. My main focus in this role is to support the professional and career development of research/postdoc staff, which brings me into contact with the broad range of fellowship holders.

My role has evolved over the 15 years that I have been part of the University’s staff learning and development team. Although we still run many workshop style activities, all online at present, we have also introduced other approaches to staff learning over time. This has included coaching in different formats, including traditional 1-2-1 and also peer coaching, which has proved very beneficial for the researchers who have participated.

Alongside access to coaching opportunities, we have enhanced and made more visible the opportunities for mentoring, encouraging and supporting the development of formal schemes in schools and enhancing support for mentors in both formal and informal mentoring settings. I would encourage all Fellows to think about developing a network of mentors and coaches, really just people you can talk to about work, your wellbeing and life in general.

The Future Leaders Fellows at Queen’s are also members of our Fellowship Academy. The Academy was launched in January 2020 and has been a focal point for all our fellowship holders. Unfortunately, we have not been able to meet up and network, both professionally and socially, as much as we had planned, with many activities held on MS Teams over the past year. I’m looking forward to getting back on campus and out into Belfast’s great pubs with the Fellows over the next year!

Our Enterprise and Innovation programme will support people who would like to dip their toe in the world of enterprise to those of you who are ready to take their ideas to the next level. Enterprise, commercialisation and translation are means to an end. Engaging with industry is often seen as a path to spinout research, but it is much more about a process that can lead to a variety of outcomes and create impact across all sectors. It is also about mobility across sectors. Does a successful researcher need to work in academia? Do successful entrepreneurs work within academia? Our programme will also help navigate the blurred boundaries between the two.

Many of your host institutions will have support for commercialisation and all things associated with it, such as contract, intellectual property, patenting, and other forms of idea protection. This programme is not here to replicate that, but to add to it and help you explore whether the world of industry-funded research, spinouts, or commercialisation of your research might be of interest to you. We also hope that by bringing you together to explore these topics, you’ll meet colleagues in the Network and potentially might spark some new ideas and collaborations. The potential is here to build multiple networks to learn from others, road test ideas with and potentially build collaborations with:

  • people who are engaged in the sector you would like to work with
  • academics who are enterprising
  • Future Leaders Fellows who work in different sectors
  • finding people who could be collaborators

Imagine what you could do if you put your heads together!

These sessions are some you will see advertised in the coming months. We will be adding to them in response to what you need, so do let us know if there’s something you would like to see.


For those of you who want to learn from experts in the field, we have a series of concise Insight Sessions:

  • BOOKING NOW for September 2021: Insight Series: Commercialising Research. A brief, 45-minute Insight Session with Jen Bromley, Head of Plant Research and Development at Vertical Futures, focusing on how she has been able to commercialise her research.
  • December 2021: Insight Session with Jason Mellad, CEO and Co-founder of Start Codon, focusing on the tips and tricks to creating a viable start up.

For those of you who want to take the first step into engaging with industry and innovation:

  • BOOKING NOW for October 2021: Helix Innovations Lean Start Foundation, delivered by Helix Hub. Our delivery partners, HelixHub, will be hosting a Lean Start Foundation session. This will focus on introducing many of the most basic business and entrepreneurship concepts so that all participants get to grips with the language and mindsets of the business world. The approach centres on a friendly and supportive environment, with peer learning and hands-on training.
    – We will also be opening spots for this training in April 2022.
  • January 2022: Entrepreneurial Mind-set Course, delivered by the Postdocs 2 Innovators (p2i) Network. Developing an innovator mindset and capabilities enables early career researchers to spot opportunities and have the capacity to act on these with confidence, whether that’s in relation to gaining independence and pursuing an academic career, a commercial opportunity, policy intervention or other means of bringing their research out into the wider world to have an impact.

For those of you who might be exploring ideas around networking and would like to chat to colleagues:

  • November 2021: A casual drop-in Coffee Morning themed around networking (and getting a foot in the door) with Professor Lisa Collins.

