COVID-19 has forced businesses to work differently. Organisations need to mobilise staff to lead their teams and the wider organisation in new ways.
Apprenticeships are an excellent way to provide this development. They offer practical, work-based learning based on standards designed by employers. This means apprentices can enhance the knowledge, skills and behaviours that are directly relevant to their role.
This month, Henley Business School welcomed the first cohort of its Senior Leader Apprenticeship | Leadership programme. This was developed to meet the new Senior Leader Apprenticeship standard, which replaced the Senior Leader Master's Degree Apprenticeship in 2021.
Professor Jean-Anne Stewart, Programme Director, has taught and researched leadership at Henley for over 14 years. She also brings a wealth of experience implementing complex international IT and business change programmes.
We asked Jean-Anne to tell us more about the new programme.
Jean-Anne, what are the key features of the Senior Leader Apprenticeship (SLA) | Leadership?
"The SLA Leadership is about developing people who are already in a leadership role to become even better leaders.
"It is underpinned by the MA Leadership that we already successfully run at Henley. We designed that programme with practitioners from all kinds of organisations – from large, small, and medium-sized enterprises to not-for-profits and government departments.
"As a result, it addresses the challenges that leaders face today - and that feeds through into the SLA Leadership."
Who do you think is best suited for this programme?
"Definitely people who are in a leadership role. We expect participants to be leading a department, a unit, or a small organisation. Many people who have been on the programme work for very large organisations, and they can lead departments of several hundred people.
"Participants can also come from quite complex organisations. On the programme we talk about ‘wicked problems’, which are essentially problems with no right answer – you’re looking for the ‘least worst’ solution. That’s where I think leaders are having to work today. They need to come up with actions and decisions that will move these problems forward, even if they don’t fix them.
"I think that’s why the programme is popular within the NHS. They’re facing critical situations and they still need to come up with a solution - they can’t just say ‘oh, we can’t do that.’ The people who come on this programme want to develop themselves to be able to face those challenges."
“Leaders today need to come up with actions and decisions that will move problems forward, even if they don't fix them. The people who come on this programme want to develop themselves to be able to face those challenges.”
How is the programme taught?
"Each module has one day of intensive teaching, which we call a taught workshop. However, these are highly interactive, so learners shouldn’t expect a lecture!
"During the workshops, we introduce learners to new materials, but with an emphasis on how to apply that knowledge. Workshops are supported by a learning coach who will then follow up through online sessions.
"Towards the middle of each module, learners have an afternoon where they work with an action learning facilitator on very specific leadership challenges that they’re facing. They then have the chance to take action back in the workplace and reflect on their progress."
Before the Senior Leader Apprenticeship standard was introduced, Henley ran a similar version of the programme that was mapped to the Senior Leader Master's Degree Apprenticeship standard. What kind of impact did that programme have?
"Even after a year, students on the SLMDA Leadership were recognised not just by themselves, but by other people, as becoming better leaders. Their decision-making improved and they were working more collaboratively, both within their team and with other teams.
"As they neared the end of the programme, students talked about how they had an increase in confidence as they dealt with all these situations. Often at the beginning, they thought they were the only leader facing some of these problems, but by going through the programme – through the action learning, and with the peer support that they got from the action learning – they realised that they’re not alone."
“They thought they were the only leader facing some of these problems, but by going through the programme – through the action learning and peer support – they realised that they’re not alone.”
Subject to further assessment and a top-up fee, learners who have completed the SLA Leadership can progress onto Stage 3 of the MA Leadership. Could you tell us more about this stage?
"We’ve been running the MA Leadership for eight years now, so it’s been around for a while!
"Stage 3 includes two modules. The first module is about developing leadership in others, so learners work with a colleague in their organisation to develop their leadership capability. This came out of our research which found that good leaders don’t just develop themselves; they develop other people in their team that can support them and take on some of the leadership roles and responsibilities. So that’s one module.
"Then, as with all Masters qualifications, they need to do a dissertation. The dissertation for the MA Leadership is a 12,000-word research-based project where learners investigate an organisational challenge and recommend practical solutions. We spend quite a lot of time working with learners to make sure their project is relevant and interesting, both for themselves and their organisation. There is also a 3,000-word learning reflection which is assessed as part of the dissertation.
"To give you an example, one of our students looked at how leaders should engage millennials in the organisation. There was a bit of pushback at the time - ‘well, surely all people want to be engaged in the same way?’ - but he came up with some really interesting findings that were very specific to his organisation."
Finally, what do you think are the most important attributes for leaders in 2022?
"I think it’s important to be adaptable and flexible. What we've seen over the last two years is that leaders have not been able to predict what's going to happen, therefore they need to be able to act and make decisions when they have incomplete information."