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Learning by leading: Using organisation transformation to develop leadership capacity in East Thames Group

Mark Jenner (MJA Leadership Consulting, Harrow, Middlesex, UK)
June Barnes (East Thames Group, Stratford, London, UK)
Steve James (East Thames Group, Stratford, London, UK)

International Journal of Leadership in Public Services

ISSN: 1747-9886

Article publication date: 17 December 2013




The purpose of this paper is to describe an innovative senior-level leadership development programme in housing association, East Thames Group, which was designed to build the capabilities needed to lead the organisation through a transformation in its culture and working practices. The programme engaged leaders in navigating and shaping culture change in East Thames and in so doing significantly enhanced their capacity for self-awareness, decision making and collaboration.


The paper presents a descriptive narrative of the leadership development process from its inception in November 2011, through the experience of two cohorts comprising 40 senior managers during 2012, to the formal conclusion of the process in January 2013. The narrative employs a modified version of the hero's journey to describe the process of individual and organisational development during this period.


The paper proposes an effective alternative to prescriptive, competency-based, leadership programmes which is grounded instead in a problem-solving approach where capacity-building results from participants acting on “wicked” organisational problems and learning by leading.

Research limitations/implications

Learning by leading is a flexible, highly contextualised alternative to programmatic approaches to leadership development. The challenges faced by East Thames will be familiar to leaders in both public and private sectors. This methodology is relevant wherever the strategic goal is a dual transformation in organisation performance and leadership capacity.

Practical implications

The paper includes a model of leadership development based on five stages of the hero's journey. These design principles translate into a structure – a container – where leaders can think, act and learn together in order to decide how and where to intervene in their situation to make a difference.


The paper presents a rare longitudinal description of a senior level leadership development process which used a complex organisational problem as a vehicle for both leadership agency and leadership learning.



Jenner, M., Barnes, J. and James, S. (2013), "Learning by leading: Using organisation transformation to develop leadership capacity in East Thames Group", International Journal of Leadership in Public Services, Vol. 9 No. 3/4, pp. 116-124.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2013, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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