Keith Towler reflects on Leadership and the Leading Wales Awards

Keith Towler, Chair of the Council for Wales of Voluntary Youth Services (CWVYS) was winner of the Leadership in the Voluntary & Not for Profit Sector in 2017.

This is a guest blog in which Keith shares his thoughts on leadership, on the impact of winning a Leading Wales Award and encouraging others to participate in 2018.

“What makes a good leader? A question that has a number of answers based on everyone’s own experience. We all have direct experience of being inspired by someone. That individual or collective that moved you to act.

I had an art teacher when I was in school who inspired a lifelong interest in drawing and painting. I had a line manager when I started on a career in social work that made me think quite creatively about what I could achieve. I met a number of children and young people, when I was Children’s Commissioner for Wales, that taught me that leadership and being inspired by someone’s experience or actions, was not defined or limited by status or age.

Winning a Leading Wales Award in 2017 was quite a humbling experience. To be recognised as someone who has demonstrated sound leadership is really quite something. As the Chair of CWVYS, the Council for Wales of Voluntary Youth Services, I see every week how youth work changes young people’s lives for the better. In some circumstances it has actually saved a young persons life. I’m quite sure of that. So to be endorsed and nominated as a leader from the voluntary youth work sector is an accolade indeed.

Awards are very useful of course but what difference does it make? I’m no longer a practitioner. For the last 20 years or so my work has been at a national level, promoting legislative or policy change based on a commitment to improve children and young people’s lives. That’s the key. Remembering that everything you do, at whatever level, has to have a focus on improving the life chances of those you represent or advocate for.

The Leading Wales Awards are high profile and enjoy a prominent place in Welsh civil society. There is no doubt that being nominated and then winning my category had an impact on at least two levels. Firstly, on me, as I reflected on how I got here and what I might want to do next. And, secondly for CWVYS and the voluntary youth work sector. Youth work in Wales, like many parts of public service, face considerable challenges as it fights to continue its work in hard times financially. The publicity surrounding the Awards certainly helped to raise the profile of youth work but it also helped in cementing the importance of voluntary youth services at a time when the Welsh Government is looking to promote and expand the delivery of youth work.

It would be foolish to say that being nominated for an award, or being a winner, was an end in itself. Surely though it is good to share stories, learn from the experience of others and meet people from other sectors. Listening and reflecting on what you learn helps to make good leaders.

If you are thinking of nominating someone, or find yourself being nominated for a Leading Wales Award, the experience will be a positive one. Go for it!”

(Very many thanks Keith – a very well-deserved recognition of your leadership too via your Award win! Barbara)

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Leadership that builds engagement

September 21st was (unbelievably) the 13th Leading Wales Awards – wonderful to take time once again to celebrate leadership and leaders in Wales.

This year as we held our Leadership Conversation CPD events around Wales as part of our nomination drive, our theme was about engaging leadership and its impact on increasing workplace performance and productivity.

At the Awards this year, we were privileged to have the Admiral Inspire Choir singing for us during our drinks reception. Their choir is led by InspireMe and involvement in the choir is just one of the ways in which Admiral actively seeks to engage its staff. Started in 2008 the aim of the choir is to allow people to develop confidence, self-esteem and increase their motivation, all of which help them in their day-to-day activities in Admiral. It’s also an opportunity for all of them to chill out and have a bit of fun, at the same time as re-energising themselves. It provides an opportunity for staff from different departments and with different levels of responsibility to meet up weekly to rehearse and regularly (as today) do performances to support charities and local community projects. Through the building of voice skills and confidence it is great for the choir and great for Admiral as a business.

The Admiral Inspire Choir members led by InspireMe gave us a real-time demonstration of what one example of engaging leadership is like in reality. Huge thanks to everyone!

Our Leading Wales Awards nomination and judging processes assess leadership behaviours and attributes as well as assessing impact and achievement of goals. We identify and recognise those leaders who inspire their employees to become engaged, and hence their leadership is transformative as well as being about setting and delivering on current targets.

In other words, we seek outstanding leaders who are both transactional and transformational; to lead in this way is a tall ask, requiring a lot of energy and focus and additional effort & care.

Engagement seems to have become a bit of a buzz word! There are loads of definitions of it around with no particular one being definitive.

Personally, I like the Forbes definition which is:

Employee engagement is the emotional commitment the employee has to the organisation and its goals.”  (

I believe that leadership that inspires builds engaged employees and customers who have that emotional connection with the organisation and what it is aiming to achieve; such leadership is transformative because engagement is directly correlated to levels of work place performance and productivity. This means the higher the levels of engagement, the higher the levels of work place performance and of productivity.

In reality, research into engagement in Wales flags up that only a small percentage of our work force is really engaged at work and the majority of employees simply actively manage their disengagement.

