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Sarah Flannigan, Chief Information Officer, National Trust

Sarah is the Chief Information Officer for the National Trust.

She is responsible for all Information Technology and Information Systems infrastructure at the National Trust and for leading a major pan-Trust transformation programme, which aims to grow customer engagement and reduce internal inefficiency.  Her role encompasses everything from the infrastructure supporting the most rural of National Trust properties to leading staff engagement and organisational change.  Leadership has been essential in this role: when Sarah joined the National Trust four and a half years ago, her department was in trouble.  Several projects had gone wrong, there was low staff morale and a real need for rigour and direction.

Leading from the front

Sarah enjoys leading from the front, and engaging with her colleagues and team.  She balances the need to “get stuck into the detail” whilst also operating at a higher strategic level.  Energy, clarity and fun define Sarah’s leadership style.

Sarah heard about Windsor Leadership through a member of the National Trust’s Board of Trustees.  She is open about the fact that she was dreading her programme, mainly due to a cynicism about the value of any such programme and time commitment it required, not least as this would mean time away from her children - something that she tries to do as little as possible.  Sarah’s nominating contact encouraged her to attend, promising her that she would encounter extraordinary people and find her experience transformational. 

Meeting great people

The people that Sarah met on her programme included senior medics, senior clergy, a university Vice-Chancellor and a Rear Vice-Admiral, alongside senior corporate representatives.  The sheer variety of participants was incredibly energising for Sarah and the fact that all their leadership challenges and issues were the same, no matter the sector, proved both validating and helpful. 

Meet the "post-Windsor Sarah"

When asked what she took away from the programme, Sarah talks about how some close friends now reference “pre-Windsor Sarah” and “post-Windsor Sarah”.  Before she came to Windsor, Sarah admits that she at times allowed an unhelpful internal narrative to play out in which she would take full responsibility for anything and everything that had gone wrong.  Sarah is now able to reframe the world and feels released from this negativity.  Sarah’s confidence in her own leadership ability has meant that historically she has never attended a leadership development programme of any kind, so to attend a programme that has enabled her to be more forgiving of herself has been transformational.  Sarah always knew that she had an unhelpful inner voice but her programme enabled her to clock and control it, and to make that important change.

Expanding on this, Sarah explains that the oxygen, breathing space and time that the programme provided allowed her to step back and work from a wider perspective.  The programme asks participants to share a real-life leadership challenge with the rest of their groups and subsequently to work through that together.  The opportunity to tangibly work through issues and receive grounded advice on reality - rather than hypothetical debate - was of great value to Sarah.  She values the life-long working relationships she has developed with her fellow participants as a result, and the regular catch ups that they share.

In Sarah’s eyes, the cross-sector diversity of Windsor Leadership programmes is essential to their success and impact.  She has only ever worked in the private sector in the past, with no access to public sector, faith or health sector peers which the programme afforded her.  Her advice to anyone considering attending a programme is: “Go. Don’t be a cynic, it will be transformational.”