Intensive learning

Mark Wright: the trainer's story

by Kim Evans

Mark Wright is Director of People Create, a learning design company that specialises in blending creativity with commercial understanding. Mark has designed and facilitated a range of leadership opportunities for the CLP including: Leadership Development Days: Leadership Unleashed; Wayfarer; Sync 100; and Sync 20.  Mark reflects on the amazing transformations that people taking part in the CLP have reported, and describes the years working with the CLP as a catalyst for reflection on his own leadership journey.

Mark Wright is Director of People Create, a learning design company that specialises in blending creativity with commercial understanding.  He has been working with the Cultural Leadership Programme since it started and the Programme’s person-centred approach matches his own.

Mark has designed and facilitated a range of leadership opportunities for participants and his engagement with the Programme has been the catalyst for reflection on his own leadership skills. 

On the leadership programmes I ask people to really look hard at what they’ve been doing and where they want to get to.  That process has made me question my own way of doing things and develop my practice.  As a facilitator, it has been a leadership journey for me as well. 

Mark Wright specialises in developing innovative solutions around issues of leadership development, culture, performance and relationships.  He draws on the expertise that he has developed through a career that has taken him from Arts & Business to Ernst & Young, where he was responsible for Leadership Development, Diversity and Inclusion, to setting up his own business, People Create Limited.  His corporate clients include UBS Investment Bank, Allianz Insurance and Danone, while in the creative and cultural sector he has worked with the British Council, Arts Council England, Leeds Metropolitan University and Business to Arts in Ireland. 

In 2007 the Cultural Leadership Programme asked him to design and deliver a new programme of Leadership Development Days that would provide a challenging and creative introduction to the concept of leadership.

That worked really well and I felt pretty confident about the way I was doing things.  But then I was offered the opportunity to extend the programme, giving it a much broader remit and that’s where my own learning really began.

The Cultural Leadership Programme asked Mark to prioritise the recruitment as many disabled people as possible into the new programme.  Until then, he had consciously avoided targeted programmes, preferring instead to focus on individual journeys and felt that to do this effectively you needed a wide range of participants in the room.  He saw his role as enabling people to cross the barriers that they, or other people, had constructed around themselves.  Nevertheless, he took on the new challenge that the Programme presented, recognising that it would develop his experience in this area.  As a result of that work he was approached by Jo Verrent and Sarah Pickthall.  They run their own consultancies, specialising in disability equality.  They invited him to join with them to tender to the Cultural Leadership Programme for a leadership development programme designed specifically for disabled people working in the cultural sector.  This became known as Sync 100.

As Mark worked on the development of Sync 100 and, later, Sync 20, he realised that he wanted to reassess a great deal of his practice and approach to leadership development and started looking at through a new set of filters.  He discovered that, in many ways, he was putting himself through the same process that he had asked many of his previous leadership participants to go through.  

He says that the experience of working on the Sync programmes had a fundamental impact on all his work.  It wasn’t only relevant to programmes for those with disabilities but came down to accessible learning design.  He also learned a huge amount from working with Jo and Sarah; saying ‘their respective skills as facilitator and coach, introduced me to new and more accessible approaches to learning and I look forward to working with them in broader contexts.’

An interest in psychology underpins much of Mark’s work in leadership development and he uses it to link together his work in the creative and business sectors.  One of the sources he draws on is Joseph Campbell’s ‘The Hero with a Thousand Faces’ and the leadership journey through which ordinary people, working individually and collectively, respond to change, hardship and challenges, transforming themselves in the process.

Taking the idea of the Hero’s Journey, he distils it down to the fundamental stages that a participant in a leadership programme goes through – understanding where they are now; identifying the transition they want to make; and then coming home with new skills, confidence and understanding.  It is one of the processes that participants have found toughest and most rewarding. One participant taking part in a Leadership Development Day in Manchester said, ‘the most useful part for me was the Hero’s Journey.  I have to say it was also the hardest.  Taking a good hard look at the story of your life is scary, especially when it dawns on you that just blaming others is no longer an option’.

Mark is not keen on overloading leadership programmes with jargon and theory.  ‘I am interested in behaviours.  Theory is not the same as behaviour.  I want to make the process of personal development a creative and engaging one.’ 

When Mark and his team designed Leadership Unleashed, his most recent programme for the Cultural Leadership Programme, Mark wanted to challenge conventional thinking and stimulate new ideas, encouraging those who took part to look outside their own sector.  He constructed a nine-month modular programme for 75 participants from the commercial and cultural sectors. They worked together in small groups looking at best practice, sharing ideas and creating new models of leadership working that would be applicable to artists, entrepreneurs and business people alike.

The programme was built around four key themes: curiosity, passion, insight and courage.  Using these four principles, participants worked together in changing groups to look at their current way of doing things, consider how they could re-evaluate their ideas and implement new strategies for leading change.  The workshops were creative, demanding and action-based. He’s continually impressed by the commitment that people bring to them.

One of the things about the creative and cultural sector is that it demands so much of people.  They are giving all the time, to people, to organisations and to art itself.  Often people arrive on a programme exhausted.  They are not always clear why they are here or why they are doing what they are doing any more.  What we try to do is give them space to put themselves at the centre of their journey, to look at their priorities; sometimes deciding what they need to do less of.  You need to empty the jar a little before you can put more in.

He reflects on the amazing transformations that people taking part in the Cultural Leadership Programme have effected. 

People have been really brave, changing jobs, taking on new projects, moving to new countries.  Some people have been courageous enough to recognise that they can make an enormous contribution by staying in the same place.  Sometimes, there really is ‘no place like home. 

I feel I have been on an incredible journey during the years I have been working within the Cultural Leadership Programme.  I have set up my own business and worked with some amazing people – many of whom I am still in touch with.  Most of all, I have taken the opportunity to question my own thinking. I’ve asked the people who have come on to the programmes to look at the way they have been doing things and map out their own heroic journey.  I realise now that I have been on a similar journey too.

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