A local business leader has improved his leadership qualities, with the support of the University of Central Lancashire’s (UCLan’s) Lancashire Forum Creative programme.
For Simon Couchman, a joint managing director at Warton-based marketing agency ICG, UCLan’s Lancashire Forum Creative initiative supported him to develop new management skills to match his growing team.
Growing team leads to new challenges
Founded in 1994, ICG provides marketing and PR services, including design, website, digital marketing and social media solutions to a variety of businesses across the UK. Thanks to an expanding digital and social media team, the agency now employs 23 members of staff, which led to management choosing to invest more time in developing their own leadership skills.
For Simon, who started life as a graphic designer before becoming a managing director at the agency, it was a business talk at the University that first introduced him to the Lancashire Forum Creative.
“From my background as a designer I knew I would find some of the topics being discussed by Lancashire Forum Creative, such as HR and sales, really useful in terms of running an agency,” he said.
After originally attending the Think Tank business talks, Simon embarked on the six-month Lancashire Forum Creative Extra programme designed to help businesses learn new techniques to help progress the company. For Simon, it was the focus on developing new leadership skills that he found most valuable.
LEGO forms the building blocks for leadership
One key leadership technique learnt by Simon at the Lancashire Forum Creative sessions revolved around using a favourite children’s toy to discuss business challenges.
Using Lego Serious Play, managers can find creative approaches to business challenges using hands-on learning, by creating structures with the building blocks as a visual metaphor for overcoming obstacles at work.
In addition to the Lego, Simon also took part in the Think Differently Sprint, which featured a management challenge aimed to identify leaders and teamwork across a workforce. Armed with spaghetti, string and some tape, teams are challenged to create the tallest tower which can support the weight of a marshmallow, in under 20 minutes. The challenge allows managers to assess and observe natural leadership qualities amongst teams, as well as seeing how certain team members approach challenges differently. The marshmallow challenge was so popular that Simon ran the exercise with his own staff, as well as with clients.
Both activities helped him understand more about overcoming business challenges and equipped him with more skills to better manage his staff and get the most out of each team member.
Simon said: “Learning new leadership skills is all about being prepared to support a growing workforce and learning to treat different staff in different ways, depending on individual characteristics and what motivates them.
“UCLan’s sessions have helped me to improve my skillset and grow me as a leader. These new tools are invaluable in helping us as the agency continues to grow. I’ve been the joint managing director for six years now, but upping my skillset is all part of my own personal journey. No matter how old you are, you can always learn new things.”
Simon Couchman, joint managing director at ICG
New skills as important as new clients
Elena Vasilieva, Project Manager at Lancashire Forum Creative, said: “The Lancashire Forum Creative provides leaders and managers from creative industries with the chance to meet people who are in similar situations or who have faced similar business challenges before. It also allows business owners to get away from the daily challenges of the office and focus on a particular service or skill that they want to learn.
“Simon is a great example of how directors need to invest in themselves as well as their staff. Not everybody is a born leader, but people naturally can grow into a position of leadership where the skills of leadership and cooperation are vital to being successful. In fact, investing time in developing your own skills can be even more important in the long run than winning a new client.
The Lancashire Forum Creative is a University of Central Lancashire (UCLan) project, part funded by the European Regional Development Fund and supported by Boost; Lancashire’s business growth hub.
The Lancashire Forum Creative programme is receiving up to £ 1,194 mil. of funding from the England European Regional Development Fund as part of the European Structural and Investment Funds Growth Programme 2014-2020. The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (and in London the intermediate body Greater London Authority) is the Managing Authority for European Regional Development Fund. Established by the European Union, the European Regional Development Fund helps local areas stimulate their economic development by investing in projects which will support innovation, businesses, create jobs and local community regenerations. For more information visit https://www.gov.uk/european-growth-funding.