Therefore, if we really are to drive up our productivity and prosperity in Wales, leadership that is ensuring the delivery of current targets of the service or product or charitable cause is essential in every organisation. However, to build the sustainable future (and the “Wales we want to see”) it is equally vital to provide inspirational leadership that creates engagement.

We need both.

(These were many of my opening words at the 13th Leading Wales Awards on 21st September 2017.)

Very many, many congratulations to all our 2017 finalists and winners:

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Why should I be nominated for a 2017 Leading Wales Award? #embarrassing!

Over the years a few times I have been told that “it’s embarrassing to be nominated or to be a finalist or winner, because really it’s all about the team and everybody else and not just me”.

I think it is essential that we tackle this notion head on once again!

An essential element of any leader’s role is to inspire, encourage and support other employees and colleagues to develop their skills, to build their confidence so that they can really believe that they too are able to develop leadership skills and aspire to and achieve more senior posts, contribute to public appointments or Board appointments etc.

Many individuals (all inspirational leaders in their own right) have told me that one of the reasons why they are doing what they do now and achieving so much in their leadership role is that another person had (recently or some time ago) really encouraged and inspired them to believe in themselves, to learn new knowledge and skills and to aspire to and achieve promotion.

This act of “extending the ladder” to those coming up behind, encouraging them find their own self-belief and sense of purpose for what they wish to follow as their cause or vision or passion is incredibly important.

It is an essential activity of all leaders – to help develop the up and coming leaders.

You know me, I totally get that those who are inspirational leaders have an absolutely clear value that “it is not about me” but it IS about the team, the business or enterprise, community or organisation and the people it is there to assist, support, employ and so on.

However, “extending the ladder” is about accepting too your personal contribution and responsibility as “someone in Wales whose leadership is making a real difference” to encourage and inspire many others to “reach for the stars” and to be the best they can be and to provide the leadership we really need in all walks of life here in Wales in order to grow real prosperity and well being. So that together we can grow #thewaleswewant.

As a nominee or finalist or winner, it gives you the credibility to reach out and build links with others, to support them, mentor them (if unofficially) and encourage that building of self-belief and skills and hence be part of creating the future through ever-increasing leadership capacity, capability, networks and skills in Wales.

Some of our previous finalists and winners are contributing to the WG Dynamo Project and inspiring young people in school; some contribute to workshops and conferences and in so doing meet with and inspire and encourage others; some gain from the networking opportunities and work together with others from a sector that they would normally never work with and hence share those transferable leadership skills and inspiration; others meet like minded individuals and they mutually support each other; many of you I introduce to others to assist you with this. This is all about growing our leadership capability, capacity and networks in Wales.

Therefore, if your colleague wants to nominate you, be cheered and encouraged by your colleagues’ recognition of you, accepting graciously that recognition and with confidence and credibility use it to help others to also come along on their leadership journey.

So instead of saying “Oh no, that is just too embarrassing” when a colleague wants to nominate you, how about re-framing that question to “How will that help and inspire others on their leadership journey? What can I do to help others develop and aspire to be good leaders through this process?”

Go on – just do it! When a colleague asks to nominate you – say yes and help “extend the ladder” and contribute to growing even more Leaders in Wales.

Register and download nomination documents from

Do please like, share and comment to help us uncover those leaders making a real difference in Wales – thank you!

Nominations close the end of May 2017! Who will you tell us about whose leadership is making a real difference in Wales?


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Engaging Leadership to improve productivity

Last Thursday, kindly hosted by Aberystwyth University, we held one of the 2017 Leading Wales wards’ Leadership Conversation events about engaging leadership to improve productivity. This is one of a series of Conversations to highlight the need for good leadership and to encourage participation in nominating for the 2017 Leading Wales Awards.

Linda Tomos, the Librarian, National Library of Wales was our guest contributor providing two case studies about how to in real life (as it were) engage employees – one relating to a relatively small team within Welsh Government and one her current (very much larger team of about 200) at the National Library.

I set the scene with some statistics and research which help explain why engagement is so important: e.g. In 2016 the Office for National Statistics reported that the UK productivity gap had widened to its worst level since records began. Worse still, in Wales, labour productivity was almost 20% below the UK average. And also: McKinsey research has consistently shown that good leadership is a critical part of organizational health. Engagement and creating engaged employees is something that managers and executives can influence (whether a micro-business or multi-national).

Within both of her case studies, Linda explained that in her view  to be engaging needs very much a conversational leadership approach; those conversations are within a clear structure (i.e. a clear vision and strategy together with an implementation plan to deliver on that strategic vision).

This had total synergy with me having said that the leadership required needs to be holistic in its style and deliver on being transactional (clear planning and accountability, setting targets, measuring progress etc) as well as being transformational (a clear vision which is shared, connecting with individuals, listening, unleashing creativity and innovation etc).

