February 2015: Learning through utter chaos

So, now for something completely different . . . For the best part of two weeks, I’ve been holed up on the beautiful Dartington Estate, in deepest darkest Devon, on the Challenge of Rural Leadership Course. Run expertly by the Rural Business School of Duchy College on behalf of the Worshipful Company of Farmers, it aims to provide industry leaders of tomorrow with all the tools we need to hone our skills and become more effective at what we do, as well as gaining a better understanding of rural issues.

It’s very intensive, a full-on, two-week residential course running well into the night every night, but boy is it worth it. Not only am I surrounded by the most dynamic and interesting people that I’ve ever met, we’ve also been presented to by some inspirational and high-calibre people from a range of industries and all walks of life (including some from the military and emergency services). Their presentations, often charting their careers and experience as leaders, have also been incredibly personal, so you get a real insight into how it felt for them dealing with a range of difficult situations.

The first week brought with it an interesting challenge in that we were given a case study to work on; visiting a company, learning about its issues and data gathering, before working as a team to develop a strategy for it going forward that we were due to present on the last day of the first week. Well, imagine the scene . . . 16 bright sparks all running about trying to lead each other, take over, be heard and have a view. Total utter chaos!

Thankfully this is exactly what they want you to experience as part of the “learning how to lead effectively” process, and by Friday morning we had developed a solid plan and nailed it with a pretty convincing pitch.

Over the weekend the learning continued, although happily at this point we were able to escape the confines of the classroom and participate in some team-building activities, mainly involving mud, pieces of carpet and plastic drainpipe (ask me about that sometime!), followed by a dose of rock climbing, archery, fire building and a most enjoyable zip wire ride.

Week two has been much more about specific leadership qualities and learning tools to help with strategic thinking. We’ve also been doing some media training, which has been quite an eye opener for some! The interesting, and perhaps most daunting, part was the psychometric testing, which figures out what sort of leader you are based on your beliefs and behaviour. Apparently I’m a generalist, which is a good trait, and a cross between a rhino and a monkey – this may not sound too good, but means that although I can be a bit bossy, I try hard to be nice while doing so.

I would definitely encourage others who feel that they might need some leadership training to apply. As with the Nuffield – you really won’t regret doing it, and the friends that you make on the course will be with you for life.

Course director Richard Soffe said we’re certainly a very lively and challenging group this year; I shall take that as a compliment.

> Dr Zoë Davies is chief executive of the NPA.
For more information visit: www.npa-uk.org.uk

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