Over the last fifteen years there has been so much discussion, thought and implementation of leadership programmes in most organisations. Leadership training has been the default way for some companies to support the transition of  managers to competent leaders. Now, I think there are blurred boundaries in some cases about good management and competent leadership. Can you have one without the other, given the expectations that are placed on middle managers who aspire to become senior leaders?

McKinsey&Company published an article last year entitled “Why leadership-development programs fail”. In this article four key elements that are often missing from leadership development programmes are outlined. The first one being about how context is key. Leaders in one context may be successful, but in another context unsuccessful, or in the eyes of some, fail at a given leadership taks. Given this and several other elements discussed in this article, I feel it is essential to maintain bespoke and tailored programmes that hold identity and culture as central values of the development process.

The Calibre Leadership Programme that will be running for the third year at Imperial College in 2016 aims to do just this. As a flagship leadership programme for disabled staff in the sector and beyond, the social model of disability is placed at the core and recognising disability as a clear and distinct strength. The genesis for the course was the invisibility of disabled people at all levels of the College. There were clearly extremely skilled staff not being provided with the correct opportunity for them, and as a result talent was not being harnessed in the right way.  By providing the correct framework underpinning the kind(s) of leadership development that would work for them, with the context they are working in, there has been a positive cultural shift in the workplace.

Dr Ossie Stuart has worked with Imperial College to design this innovative, personal and empowering course, for both staff and their managers. Its aims are  to enable disabled people to realise their work goals, learn from peers, find a voice in the workplace and define their own boundaries in relation to declaration and disclosure. I have been lucky enough to co-deliver, with Dr Stuart and a disabled leader in my team and have seen the positive impacts this approach has had on participants. I have also analysed the impact of the programme using pre- and post- evaluation questionnaires for all three cohorts. Participants have stated that Calibre has given them more confidence, enabled them to speak up in the workplace, get involved in more challenging work projects and supported them to consider leadership vantage points. On average paritcipants move three points up the evaluation scale ( from a 2 to a 5, the highest score). It is clear that Calibre delivers what it sets out to and is a way of integrating context and culture into a leadership programme.

I am pleased to say the next cohort will start on 13 January 2016 at Imperial College. If you are interested in attending all information can be found at http://www.imperial.ac.uk/equality/support-for-staff/training/calibre/. I look forward to having you on the programme and hearing your thoughts about leadership in context.