For those of you who might be ready to engage with commercialisation and want to stand out from the crowd:

  • February 2022: A surgery looking at how to differentiate and highlight your research to potential investors and partners

For those of you who are considering the implications (and barriers to) protecting your intellectual property and navigating the world of patenting:

  • March 2022: Special guests Jen Bromley and Fiona Nicholson will discuss and give advice on ‘How to… protect arising intellectual property (the patenting process)’

This is just the first tranche of events and more will come next year. Bookings will open three months before each date. Please let us know what else you would like to see, and we will do our best to include it in the next round of events.


Other offerings

Of course, don’t forget that there are other related offerings via the FLF Development Network:

  • PLUS funds: if you want to organise something yourself (or with other FLFs), then you may have an idea which is eligible for PLUS funding of up to £25k
  • Mentoring: you will soon be invited to complete a matching form to enable us to find mentor for you

A brief introduction to Critical Race Theory by Dr Udeni Salmon of the Future Leaders Fellows Development Network.

“I want to speak about a dangerous trend in race relations that has come far too close to home in my life, which is the promotion of critical race theory… I want to be absolutely clear that the Government stand unequivocally against critical race theory… We do not want teachers to teach their white pupils about white privilege and inherited racial guilt. Let me be clear that any school that teaches those elements of critical race theory as fact, or that promotes partisan political views such as defunding the police without offering a balanced treatment of opposing views, is breaking the law.”

Kemi Badenoch, Equalities Minister, House of Commons debate, 20 Oct 2020

Critical Race Theory has been denounced by Kemi Badenoch and Donald Trump as an inaccurate portrayal of history, promoting blackness as victimhood, and making white people feel bad. Badenoch’s criminalisation of teaching Critical Race Theory above was immediately condemned by UK academics and teachers. But what is Critical Race Theory? The concept originated in Black Feminist studies in the 1970s and was further developed by the legal scholar Kimberlé Crenshaw who argued that racism is not simply a matter of individuals being unpleasant to each other, or of acts of violence between groups, but is systematic, historical and structural. Critical Race Theory (or CRT) argues that the historical legacy of empire, slavery and segregation are deeply embedded in our systems of housing, education, justice and policing systems and public health.

So why has this CRT attracted such hostility? One conclusion derived from CRT is that telling individual stories of success in the face of adversity becomes less important than understanding the narrative of subordinated racial groups. This means that Badenoch’s story (which is that her personal success as a politician means that structural racism cannot exist) becomes less important than understanding why there are so few non-white politicians in the UK overall. Another conclusion is that white people, whatever their personal views on racism, automatically benefit from white privilege. For example, Ísis Aparecida Conceição has argued that “reverse racism”, the concept that white people can be the victims of racism, would be considered impossible from the standpoint of CRT: her point is that while white people can be the subject of nationalism (such as Polish groups who live in the UK), they also benefit from white privilege, which are the social and financial benefits and courtesies which accrue from being a member of the dominant race.

So what are the benefits of teaching CRT in schools and universities? The first is that it empowers us to understand that, given the prevalence of racism in our schools, workplaces, and wider society, we will absorb racist messages from birth. Unpicking racism in ourselves and around us is a lifelong task. A Black woman I recently interviewed described how an understanding of CRT helped her navigate the racism she faced as a student:

“When I get stopped by the security guard and asked for my ID, again, I can be confident in speaking to them, saying that not everyone gets treated like this. These ideas (CRT) are helpful in understanding why I got stopped, and not being afraid. These ideas are so important in understanding the world.”

While there will be some social scientists who focus on race, I would argue that theories of race are relevant to research leaders, whatever their field. Theories of race, including CRT, are a powerful mechanism for non-white people to understand the history and politics behind our lived experiences of racism. For white people, CRT is an entry point to understanding the issues faced by their non-white friends, family and colleagues. Understanding CRT helps white research leaders to become better, more informed managers of racially diverse teams.

