Rediscovering leadership

In my (nearly) two years at HackIT as our Lead User Researcher, I’ve been really lucky to have a range of opportunities to develop my skills individually and also within our teams.

‘Things to Make You Think’ talks that our colleagues in the Learning and Organisational Development team regularly set up have been great. These are run with respected professionals across different sectors, sharing their personal experiences and challenges that help you reflect on what you do. Also, last year our team visited NatCen to spend time perfecting our skills in conducting robust in-depth interviews, essential when we regularly conduct research with our residents and staff.

Recently, we’ve partnered with Stride – a new type of leadership product. The Stride team are on a mission to democratise leadership development. I’ve joined 9 colleagues, all of us from different backgrounds and different points in our careers, in piloting the product. 

Right, I’ll be honest. When the opportunity first came up, I did see it and think “Oh no, not one of those leadership courses!”. I think the term “leadership” comes with a lot of baggage. Historically, I’ve seen it as a bunch of similar people from similar backgrounds in a room, learning about academic theories about how to be a “better leader”. 

Now, I know that might seem harsh. I know these programmes work for lots of people but, for me, I was always turned off by the idea. Personally, they just didn’t feel human. Whilst I always want to learn things that are based in academic rigor, I’d want them to be designed in a way to help you connect with the people around you – not feel distant from them. 

However, even with that expectation in my head, I decided to give it a go. Maybe it is something a bit different.

Striding for the first time

Stride is based around an app which you can use whenever you want to help build your leadership practice. The early version of the product covers topics including giving feedback, setting goals and objectives and also understanding your values.  The Stride team is working to add more to the app all of the time.

Stride has also been running a series of webinars every other Thursday which expand on topics you cover in the app and we’ve set up a weekly ‘buddy’ check-in with a colleague who is also trying it out to compare notes.

When I first started using the app, I was quite critical. I initially found it difficult to connect and identify with the content. Maybe I wasn’t giving it a chance but it did take a bit of time to get into the habit of taking some time out for me to regularly reflect on my skills and practice.

One thing I did like was the fact I didn’t have to commit spending weeks at a time to something. By checking in with the app little and often, it meant I kept going with it. I also was really strict keeping the time in to watch the webinars and check-in with my buddy, something I’ve found I’ve had to be disciplined with more than ever, especially whilst working remotely.

Whilst I wasn’t initially seeing the change myself, the people around me were. My team told me I was having more stretching conversations with them that got them thinking. My line manager could see how I became more energised about planning and developing both myself and people within the team.

Spelling out what we stand for

One of the strong things that came out of my learning with Stride was to really understand what you, both as individuals and a team, believe in. The reason you get up in the morning to do the job that you do. The beliefs you hold that you never compromise on to help you deliver your best work. As individuals, we had our own ideas but we never got them down anywhere together or formally used those beliefs to shape what we do as a group.

We have got council wide values but I wanted to make them more relatable for us as a team. I set up an hour-long remote session over Google Meet where we individually reflected and then shared with the team what those broader values mean for us. 

I was slightly apprehensive going into the session as I wasn’t sure what we’d come up with. Doing everything remotely also felt like it was going to make it more difficult. However, by the end we came up with what our values are as user researchers – the reason why we do the job we do. 

Here is what we came up with: 


Crafting accurate research that compels teams to make people centred, evidenced decisions that impact residents’ lives.


Acting with courage to present our work far and wide; seeking opportunities to develop ourselves and support others in our sector to be the best we can be.


Always evolving our research practice, not being afraid to try new things whilst being the experts on using the right research method at the right time to get a fair, accurate picture. 


Truthfully sharing what we’ve learnt and how we’ve got there to impact decisions across the wider community whilst continually improving our own work.


Pushing for ways research can continually make improvements to council services, successfully embedding ResearchOps within our team so we can do our best work. 


Representing the diversity of the people we serve, portraying the lived experiences of those who may be underrepresented whilst always treating participants and their data with the respect they deserve.

Reflecting on the journey

Using Stride has changed my perspective when I hear the word ‘leadership’. Leadership now feels more relatable, accessible and human for me. It’s not just something reserved for the few at a certain time in their career but something anyone can practice to get the best out of themselves and the people around them. 

Next week, the council is running our annual Leaders’ Conference – a week of online events to get people thinking more about what being a leader really means for them. I’ll now be going into that with a different perspective.

At the end of the day, we are all leaders – we just might not know it yet.

I'm the Lead User Researcher at HackIT.
Twitter: @RichSmiths

Author: Richard Smith

I'm the Lead User Researcher at HackIT. Twitter: @RichSmiths

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