Linda’s approach in both organisations is about getting everyone talking, helping them connect what they do to the organisational vision, strategy and implementation plan and seeking their input and ideas relating to it all so that they are thinking strategically as well as operationally. She values getting to know her staff, building relationships and trust. Linda has used planned and structured conversational approaches so that employees have worked as a group on developing strategy and implementation; she has also used informal approaches such as her weekly chatty email about her activities that lets everyone know what is going on and informal occasions such as dropping in for a glass of wine, a welsh cake and a chat – with Linda and also with other colleagues.

It was a fascinating and useful conversation and insight. Thank you, Linda, and thank you to Aberystwyth University too.

The 2017 Leading Wales Awards are live for nominations from Monday 3rd April to Friday 26th May 2017. The Awards are now in their 13th year and are the only prestigious, pan-Wales leadership awards. They seek to identify, recognise and celebrate individuals (irrespective of sector or hierarchical responsibility) whose leadership is making a real difference in Wales.

There are 8 categories. Click here to download a nomination form.

@leadersinwales; ;

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It’s time for leaders in Wales to make engagement a priority

“Engaging leadership is critical for improving productivity in Wales”, says  Barbara Chidgey, Executive Chair of The Leading Wales Awards Consortium, as nominations open for this year’s only pan-Wales leadership awards.

Research conducted by the Office for National Statistics in 2016 showed that Wales’ labour productivity was almost 20% below the UK average in a year where the national gap was the widest in five years.

Gallup’s Global Workplace found that only 17% of UK employees are engaged, or emotionally invested in and focused on creating value for their organizations. Gallup found a positive statistical correlation between employee engagement and productivity (and therefore profitability). They concluded that increasing employee engagement is one of the best ways to improve productivity.

“The truth is, while there are some great organisations doing great work in Wales, everywhere you look, whether that’s within NHS Wales, our education systems or in business there is a call for outstanding leadership to help drive change,” says Ian Price, director of CBI Wales and Leading Wales Awards Consortium member.

“Research shows a positive statistical correlation between employee engagement and productivity (and therefore profitability). Increasing employee engagement is one of the best ways to improve productivity. That is part of what we are hoping to showcase in our drive to identify brilliant examples of leadership though the 2017 Leading Wales Awards.”

A series of Leadership Conversations, facilitated by Barbara Chidgey, Ashridge Coach and chair of the Leading Wales Awards, will be hosted during April and May at different venues across Wales with the aim of exploring how organisations’ leaders can best influence employee engagement positively.

Last year’s winner of Leadership in the Private Sector, Scott Liddle, operations director20160519_111452 copyfrom Acorn added: “Research consistently shows that effective and inspirational leadership is a critical part of organisational health. Engagement and creating engaged employees is something that leaders of all organisations can influence (whether a micro-business or multi-national).”

“We are hopeful that these Leadership Conversation events will help even more people across Wales to understand just how important their leadership role is, what a real difference it makes and give them the opportunity to shout about it. Together, we can all create change,” concludes Price

The Leading Wales Awards, now in their 13th year, seek to identify, recognise and celebrate individuals whose leadership is making a real difference in Wales. The nomination period runs from Monday 3rd April to Friday 26th May 2017. There are 8 categories. Click here  to download a nomination form.

The Consortium partners are ACCA Cymru Wales, CBI Wales, FSB Wales, Hilton Cardiff, Learning Pathways Cymru and Wales Cuncil for Voluntary Action (WCVA).

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We can all be a force for good

Like many of us I went to bed last night deeply concerned about the outcome of the USA presidential election; waking early this morning to see that Donald Trump was indeed likely to be elected was a real shock.

I felt deeply disturbed, but probably not surprised. After all Brexit had happened so in terms of voting outcomes we now know the pollsters really can no longer predict with any accuracy at all.

What really disturbs me is the concrete evidence that what I had believed was a strong and better societal liberalisation and globalisation over my lifetime is a mirage. OK – so we now have in place many laws and regulations about diversity, anti racism, anti homophobia and pro-environmental protection and pro inclusion etc but what, as a society, we haven’t done is changed the underlying values and beliefs of what so many others hold dear.

Our values drive our behaviours!

And this is what has happened in the USA as it did in the UK over Brexit. The values clearly articulated by Donald Trump that are about anti diversity, anti gay, anti inclusion etc and are about protectionism, pandering to fear of change and xenophobia and simple selfishness have drawn millions of people to in effect come out and say that they share those values.

