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“Firstline has been really, really helpful”

This summer, the Autumn 2016 Cohort completed the Firstline programme. We caught up with four Firstline leaders to find out how they found the programme.

How was your experience of the Firstline programme?

John: I found the coaching through the leadership development advisor really positive.

Emily: Overall, it was a really good experience. When I describe it to other people, they are quite astonished at the breadth of the opportunity and the different elements. It has made a big difference to me.

Michaela: It is very relevant to social work. There are a lot of moments where I had thought I was the only person thinking what someone else was saying.

Kinga: I think it was very positive as well. There wasn’t anything that I didn’t like.

Looking back at your hopes for the programme, have you achieved everything you wanted to?

Emily: I think I was quite open-minded. I was hoping it would be an opportunity for development, but I didn’t have a fixed end point that I was aiming to reach, apart from a better version of me. And I do feel like a better version of me. I feel more confident and capable at what I’m doing.

John: It’s a slightly different project than the norm. On most courses like this, you sign up and they tell you what you are going to do and what they believe you will get out of it. Firstline, however, is a reflective programme. It gives you access to opportunities, resources and time that you wouldn’t ordinarily have. You project your specific, individual needs onto it, so that you get something back from it. That needs to be stamped in big bold letters at the beginning: ‘What do you want to get out of this? We will assist you.’

Michaela: For me it has unravelled the jumble in my head. Although I don’t feel like I’ve become the best leader I can be yet, I feel like I’ve got to the starting blocks. All the conflicts I had with the organisation, I’ve realised what part I can play in them. And it has given us tools that we can now practice and learn and develop.

Kinga: I have learnt more about myself as a leader and I think I understand myself more now. I definitely know my strengths better. I knew what I wanted to work on and Firstline gave me the opportunity to work on it. In terms of the team, I can see it’s not just me that grew – my team grew with me. From that point of view, I have achieved what I wanted to.

Michaela: It gives you an identity as a leader, outside of the organisation. Before the programme, I felt like I was just doing this job for the council, but now I can see I am part of something bigger.

How have you changed on the programme?

Kinga: The feedback where you identify your preferred leadership styles, and which styles you don’t use as much, has really helped me. Prior to taking on this role, I hadn’t had any training to help me identify my style. I’m a lot more balanced now, whereas before I had really struggled.

John: I’ve separated out the ideas of coaching, mentoring and supervision. I now see the importance of coaching on its own, ideally with someone outside of your department, so that it focusses on leadership relationships rather than practice and policy agendas.

Emily: I’ve become much more aware of how I interact with people. For me, it’s not been about making massive changes to any one thing. It’s been about doing the small daily interactions differently and experimenting with doing things better. When I see the feedback, people say I’m very different, but it doesn’t feel like I’ve made any huge changes.

Michaela: The feedback helps you focus on what other people find helpful about your approach. There’s a sense of job satisfaction in supporting someone in a way that they find useful.

Emily: It also helps to see the difference between how I thought I came across and how I actually came across. In some areas, I had it right; in other areas I didn’t and now I can think about how to correct that.

Looking to the future, what effect do you think the programme has had on your career and your personal development?

John: I’m in a very difficult team that I’m trying to transform, so I’ve taken a lot of professional strength from Firstline during a tough time. Reflecting back on what I needed from Firstline will enable me to recognise that need in others and I might have a greater insight into how to help them.

Emily: It has given me a firmer foundation to build on – I feel equipped and ready. I don’t have a fixed goal for my career, but wherever it takes me, Firstline has been really, really helpful.

Michaela: I think that it’s impacted on my job satisfaction. I’ve always been a reluctant manager because my heart is in practice, but Firstline helped me link those values back to my current role. Now I see that you can move on from frontline practice and still be in social work, in a role that is different but just as important.

Kinga: For me, it made me focus more on what I want in the future. I will actually be leaving my current position. Firstline helped me decide that I wanted to try other areas, to find my niche. It gave me space to explore, especially through the 1- 1 sessions when you really get to know what works for you, what you like, and what you’re good at.

Emily: When Romi was speaking yesterday, she described us as future directors. If she had said that at the beginning of the programme, I would have absolutely squirmed and believed I was in the wrong room. But when she said it yesterday, it felt like a possibility.