Suzanne Bull MBE on the challenges, the victories and learnings from the Clore Short Course
I’d already been CEO at Attitude is Everything for four years (having being asked to step up from Project Manager in April 2008) when I decided to complete the Clore Short Course. I muddled along without any formal Leadership training which wasn’t doing my self-confidence any good. So I asked for space to be created in my work diary to complete Clore, and so began a journey of self-discovery that will impact on the rest of my life.
Clore reinforced something fundamental to me - that it’s not worth wasting time worrying about the things you can’t do, but just focus on the talents you have already and strengthen them. During the course, it dawned on me that my school had in fact adopted this simple principle to help me achieve. I understand this principle too because I’m disabled. Throughout my life, I resisted pressure to be someone other than myself at university, in my career, sometimes in my friendship groups. “Why do you worry so much, why are you too sensitive, can’t you just try to do it” blah, blah. It was hard to explain to others that I found it utterly impossible to be someone other than myself.
Clore wasn’t easy. It was physically demanding despite having a near full-time Personal Assistant to support my access requirements. However, in the spirit of “doing things differently” which Clore asks participants to do, I worked hard at pacing myself accordingly; I didn’t drink alcohol until the last night, I didn’t socialise in the evening so I could keep focused, despite my anxiety around “what will others say if I reveal this?”, I explained to all the other participants what my limits of concentration were and that I could drift off in the afternoons sometimes (and they were very, very supportive). The result - I didn’t miss a teaching session to rest.
There were tricky moments, one being the Media Day; it’s always the same for me, it’s when it comes to any kind of session which involves guidance on controlling body language and your voice etc, I get tetchy and wonder the need for these rules when we are supposed to be embracing diversity. I can’t do any of that, it comes with the territory of my impairment. However, I was treated with respect on that day by the tutors who I met with beforehand so I could explain my reservations and, for example, they asked me to guide them on how I should be filmed. One guy asked if I was making excuses for myself and instead of flying off the handle, I calmly said, “No, I’m just telling you how it is with me”. That inner strength came from developing my Authentic Voice on the course.
I discovered that it is actually possible to be a “Quiet Leader”. The real turning point was Sue Hoyle’s presentation on the subject. I could actually feel a wave of relief washing over me as she spoke as she was actually painting a mental picture of how I am and how I behave at work.
Since finishing Clore I got even more involved in developing the skills of Attitude is Everything’s staff and Board team and bringing out the best in them – that is my favourite thing to do alongside connecting like-minded people together; I felt more confident to build a team around me to work out how we were going to achieve our vision (because I struggle with the mechanics of how I can achieve strategy once I’ve finished my “big picture” thinking). I continued to work with stoic resolve – in particular I set out to prove that there was a growing demand for better access to live music for the deaf and disabled people, and that there was a real business case for access which the music industry hadn’t yet taken on board. Attitude is Everything’s State of Access Report 2014 proved that the music industry were missing out on £66 million from Deaf and disabled customers because they couldn’t access booking systems.
I also built upon the idea of “Leading Beyond Authority” and I persuaded the Board that as an organisation, we needed to respond to the needs of access to arts in general. It gave me the confidence to lead the Beyond The Ramps group, a set of like-minded organisations, arts industry and Local Authority representatives to lobby for a set of Best Practice Access Standards in arts and culture. We haven’t persuaded government of the need for this yet but we’re working on it!
So, would I recommend the course – you bet. But be prepared to “do things differently” and to be challenged, and it can get emotional but it’s so worth it!