For more reading on Critical Race Theory, try the following links:

Since the Network began offering workshops to you, many of the sessions have been around management and leadership of others. We know from the 360 feedback exercise, and many of the interactions that we’ve had with you, that this is a key area that you are keen to develop.

One of our main themes for provision of development opportunities is “Teams and Collaborations”. As the name suggests, this theme will cover two kinds of working relationship essential to researchers and innovators. The first looks inward, to your immediate team, and to core topics related to recruiting and developing people whom you supervise or manage, such as feedback and performance management. In particular, the aim is to ensure that, as leaders, you are equipped with the tools and confidence to address things early. The second looks more outward, to your collaborations: finding potential collaborators and establishing productive relationships, how to keep collaborative projects on track, particularly as these reach across institutional and disciplinary boundaries. The theme will be delivered via a mix of workshops, surgeries for ‘live’ issues and practice sharing ‘How I…’ sessions where you can hear how other FLF+s have approached their teams and collaborations. We will also run ‘sandpits’ where you will meet other Fellows to generate ideas, discussion and collaborations on topics of common interest.

Do take a look at materials library from sessions that have already taken place. Many have been recorded and titles include: Effective Recruitment, Delegating and Motivating, Supporting Researcher Career Development, Inclusive Leadership and Managing Conflict.

What’s coming up:

BOOKING NOW:

· 22 Jul, 10:00 – 11:30 Workshop: Establishing Productive Collaborations – a session to help you plan and maintain your research collaboration properly so you can both enjoy and learn from your journey.

· 17 Aug, 10:00 – 12:00 – Mini Research Sandpit – Quantum technologies – an opportunity for the FLF+ community to dialogue, network and establish collaborative partnerships around the theme of Quantum Technologies.

· 18 Aug, 15:00 – 16:00 – Insight Series: How I… Recruited My Research Team

Learn from a small panel of fellow FLF+ colleagues and other ‘early career’ research leaders what lessons they learned in recruitment process.

· 15 Sep, 09:30 – 11:30 Workshop: Recruiting Your Research Team – Advice and discussion for recruiting high quality researchers to your new team.

· 28 Sep, 10:00 – 12:00 Workshop: Managing Teams and Collaborations – This session builds on the 22 July workshop on establishing new teams and collaborations in which we discussed how to plan and maintain your research collaboration.

· 29 Sep, 10:00 – 11:00 Coffee Morning: Building Teams in the Time of Covid – A casual, drop-in event for FLF+s to share tips and tricks about how they approach working within their teams in the Time of Covid.

· 19 Oct 15:00-16:00 Insight Series: How I…Support and Manage My Research Team. Learn from a small panel of fellow FLF+ colleagues and other ‘early career’ research leaders what they have found to be effective in supporting and managing their team.

· 29 Oct, 15:00 – 16:30 Surgery: Trouble Shooting Sessions – A practice sharing and troubleshooting session on any current challenges you are facing around leading and managing teams and collaborations.

COMING UP:

(bookings for these events will open three months before the workshop):

17 Nov 2021 – Managing Performance – a session to help

29 Nov 2021 – Delegation and Feedback

10 Jan 2022 – Working part time – advice on approaches to both working part time yourself, and managing others who work part time

21 Jan 2022 – Surgery: Trouble Shooting Sessions – A practice sharing and troubleshooting session on any current challenges you are facing around leading and managing teams and collaborations.

Mini research sandpits – upcoming topics are likely to include quantum technologies, food insecurity, net zero carbon science and communication. Please let us know if you have any research topics you think would be suitable for a sandpit.

Please let us know what else you would like to see in terms of events, training and development, and we will do our best to include it in the programme.

Of course, don’t forget that there are other related offerings via the FLF Development Network:

  • PLUS funds: if you want to organise something yourself (or with other FLFs), then you may have an idea which is eligible for PLUS funding of up to £25k
  • Mentoring: through our mentoring scheme you could find this opportunity to be matched to a mentor who can advise and support you on managing teams and collaborations.

