11 June 2024

Polly Sinclair MSc FCIPPdip MSET, CIPP tutor, reflects on bringing learning together in the final article in a three-part series on the Gateway to Gold certificate

My time back in the classroom as a student of the new Gateway to Gold certificate for tutors has finally come to an end. I’m tempted to say that my journey of self-exploration through my emotional intelligence (EQ) and its ability to boost my leadership skills is now complete, but that would defeat the object of what I’ve learned!

In previous issues, I’ve shared the four pillars of EQ for leaders: authenticity, insight, innovation and coaching, unpicking what they mean to me and why it’s important to develop these areas. This process of reflection has been long and hard at times, akin to sitting in the chair at a hairdresser and being made to look at yourself in the mirror as you go through various states of dishevelment. You don’t always like what you’re seeing but need to trust the process and hope a better version of yourself will walk out the door by the end, or at least that there will be a few of those greying hairs now subtly hidden for another couple of months.


Sharing experiences

The final part of our course involved bringing all that we’d learned together – physically as well as academically – as (with some trepidation) we headed to the CIPP head office to give presentations on a leadership experience which has impacted our EQ.

Joining together gave us the chance to share experiences and coach each other to understand how they have affected us. There was a lot of laughter, some tears and a few hugs but we all came away with a better understanding of each other as well as ourselves. It was an exhausting but rewarding weekend, giving me plenty of food for thought. This was a pilot of the qualification, so I asked our course leader, Ursula Cameron, how she found it: “Asking the group to share with myself and their peers the experiences that have shaped them as transformational leaders was a risky strategy. I knew it could make some students feel vulnerable and exposed; but the potential for personal and professional growth was huge and I felt the group was ready for the challenge. I couldn’t have been more proud and delighted. This was a huge success and I felt a great deal of professional fulfilment at the end of a very enjoyable day.”

Off the back of that success there was just the little matter of a 4,000-word final reflection to go! Like the work-based project our Foundation Degree students complete, it was a chance for us to make sense of the learning we’d completed in each module and bring it together to set out next steps. And this is one of my biggest takeaways from the course – to be truly emotionally intelligent you do need to keep working on it. It’s not like learning a subject that you can revise just before an exam. You can’t put together some flashcards and refer to them as and when you need them. EQ is a continual work in progress because it’s impacted so much by things outside of our control. As unpredictable as some of the changes to payroll legislation have been recently, we have a structure to this and a process to follow. This doesn’t change because you’re feeling tired or pulling your hair out, but our EQ does. We lose the ability to see beyond our immediate needs when under pressure which automatically means we lose our connection to others.

These ‘derailers’ need to be kept in check and this can only be done through being mindful of them. Much like the grey hairs, it’s not just a case of covering them and hoping for the best. It’s about seeing them and making a conscious choice about how to deal with them.


Strength-based approach

At times, focussing on weaknesses felt draining. With low self-esteem it led to a few moments of despair at my own lack of capabilities. Then I realised that the only person making me focus on these was myself. Why not make the choice to accept those grey hairs and look at them as part of my character? Along the way I’ve found that I do have some strengths so why not feature those instead?

This idea was borne out of the presentations we completed. Another tutor explained they didn’t feel the need to be assertive because they usually relied on their good relationships with others to build trust, which meant it wasn’t needed. It seems quite logical now, but it’s so easy to get caught up on what we perceive as negatives and our own limiting beliefs. If we can look in the mirror and tame that unruly bird’s nest into a messy bun, we’ll be a lot happier than trying to force it into a red carpet-worthy up do.

So, I have decided to embrace the grey (metaphorically at least) and work on using my strengths. My high level of self-actualisation took that as its cue to sign me up to another qualification and the day after my final assignment was submitted, I embarked on a National Professional Qualification in Leading Teacher Development. The first task was to reflect on my leadership competences, so I had that one in the bag!


A collaborative journey

EQ is all about how you interact with others. One of my biggest takeaways from the course is the realisation that leadership is about facilitating others to achieve a goal. Leaders need to be able to delegate and they need to be able to listen to others. They need to be able to get over their own bad hair days and come armed with combs and hairspray for their teams instead.

It was impossible to complete this qualification without sharing it with the other tutors formally at our presentation day, but also informally, as we supported each other to meet deadlines and celebrate success, so I asked some of them to share what they learned.


Tips from some of the Gateway to Gold gang

Vivien Piper advises being “prepared to recognise changes” and it’s such a valid point – EQ isn’t about scores on a test,

so we need to find our own benchmarks for growth.

Vicky Hilton reminds us to start by looking at ourselves. She says: “In order to continue to grow professionally I need to ensure I look after myself to perform at my optimum,” and this really fits with the work we did on improving our resilience.

Michelle Sutton explains that we must continue to work on ourselves as “EQ can diminish as we age hence nurturing it to sustain a robust EQ is a priority” – a little bit like those roots that need touching up from time to time.


What’s next?

I’m looking forward to catching up with the rest of the tutors at our annual training event in July, sharing some of my experiences on this course.

We have some amazing leaders at the CIPP and while we can’t all have those job titles, I’ve learned that there’s nothing stopping me from being a leader. In fact, I’m coming round to the idea that I might already be one! 


This article featured in the July - August 2024 issue of Professional.