The latest insights on narrative, storytelling and leadership in higher education.

Case Study: Building a senior leadership community


“This is something very different from a training course. We’ve shared something of ourselves, gained new insights into our colleagues and thought about how to communicate our new Strategy. It was hard work laced with fun!”


Professor Jane Longmore Vice-Chancellor, University of Chichester  

  When Jane arrived as the University’s new Vice-Chancellor in May 2017, she was determined that leadership of the institution should not be confined to a handful of senior managers. She saw in the grouping of almost 30 heads of academic and professional services departments the potential to lead the University to a sustainable future through engaging the wider workforce with a compelling narrative. It was essential for this group to form a close leadership community, and to own in full the new Strategy being developed through consultation in 2017-18.   Jane understood Invisible Grail’s view that tapping into everyone’s inherent sense of creativity and playfulness to find the right kind of language is essential if we want to connect people with one another: students and staff; academics and business; Board members and the workforce; volunteers and the community. For this reason she also invited a member of the University’s governing body and the two Student Union sabbatical officers to join Invisible Grail’s programme for the leadership community.   After our first session together, in October 2017, Jane decided to use a short writing activity with the University’s governors at her first Board meeting: she asked each member to write two sentences about ‘What makes the University of Chichester special’, then held her breath as she waited for their response. The conversation that ensued showed how this simple piece of writing had led to Board members changing their views of their purpose as governors. They understood that the guidance they needed to provide was of a different order to managing the University.   Students at the University of Chichester Imagine you were a student at the University, and you happened to be walking past the rooms the leadership team was working in during the Invisible Grail programme.  You would have noticed clusters of people sitting around tables and working in intense bursts of concentration. At times, they sat writing in silence. At others, they talked with animation, or listened carefully to one another’s stories of leaderships and its challenges. As they worked together to build a shared language to capture the values and intentions that defined their new Strategy, they spoke with passion about what motivated them most: you.   Invisible Grail ran four afternoon workshops over a period of 7 months, during which we explored:   –       Understanding individual and collective leadership identities –       Developing scenarios for the University’s future –       Distilling essential stories and finding an authentic voice –       Bringing departmental colleagues with you in understanding and implementing the Strategy   The outcome was a close-knit leadership community determined to continue working together to support and challenge one another in shaping the University in the approach to the 2020s. In a final writing activity on the fourth day of the programme, one person said:  

Every leader needs…

a big box of well done for our teams

a tin of persistence

a bottle of ambition

a pack of tissues.

  Find out more about Invisible Grail, or return to bespoke programmes.

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