Find out what life is really like at Durham University

Student experience

Becoming a better leader

For me, taking part in the Durham Leadership Academy was an invaluable opportunity – essential if you want to lead a major university sport/group/project/common room. You’re taught leadership skills and styles; you go on a military training weekend, attend networking dinners – but at its core you’re allocated a mentor who is a leader in their field. From military commanders, to QCs, professional services partners, and public servants. Durham University is so uniquely placed to have a network of high-profile figures who want to give back to the university that has done so much for them.

Developing my skills

I have been fortunate enough to serve in numerous leadership roles through school and university. However, I’d received little formal training; so an opportunity to be given a place on this programme was really important for me. I knew that becoming JCR President at Grey College would be the biggest leadership – and indeed life – challenge I would face, and so I was determined to receive the best training so I could deliver for my students.

I’ve been lucky in the mentor that the Academy paired me with. Liz White is the Head of Public Engagement at the British Library, with a career in civil/public service and a focus on communications. This is exactly in line with the path I would like to take after Durham. Liz empowered me to lead our mentor-mentee relationship: I determined how frequently we spoke on the phone (every three weeks), she offered to meet me when she could as we fortunately live a drivable distance from each other, and we had frequent email conversations. She has always been interested in the work I’ve been doing at Grey and how job applications were going (even proof-reading submissions for me!). In return for Liz taking time out of her busy life, I’ve been able to learn from her management experiences.

Variety of training

The Academy’s winning feature? How it varies its training. This ranges between mentoring and lectures; friendship with other students and the ability to network with other mentors; and workshops with group exercises. It combines formal teaching with soft skills that you pick up from those around you. The Academy has enabled me to offer effectiveness, friendliness, guidance, and approachability to my leadership role. It has beyond doubt helped me to develop as an individual, but more importantly to serve the best interests of Grey College JCR to make it a more inclusive and beneficial organisation for its members.

Above all, the Academy has taught me that leadership isn’t about one person. It’s about channelling direction and the necessary skills so that communities and groups can achieve their purposes. As I prepare to leave Durham, this is something that will be essential to my future experiences.

In summary, the Academy is a meticulously thought out programme – like no other development programme I’ve been a part of.

Find out more:

Anyalemma’s blog – Learning through leadership

Read Erin’s blog – Gaining skills through Durham Leadership Academy

Durham Leadership Framework

Leo Harris

Hi I'm Leo. I graduated last year with BA Combined Honours in Social Sciences (History, Politics and International Relations) I'm now on a sabbatical as Grey College JCR President. I had a few leadership roles before I took up this post - but JCR President is keeping me busy for now.
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