Learning to lead brings power

12th December 2003 at 00:00
FE's leadership college is to be run by a team player who wants to empower you. Ngaio Crequer reports

If anyone has the qualities necessary to run further education's leadership college, then it has to be Lynne Sedgmore.

She has led Guildford college of further and higher education since 1998, with a 26 per cent increase in students achieving their qualifications, maintaining retention at 86 per cent, and cost-efficiency going up by 15 per cent.

Ms Sedgmore, 48, will become the first director of the Centre for Excellence in Leadership in April.

Inspectors and Investors in People reports have praised the college's leadership. In 2001 it was named as one of the UK's top 100 visionary companies. And the college has won a Good Corporation kitemark for corporate social responsibility - the list is endless. Unsurprisingly, Ms Sedgmore gained her Masters in leadership change.

But like all good leaders she stresses the teamwork involved in all of her and her college's success. She is also very much of the "no more heroes" school of thought: "Leading is about leadership, not just leaders," she says. "It is a collective activity and it is important we understand the role we all play. This is far more powerful than pretending it is just the leader at the top."

So are people born leaders or do they have it thrust upon them?

"I think you can learn leadership," she said. "You can make a difference, make people more effective. I really believe that or I would not want the job.

"You do it by establishing a range of behaviour, creating a skills base, looking at how someone responds to the feedback they get. You help them to develop their emotional intelligence, ensuring they are conscious of the effect of the interventions they are making.

"Leadership is relational. It is about how you engage, inspire and empower.

They sound like cliches but they are real words" She is adamant that she will not be imposing a model of leadership in the sector. "I am not going to preach to principals, but will hope to assist them to build. Many different models must be looked at and different cultures and traits espoused."

Ms Sedgmore went from part-time lecturer to senior lecturer in six years.

After two years at Hackney, heading up central curriculum services, she joined Croydon college as director of marketing, research and development.

She ran the business school for four years in the early Nineties, when she introduced a major culture change programme, leading to an increase in enterprise activities and a 30 per cent jump in fees income.

Two spells as vice principal - higher education and then academic - followed and she became principal and chief executive of Guildford in 1998 - a college with more than 22,000 students, 860 staff and a budget of pound;20 million.

She agrees that there was a macho style of management in FE adopted by many principals post- incorporation. "It created a lot of problems for people but it has certainly gone now," she said. "There are provider organisations that have outstanding leadership, some where it is mediocre and others where it is poor. It is patchy. But remember that Hay (the consultants) said that the best leaders in FE are as good as, if not better than those in the private sector."

She has been a "critical friend" to ministers, first Margaret Hodge, and now Alan Johnson. "I tell them the truth, how it is. They want to hear it!"

Her biggest priority, she said, will be to tackle the "potential crisis of succession". Some 20 per cent of principals are due to retire over the next four years, and there are not enough people coming through the ranks. She is acutely aware that not enough is being done to promote diversity and wants to encourage more aspiring black and female leaders.

Throughout her career she has always mentored up-and-coming staff and intends to continue this.

The two things she is most proud of in her career are: raising student achievement by 26 per cent - it was a collective effort, putting students first; and seeing people who she has led or line-managed going on to succeed. "They said to me, 'Lynne, you empowered me', and that is what true leadership is about."

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