The Transformative Leadership Programme: Participants tell their story Michael O’Hara, Suffolk Lenadoon TLP Autumn 2020
Michael retired from the Aerospace Industry last year after 40 years of service. He has been involved for a number of years in matters relating to community policing, justice and prisons.
What motivated you to sign up for the course?
I was on the Belfast Policing and Community Safety Partnership and one of my colleagues on that was independent member Debbie Hamill. Debbie was from Alternatives, a community restorative justice organisation and she sent me a note about it. She said she was thinking of doing the course in South Belfast and wanted to know if I would I be interested. I was interested and I applied for it!
I worked in the Aerospace Industry from 1979, so last year I completed 40 years’ service and I decided to take early retirement. Prior to that I had become involved in the Policing and Community Safety Partnerships, I was also an independent custody visitor with the Policing Board and a member of the Independent Monitoring Board of prisons. Last year I joined the board of Community Restorative Justice after I retired. I did a bit of mentoring on the Stars programme. So I had some knowledge of the kinds of things that were going on in the community in terms of projects. Now that I have retired I have the time to do a bit more.”
Experience and Learning
What did you like about the course – especially since it was interrupted by lockdown and had to be completed online?
I enjoyed meeting different people from different backgrounds and having face to face conversations and learning from other people but to be fair after we had the gap, and it went to Zoom, we all adapted to it and it kept that team spirit going.
What topics stood out for you?
Leadership styles. I was a purchasing manager in the Aerospace industry which was quite challenging. I was thinking I might have done things back-to-front because when I was going through some of the questions on the accreditation booklet on defining styles I wish I had been using that in my professional role - I might have got on a bit better.
It gave me a good perspective because instead of being in the thick of the action I was actually able to take a step back and examine different styles which I would not have recognised in the past. Sometimes when you are just getting on with the job you don’t realise the style you are adopting. I had been doing the job for a long time and perhaps I was not feeling the need to look at new styles or different styles in leadership.
The course delivered an effective and structured approach. It opened my eyes to a different environment, one which was more relaxed and not in the front line as it was in my professional role. The tools used to determine leadership styles were effective. I did a self-assessment on my own leadership styles and there maybe was 3-4 different styles where there would be a point of a difference. I kind of knew the one which would reflect me the most but I was surprised with the closeness between the styles.
I couldn’t have told you which style I was using in my professional role but I could now. Maybe by default I got some things right but I could have done things a lot better. I think the democratic style and affiliative style were most used in my voluntary roles but in the private sector I would admit to being over reliant on the commanding style – probably due to the pressures of the aerospace industry. When I was acting on corporate directives it was generally timebound and not suitable for a collaborative approach. Continual crisis management in the private sector meant that commanding and pacesetting styles were prevalent; this had a negative impact on the overall environment and team morale.
What are you likely to ‘take back’ to your life/work in the community?
I could certainly see a difference in the voluntary roles particularly when I was doing the custody visiting. I did that for about 7 years and I ended up leading a south-east team which covered Belfast, Armagh, Antrim and Down and even then it was all about bringing people along. It was about collaboration, working as a team and building relationships with the extended team which was the PSNI, custody staff and the policing board. It is a common-sense approach, the tools are effective and can be deployed in a community or business context.
Is there anything you could or would do now that you wouldn’t have felt able to do before?
Yes, I would have the confidence to use the leadership skills and the design structures to deliver a community project within the Suffolk/Lenadoon interface area.
Are there people/agencies you feel able to talk to and work with now that you weren’t before?
In the PCSPs I formed excellent relationships with statutory agencies including the Probation Board, Youth Justice Agency, PSNI, NIFRS, elected representatives and Council officials. This year I am on the West Belfast PCSP as an independent member. What I found about this course is that it brought me closer to the PSNI. Selwyn who attended the course is familiar with the area and has participated in West Belfast PCSP meetings. I had not met him before, however I was able to make a connection in terms of the Suffolk/Lenadoon interface. He is knowledgeable about the issues in the area and has some suggestions for improvements in the area. I believe we would be able to work well together and share ideas and best practice in terms of implementing project improvements in West Belfast.
Amanda was another participant on the course who I met for the first time. Amanda is a great advocate for LGBT rights. Through our conversations and discussions, I became very aware of the challenges that face the LGBT community. For example, when I considered the fact that hate crime is the fastest growing crime in NI, I began to understand the magnitude of this situation and it made me think harder about what the challenges are and how they could be tackled.
What difference will this make to how you engage in your interface area?
There are 3 or 4 of us who were willing to give our phone numbers for a WhatsApp group. I’ve been checking in with the guys who are doing the accreditation course to see how they’re getting on. When it comes to the project we can use the WhatsApp to at least talk, think things through and come up with a project.
What difference will the course make to the interface area overall? Especially in terms of relationships, collaboration and increased understanding in the area?
This course has created the capacity to deliver value added projects in the interface area.
Which issues in particular do you think you might get involved in?
Being able to put the learning into practice and being able to get a small budget to deliver a project. That was brilliant! So I’d like to take that opportunity to do something through a group project.
How will you apply new ways of working, ideas or approaches?
I think the key is to use the tools that we have been taught. Use the leadership, use the models of the 5 design stages. When we were doing the course one thing became clear, something most of us do, and that is jump to the solution before we know the problem. So I believe in a team environment we need to start at the beginning, go through the Empathy stage, learn consult and observe and then follow the next stages in a structured fashion, (i.e.: Define, Ideate, Prototype and Test). Hopefully we all will be able learn from this process and continue to improve on delivery and be conscious of the leadership style we are deploying.
To what extent do you think these changes would have occurred in the absence of this course? i.e. would you have developed these skills and be motivated to do something new anyway?
This was an excellent course - I would not have developed these skills without completing it. I have also built up a network of community contacts through participation on the course. I have already been talking to friends and colleagues. I was very glad it resumed again. To me it was certainly a promising course and very much relevant to the things I am doing now in my retirement. I have been encouraging members of the PCSP and volunteers and co-ordinators in CRJI to consider participating.
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