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How strategic leaders in further education can plan for the future

14 December 2020

by Sarah Clancy

In a recent interview between Debbie Wilshire, one of the lead facilitators of AoC’s Senior Leadership Development Programme, and David Hughes they discussed his role as Chief Executive of the Association of Colleges and how his leadership enables him and the organisation to move forward to support AoC’s members.

It is so important to believe in your job and the sector you work in and David Hughes commented that he gets so much energy working in a sector he loves. It is a hugely complex sector but what we do as a sector makes such a positive difference to students. As leaders we need to always learn from experiences and develop our confidence and judgement.

Here are David Hughes’ core pieces of advice for leaders in further education to focus on:

Do what you think is right.

Use your judgement, be confident, consistent and stick to your values.

Reflect a lot on every experience at work.

Take time to examine both the positives and negatives. This should be an ongoing and iterative process.


Surround yourself with the best people.

This includes people that are different to you and have varying levels of experience. Diversity is important, and it is crucial to empower your team and give them the space and reassurance to develop their thoughts.

Ensure you take time to test out your thinking.

It is important to think through multiple scenarios before any professional situation. Planning for these can really help with your confidence and approach.

Stay grounded and put humility at your core.

Take time to reflect on what you have and have not got control of. Be strong and stop where you don’t think you can do any more. Focus on what you can change and focus your energy there.

Have short, medium- and long-term goals.

Set your long-term goals and work back from there to set your objectives.

Remain hopeful and positive

When we confront a complex situation, such as the current situation we all find ourselves in, we need to acknowledge the problem and be realistic about what it means. We need to set the scene of hope and focus on the positives. We need to show our teams what we can do in the situation, not what we can’t do, whilst giving people permission to be human and confront the problems they face.

If you need advice on developing senior leadership skills, please take a look at our senior leadership programme for more information on training courses.