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From good to great

Written by: Julie Towers is managing director of Penna
Published on: 9 Oct 2020

This year we’ve been inspired by the finalists of Senior Leadership Team of the Year category (part of The MJ Achievement Awards), sponsored and judged by Penna. To name them all, they were: Calderdale, West Lindsey, Isle of Wight, South Staffordshire and Great Yarmouth. As those of you who tuned into the Awards last week will know, our overall winner was Calderdale. Congratulations to them.

As part of our evaluation we interviewed each team and asked them what the three key ingredients of a successful senior leadership team was. As you can imagine, we ended up with more than three ingredients.

More than half of our nominees felt ‘trust’ was an important component in successful leadership teams. Similarly, a ‘strong corporate ethos’ was an answer echoed by a many of our finalists. All nominees gave great case studies of innovation or supporting evidence of their achievements over the last year and could clearly identify where they had made a difference to the organisation and their community. Their priorities range from climate change and flood management to seaside regeneration, sourcing new talent and restoring economic growth in aging populations and radical people change and transformation in areas facing adversity.

Our winners, Calderdale Council, lived and breathed their values of ‘vision’, ‘resilience’ and ‘kindness’ – it was clear they had embedded them in their culture and daily lexicon. Their overarching vision has been built on trust, a robust set of priorities and a council-wide determination to get the best outcome for the people of Calderdale. This progress was possible with a balanced and distributed leadership approach. Calderdale isn’t small but the senior leadership team say it’s the kind of place where you get to know people well. During the 2019/20 floods and after, they have been leading the way with resilience for West Yorkshire. Their exemplary teamwork spoke to everyone and the benefits from partnership working were well evidenced; and you will have seen their chief executive, Robin Tuddenham, announced as the accountable officer only this week. Bringing in new colleagues, new skill and building on core commitment to their communities is what they do best. All of this and a real dose of energy, commitment and humility made them worthy winners of our award.

South Staffordshire were close runners up, and highly commended by the panel. For them it was about consistency of message. They aim for clarity and continuity in all that they do. This consistency has helped them gel and continue to deliver excellence. The leader and politicians were a full and active part of the leadership team, and it was clear they had built strong communication and trust between politicians and officers and were working effectively together using their strengths to (in their words) ‘make sure action happens on the ground’.

For Great Yarmouth, a totally female leadership team, they cited their emotional intelligence as a key driver of their success. This mentality has enabled them to make real progress over a number of key areas for their locality, in a short space of time. Their collective ability to empathise with what their community, partners, staff and businesses need helps them soften difficult decisions and make the best results happen for the community, despite the extra COVID challenges.

The Isle of Wight had another take on what made a great senior leadership team. In their island community, not cutting corners in delivery or decision making is what makes them great. The senior leadership team, and their colleagues, ensure proper governance and arrangements to guarantee projects get delivered. They were proud to say they never take the easy way out when decision making. Another important factor for Isle of Wight is strong financial rigour.

Despite 2020’s hardships, the Isle of Wight like many of those shortlisted saw the biggest rise in satisfaction following staff and resident surveys; and were able to demonstrate they had managed successful organisational change, and influence culture.

For West Lindsey a great senior leadership team starts with its people. They felt that accountability within their council dominates their working tactic. Taking responsibility personally comes through in team working. Empowerment is strengthened by your trust in others and it’s been their way of getting great things done. Collective responsibility has been crucial to how they delivered all major projects this year and they were rightly proud of the way in which they had navigated organisational changes because of their united spirit.

An ingredient which was pleasing to hear from all was the sense of fun that helped their leadership teams thrive. Local government is under intense scrutiny, and the burden of statutory delivery in these challenging times is a heavy one. So, it was good to hear the team think about their individual and collective well-being and understand that they needed to lead by example and create the right conditions for those they lead.

Leadership teams don’t grow on trees or happen overnight, but they do grow with nurture, care and attention, and as our nominees evidenced it’s worth the investment both personally and professionally.

Congratulations to our Senior Leadership Team of the Year, Calderdale Council, and to our worthy finalists as well.

We’ll be hosting and sharing our experience in a webinar later in the year with our nominees. If you’d like to register please get in touch with

Julie Towers is managing director of Penna

Julie Towers