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Preparing for Senior Strategic Leadership with Barbara Bassa

07 Apr 2020 | Barbara Bassa Barbara Bassa is our new facilitator on Preparing for Senior Strategic Leadership (PSSL). The programme was due to start in June but has been postponed until October. We asked Barbara why she is excited about PSSL and what she has in store for participants.

What excites you about the PSSL programme?

Preparing for Senior Strategic Leadership is one of our national programmes for colleagues in the HE sector preparing for senior strategic roles. 

I have done quite a lot of work with senior leaders and faculty executive boards in HEIs prior to joining Advance HE. I find working at this level very exciting.

Due to experiences and the level of influence that our participants have, there is a real potential for creating a traction for tangible organisational and cultural changes.

I love the fact that, although we work with a group of participants, the circles of those who may be impacted by this development are much wider and that the new knowledge, approaches and attitudes can be shared across the organisation, in teams and through internal and external networks.

The programme is packed-full of tools and activities which give participants an opportunity to really get to know themselves deeply and their impact. In a way, “no stone is left unturned”.

As a facilitator I love seeing people getting those “Aha” moments, making real shifts in their perception and getting excited about what they are going to do next.


What perspective will you bring to PSSL as a new facilitator?

As a facilitator I take my participants deeply into their leadership explorations.

For over 10 years I have worked as an executive coach and this coaching style is my preferred way of working with groups. I like to provide participants with challenge, a different lens but balanced with support and inspiration.

I like to encourage people to be more present in their roles as leaders. Having practiced mindful leadership approaches for a few years, and having seen the transformation that they can create, I invite my groups to pause, connect with their authentic voice, deeper values and make their contribution from that level.

I love when people are having fun whilst learning, so I can guarantee that as well as having deep discussions and reflections, we will be laughing a lot as well.


Tell us about the programme’s provocations

Provocation is such an amazing process.

When choosing a topic for it, we look at current “wicked problems”[1] pertaining to higher education and invite experts in the field from within the sector to offer their perspective.

We make sure that we have diversity of voices around the table: someone to offer their insights from the national policy, senior institutional and personal perspectives.

Once the provocateurs have spoken, the participants are invited to have an indepth discussion with each of them. Having gained further insights, they form their recommendations in relation to the wicked problem for leaders in HEIs for the next five years. They are also invited to plan how they are going to implement some of these solutions in their own institutions through their leadership roles.

This is a unique opportunity for colleagues to address some real issues, practice their leadership skills and influence important strategic change across the sector.


Why do you think it is important for people to have a purpose?

Why do we do anything? Why would we bother to get up in the morning and work for a particular organisation or for a particular cause?

I would say that purpose is the driving force behind our motivation. It determines why we do things and how we do them. It is an underlining current of all decisions in our lives. People without purpose often get depressed and become ill.

Having a purpose helps to clarify what our priorities in life are and choose which projects we want to engage in.

Purpose is invaluable during the time of challenge: when the going gets tough, when we are faced with obstacles, criticism and the lack of support. It strengthens our moral and emotional spine by allowing us to walk confidently and proudly along the path that we chose. 

It can also be very inspirational and motivational for those that we lead. Leaders who know their purpose and communicate it effectively to their followers create much more energy and enthusiasm around them. Being purposeful is infectious.


Why is leadership best learned with others?

Leadership is a social and relational endeavour: it happens with others. You cannot be a leader without having followers.

As individuals we have many blind spots. We do things in a particular way, we behave in a particular manner based on routines that we have developed over time. We do not know what we don’t know about ourselves and our impact.

And that’s why we need others to tell us. The challenge is that often those who we lead would not tell us, either because they have been exposed to our style for so long that they do not know any different, or they do not have courage to speak up honestly.

Learning with other leaders from across the sector on programmes like PSSL, meeting colleagues who most likely we have not met before, gives an exciting opportunity to get authentic feedback, to observe and learn about other ways of dealing with the same problem, be challenged and master courage to try something completely different.

The group offers support. When we build the cohort during the programme our participants get a real sense that they are all in it together and it gets less lonely even if they are exposed to some challenging issues.

The network created during our national programmes usually continues beyond the cohort and participants are able to get a group of critical friends that they can use in future for decision making or as a sounding board.


In light of current events, we have taken the decision to postpone the Preparing for Senior Strategic Leadership programme. The programme, which was originally scheduled to take place between 8-11 June 2020, is now planned to take place from 13-16 October 2020. Bookings are open now and we will be running a two-hour introductory webinar for delegates on Tuesday 9 June 2020. Delegates who join the programme after this date will be sent the recorded version.

Find out more about Preparing for Senior Strategic Leadership and book now


Barbara Bassa is a Senior Leadership Development Adviser at Advance HE. She is an accredited Fierce Conversations® facilitator and a Senior Fellow.

Barbara holds an MSc in Organisational Development from Sheffield Business School, MSc in Business, postgraduate diplomas in Social Communication and Human Resource Management.

Barbara has worked extensively in the higher education sector, particularly with senior leaders and executive teams facilitating programmes aimed at developing organisational effectiveness and leadership behaviours. She has also worked with leaders and executive teams in the NHS, government bodies, housing associations, pharmaceutical and cosmetic companies, manufacturing, banking, insurance, aviation and IT sectors, in the UK and internationally.



[1] Wicked problems, as defined by Keith Grint in his book “Wicked problems and clumsy solutions (2008), are problems which have no single, correct solution; no solution is right or wrong, but only bad, good, better, best; they have no single or “root” cause, but multiple ones, some which can never be discovered; there is no rule for knowing when to stop working on them; they can never be truly “solved”.

We feel it is important for voices to be heard to stimulate debate and share good practice. Blogs on our website are the views of the author and don’t necessarily represent those of Advance HE.

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