TLP Participant Story: Dean McCullough, DUP, North Belfast TLP, Spring 2021

“Those I know that have completed the course are now in my opinion more capable in their leadership and I include myself in that – more empowered, educated and equipped leaders.”

Dean completed the TLP in Spring 2021 alongside local residents and participants from NIHE, Ashton Community Trust, Belfast City Council, HEReNI, Start 360, Morning Star House, the Nigerian Community NI, Contact a Family NI, the HUBB Community Resource Centre, Supporting Communities, HomeStart NI, Women’s TEC and Belfast Works.

“Those I know that have completed the course are now in my opinion more capable in their leadership and I include myself in that – more empowered, educated and equipped leaders… If people want to be the best leader they can be in their respective communities, then I would challenge them to complete the course. Education is at the heart of everything – if the opportunity is there, seize it.”

Introduction and Motivation

  1. What motivated you to sign up to this particular programme?

Leadership ties in with politics so if you’re going to be involved in politics, you’re going to be a leader of sorts. This was about sharpening my leadership skills and pushing myself – and it is important that councillors and those working in politics are engaged at a grass roots level. It was about coming together and meeting with leaders at all levels, community, public and political sector and I found it very beneficial.

Experience and Learning

  1. What topics stood out for you?

The session on Power stood out for me. Being in a relative position of power even at a lower level it was interesting and helpful to hear the perspectives of others who were not political about their views on power and where power lies and I suppose reconciling that with my view on it too. Also, the piece on Systems was interesting and learning about systems outside our Belfast City Council system. The Vision module was another one for me. Vision is integral to politics – if you are a councillor you are duty bound to set out a vision that people can relate to and can follow alongside you – a vision for community and country – for North Belfast. I am cognisant now of how I view and set out my vision – it has to be realistic and I am always challenging myself about how we get there and how long it will take. The elastic band analogy in the vision session made me think about the importance of stretching but not snapping it – that is a balance that I am always mindful of – that practical analogy stuck with me. Also, Social Innovation was new to me too – that pushed me the most in terms of something I have not done that much of. The topics we covered pushed me and educated me and gave me a new understanding around leadership. It was good to hear from people from other parts of North Belfast and other backgrounds.

  1. What are you likely to ‘take back’ to your life/work in the community?

For me it’s about the process – quite often the process can get lost in all the noise in communities and politics. Following on from the course, I try to take time aside to reflect more in terms of my own leadership and leadership styles and the context and the vision. I use it in how I prepare for meetings, how I prepare for engagements in the community when I am meeting constituents or attending events – a tangible example is that if I’m on a panel, I think about getting the balance between Ethos, Pathos and Logos which we covered on the course – striking that balance between how emotive and practical and logical a vision needs to be. For me how we get to the vision from a political point of view is what I am focused on and how it relates to the grass roots. It’s important to stick to the process and not be swayed too much by all the emotive factors. When we talk about vision, it’s about how we implement the next steps and don’t get distracted.


  1. Is there anything you could or would do now that you wouldn’t have done before?

I am now reading and watching things I wouldn’t have before, e.g. TED talks which I didn’t do before and reading around leadership – that continuous professional development is critical for me. And it has pushed me to look at doing other courses – I’m looking Peace, Conflict and Mediation. It has also encouraged me to continue to build and develop and grow my own leadership because leadership is evolving, and the context and world evolves. Another aspect was in completing the course, meeting deadlines for accreditation and undertaking research and referencing – I find myself doing that more. For example, if I’m writing an email or article, I try to reference it and make sure there is credible factual evidence to support the arguments. It’s about maintaining a standard in your leadership – there is a standard required of leaders, so I set a standard and try to raise it continuously.

  1. What difference will this make to how you engage in your interface area?

I feel more confident in a general sense because I feel more educated and equipped in terms of what I have learned on the programme. I feel more confident in terms of looking at things in a much more process-driven way – I approach events and meetings differently, and my interactions. A takeaway for me is stepping back and looking at the impact of my leadership, who I am leading, and listening much more in terms of the communities we are in - active listening - seeing behind the words and the unspoken words.

There is a void in communities in terms of leadership – we need to train people to a level, and this course is at a level where they can assist the wider community to deal with issues. We face a range of issues on a daily basis and need to equip emerging leaders to deal with these. It made me realise if I continue to do everything, it’s not building the capacity of everyone around me. It has made me do less and more – I now manage my time much more stringently. If there are things which are not necessary, I will not focus on those. I prioritise my time much more on things that require immediate attention.

  1. What difference will the course make to the interface area overall?

I absolutely do think it can make a difference – getting numbers through the course. I think a course like this should be a constant feature in communities like North Belfast because there is a difference in capacity throughout North Belfast, there is even a disparity in capacity in terms of community and civic leaders. We need to rectify that inconsistency by building a cadre of leaders across North Belfast across all communities that can take back learning and implement it in our respective communities. I see it has made a difference because those I know that have completed the course are now in my opinion more capable in their leadership and I include myself in that – more empowered, educated and equipped leaders. I think leadership is improving in North Belfast, but we should always be striving to do better, and this course helps us to do that.


  1. Which issues in particular do you think you might get involved in?

It has made me really focus on my passion which is educational underachievement. I come from a working class Protestant community and seeing the statistics about underachievement in North Belfast drives me every day. Education is not a council issue per se, but it effects my constituents. I’m very passionate about courses in the community and about working class people having access to education – this course provides that access and invests the time in those people in those communities and this sends out a signal that there is a commitment there to build leaders and effect change. We need this at all levels – a commitment to support communities and bring education into the heart of communities. The TLP is free to access, it provides an opportunity and it’s within the community which is very important. Sometimes people aren’t as confident going outside so bringing education to the community and creating a culture of education within it is very important. The TLP should be a feature and has a part to play in combating educational underachievement – the more leaders we produce – and recent events show we need them - the more able we are to deal with issues. Tackling educational underachievement requires a strategy and leadership to tackle root causes.


  1. To what extent do you think these changes would have occurred in the absence of this course?

It wouldn’t have happened without the course – would I have continued to develop personally – yes but there would have been a gap there. I learned a lot on the course. You’re going up levels, but also the course is ideal because it is not outside the range of working class people but will push and stretch them. I learned things on the course that I would not have learned otherwise. It has contributed to my own personal development and helped me to develop and adapt my leadership and I feel pushed to do more. 

I think it would be good to have some sort of follow up about how to implement your learning, I’d be interested to know what are the opportunities for that.

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