I am not stupid; I know that we have been through the years since 2008 where salaries and incomes have not increased, indeed they have decreased in real terms; I know that we are into times where our children may well be more financially disadvantaged than my generation. I am not well-informed on USA employment issues but I know that there is nothing like the more generous annual leave, sick pay or maternity leave and benefits that we have in the UK. I am aware too that in real terms income levels of the employed in the USA (as in the UK) have fallen. This means those in work no doubt feel they work even harder, are even less valued and others from other countries have “taken their jobs” – the same spin that the media portray in the UK.

So that media spin opens the doors to millions of people feeling that they want to “take back control” by voting for Brexit or voting for Donald Trump. Is this really “taking back control”?

So why have I just heard the one and only “presidential” speech from Hillary Clinton this afternoon when she was finally authentic and impassioned and expressed the right values? She made the point that we should “never stop believing that fighting for what is right is always right”. If this was the real Hillary Clinton, this was how she needed to campaign. As a woman I get why she didn’t really attract the female vote; I too understand that she is seen to be part of the establishment and so many voters expressed their anger by voting for Trump.


In reality, Donald Trump (like Farage is authentic and has integrity – really he / they do!) The definition of integrity is being true to your values – it is the actual values that so many of us disagree with! But that authenticity is what attracted all those millions of voters whose values are aligned with Farage and Brexit or Trump and anti immigration and anti-globalisation (and the rest!!). Brexit was also apparently driven by anti immigration, selfishness and so on.

So this morning I felt outraged; not helped by the fact that I had been a bit of a wimp personally in the last 24 hours with an infection and an injured leg and was feeling sorry for myself. What could I do? Was I just going to be angry at this proof that the world is still heavily populated by large numbers of people whose values I am fundamentally at odds with?

A force for good:

No – I remembered my own previously cited model of “microwave leadership” and that I reminded myself that I need to continue to be a “force for good” in my own networks and relationships i.e. in my own circle of influence. If I (and loads of others of you) continue to fight for what is right, to do the right things, to show compassion, to help others and to “pay it forward” there really will come time when there is a tipping point for a growing movement underpinned by the right values. Did you hear the values that Angela Merkel articulated one by one today in her speech welcoming Donald Trump to the presidency, explaining that the valued relationship between Germany  & USA was based on these values? Good for her – she had the courage to spell out how Germany needed and intended to work with the Trump regime.

Thankfully (in this instance) the Founding Fathers of the USA rather disempowered the president in terms of the constitution they drafted as Barack Obama found; but Trump is a different beast to Obama and of course he has his own party in power in the Senate which Obama didn’t have. That may well make a huge difference.

Donald Trump and his supporters will only have power if we give it to them.

I really do believe therefore that we all in our own ways and in our own networks need to be our own “force for good” – to be professional, to use our expertise with compassion, to provide help and care to those that we can, do our best and to be appreciative of the strengths, talents and contributions of others and what they give. We do this within our own circle of influence i.e. in our own networks. We don’t need permission from anyone to do it – we just do it and share the good values and behaviours and actions.

Microwave leadership model:

If lots and lots of us do this, then like a microwave that heats by vibration of adjacent molecules until all molecules in a food portion are vibrating and heated, we can heat up the right values and together we can lead a movement to arrive at a tipping point of genuine liberal and societal change.

Let’s each commit to being our own force for good and encouraging those we know to do likewise. Lets together lead the change we want to see.

I got back on with this approach today in my own small way.

As Hillary Clinton said this afternoon “never stop believing that fighting for what is right is always right”.


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Thankyou #teamUHW #teamcardiology #teamnephrology

I have to admit that 2016 has been a personally tough year for me.

It has brought me into developing an unexpectedly close working relationship with University Hospital of Wales (UHW) and a number of departments including cardiology and nephrology!

From heart attack, pulmonary oedema, and stent, anaemia and kidney disease (and more) – through it all I have received amazing support and care from the NHS.

I am indeed remarkably fortunate to have come through the other side stronger, happier and with even more clarity about what really matters. I am hugely appreciative of all those who have helped me – be they staff from the NHS or family and friends.

My sponsorship plan is to swim 100 lengths (in effect a mile) and to do so in a measured manner, building strength and stamina by doing 0.25 mile per day over each of 4 consecutive days, ending on Sunday 9th October. This approach to daily swimming has already helped me to re-train my brain into pacing myself better and going for “little and often” rather than further and further and faster and faster! It has had a major positive impact on me re-building towards health.

My intention of doing the sponsored swim is to mark my journey from critical illness to adaptation and recovery, to thank all the fab staff at UHW and to raise awareness of both heart and kidney disease.

I therefore decided that I’d like to try and raise funds for both the British Heart Foundation (@theBHF) and Kidney Wales Foundation (@KidneyWales) so I have created a “team page” and set a target of £1000 (or £500 to each).

Thank you to all of you who have been so supportive during the year and in terms of this sponsorship request.

You can donate via Just Giving

Thank you!!

Barbara x

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