Peer review helps research councils and other funders figure out which grants to fund.

Taking time to think about, plan, write, re-write and submit your research grant is simply the first step in the process of funding research. Once you nervously click the ‘submit now’ button, the whole thing may feel like Dorothy stepping on the yellow brick road for the first time, with great excitement and trepidation, waiting to see if the great wizard(s) will grant you your wish.

You may wonder what happens to your grant between submitting it and that terrifying moment when you get an email from the funder asking you to respond to peer review? To many, this is an overwhelming moment of uncertainty as you connect with the great wizard(s) reviewing the research proposal you have spent months developing. Then what does the funder do with your response after that? Do the panels take any stock in those? How do panels weigh them up against the reviewer comments? What do the wizards ‘behind the curtain’ actually pay attention to?

Proposals for funding are taken through a rigorous assessment process by the funder, which has been honed by the research councils over many years.

Join us at our online Insight Series event on Mon 19 Jul when we will walk through the steps of peer review and have the opportunity meet and talk with Ben Yarnall, a Programme Manager for peer review policy at the Medical Research Council… and, hopefully, we can make the yellow brick road to funding road a little clearer.


SIGN UP NOW for our online event “How to Peer Review Panels Work?”

Monday 19 Jul 10:00 – 11:30

An introductory session to the best way to present your work to Peer Review Panels, with opportunities to apply theory to your own research.


About our guest speaker

Ben Yarnall – Programme Manager for peer review policy at the Medical Research Council

I co-ordinate and implement peer review policy across the MRC funding schemes and represent MRC’s peer review interests in cross council UKRI activities. I work to understand how existing policies support our goal, improving human health through world-class medical research, and where they could be refined. I get to work with people across UKRI, other funding organisations and throughout the research community. Part of the role I really care about is championing equality and diversity within peer review and funding decisions.

I hold a PhD from the University of Southampton, have worked supporting Cancer Research UK’s policy funding body and briefly worked in industry. I enjoy most outdoor activities and have spent lockdown training our new dog. She can spin and fetch but is still learning the command, “Don’t you eat those chips”.

LEGO Serious Play is a globally recognised facilitation method that helps people to think, communicate and problem solve in groups, and is used by some of the largest organisations in the world.

It works by participants using LEGO bricks to build their answer to important questions. This process of building their answer gives everyone involved a chance to think, and think differently, accessing things that they didn’t know that they knew. The bricks then help people communicate that thinking in a tangible way that others can understand and remember, with principles that give everyone equal opportunity to communicate.

This methodology creates engagement and parity, overcoming the factors of personality and hierarchy that normally influence meetings. The bricks also create psychological safety allowing difficult topics to be addressed. These things together mean that a group can solve complex problems with buy-in from all because the answer has come from them.

In this two-hour workshop for eight members of the FLF Development Network, we will send you your own LEGO bricks in the post so you can experience an online taste of LEGO Serious Play. We will use the bricks to explore some of the challenges that are facing you in your academic career, as well as looking under the bonnet of LEGO Serious Play to explore what makes it work.

This workshop is led by Dr Geraint Wyn Story, who is a qualified practitioner of LEGO Serious Play. Geraint runs his own training company and has a background as a Researcher Development Consultant, a manager in biotech, and a PhD in molecular biology.

The successful use of LEGO Serious Play relies on a small number of principles that will be discussed in the workshop. However, before that, we ask anyone who is interested in this workshop to make sure that you:

  • sign up early so we can send the LEGO bricks to you in the post
  • avoid cancelling your place because we won’t have time to send bricks to someone else
  • can attend for the duration of the workshop
  • are able to work from a laptop or desktop computer with a working web camera, microphone and speakers, and with space to build in front of it.

Expect hard fun!