Case Study

ARC: unconventional ‘must have’ leadership development for a professional services firm

The client asked us to help enhance the leadership capabilities of its most promising Senior Managers and Assistant Directors, initially in just one part of the firm. We created a challenging, personalised leadership programme that had such an impact that it became a compulsory career milestone across all service lines in the UK and Switzerland, and attracted participants from several other member firms across Europe and Africa. In seven years, more than 1200 participants took part in groups of six to twelve.


We started by helping our stakeholders define what it would mean for these leaders to be even better than they already were. We drew on data from promotion panels, performance appraisals and discussions with HR and identified the four most common gaps at that level:

  • Personal impact – which covered a range of topics including gravitas, assertiveness, confidence and emotional intelligence
  • Influence – having a diverse toolkit for securing genuine commitment from team members and key stakeholders
  • Team leadership – selling a vision, managing conflicts and developing their people
  • Stepping up ‘out of the weeds’ – as in many organisations, some leaders were finding it hard to transition from technical / functional expert into a broader leadership role

We then created a bespoke, experiential programme for groups of 6-12 where every session was designed to challenge, flex and develop participants. They rarely knew what was coming next – an approach that replicated the ambiguity and uncertainty of their working environment – and each session involved a change of pace, energy and focus. There were a number of core tools, tips and techniques – which evolved over the years as the firm and the facilitators evolved – but the majority of these were introduced in response to what happened in the room, rather than being tightly scripted.

One important component of the programme was the effort we put into increasing the “transfer of learning” to the workplace. Keeping things practical helped, as did our deepening knowledge of the firm and the way it operates. In addition, participants were encouraged to enlist the support of their appraiser or sponsor, to hold them to account and help them embed the learning. We supplemented these conversations with ongoing coaching. In the first four year, when the firm was first starting to develop a coaching culture, this was provided by the firm’s growing pool of fully-trained internal coaches. As the ‘coaching culture’ strategy matured, we evolved the programme to train participants to coach each other. Many of these coaching groups continued to meet long after the programme – one even continued when one of the group went on secondment to Australia.

Unlike many leadership programmes, though, ARC paid significant attention to the potential blockers to turning participants’ good intentions into actions. We helped participants tackle the unconscious scripts and habits that were locking them into sub-optimal ways of working and thinking (about themselves and others). This was difficult territory, but it massively increased their chances of breaking those deeply ingrained, unhelpful habits many of them already knew were holding them back

Where possible, we ran the programme using one of the LeaderSpace team partnered with an internal facilitator. All internal facilitators were themselves accredited coaches, trained in the relevant psychometrics, and had experienced the programme as participants.

As with many interventions, we piloted, adapted and customised the programme to different audiences before it was rolled out into new parts of the business or overseas territories. We reviewed and revised the structure and content over the years to keep pace with changes in the firm’s needs, focus and industry, and developments in the world of leadership and team performance.

The approach we took

Jane began coaching the senior managers with the aim of helping them to approach their many challenges and responsibilities more pragmatically. Jane used – and even created – a variety of coaching approaches tailored to each individual manager. They soon began to work more efficiently and effectively, and Nicola noticed that their newfound energy was having a massive positive impact on the wider team.

Jane went on to coach Nicola, and introduce the LeaderSpace leadership qualities: ‘Authentic, Responsible and Courageous’. These qualities resonated with Nicola, so they used them as a means of working through some of the decisions she was facing at the time. Nicola soon realised she was overwhelmed with the responsibility she felt for her team, the charity’s trustees and the charity’s fundraising objectives.

The challenge for Nicola, when she first met Jane, was being truly Courageous. Nicola says, “The aspirations were there, but not the courage to make them reality. The charity sector isn’t a brave world. The financial climate is tough at the moment, the sector is shrinking and we’re not one of the huge ‘super-charities’ with a strong, diverse support base. But if you’re not Courageous, you stand still; you become lost in a mire of greyness. The coaching gave me permission to be Courageous.”

Coaching enabled Nicola to give herself ‘permission to act differently’ and focus on developing the charity. Since then, she says, the ARC qualities – or the ‘mighty three’ as she calls them – have always informed the decisions and actions she and her team have taken.

Nicola – and with her, the whole team – became re-energised, and developed the courage to create more ambitious targets for individuals and the organisation as a whole.

The programme is an invitation to be unconventional, to test one’s boundaries, to be oneself. The air of mystery surrounding the programme and its content is closely guarded by the programme’s alumni. This has created a buzz of excitement, and a sense of the programme being a ‘must have’ at the Senior Manager level – not just a slot on the management curriculum or a box that needs to be ticked.
Excerpt from the client’s submission for the Training Journal Awards
ARC helped me in a number of ways. It was scary at times but at the same time very memorable, enjoyable and rewarding. I feel I’ve grown personally and professionally as a result of the programme. It gave me the opportunity to review myself, my strengths/weaknesses and how they had changed over the years. This and the facilitators’ supportive affirmation increased my confidence and helped me refocus on what was important to me, which has enabled me to comfortably transition through subsequent roles. In each of those roles, I’ve been a more assertive leader than I was before ARC, and found myself more able to provide direction, supporting and encouraging people in my teams. I also learned a number of practical mental and mechanical techniques that have enhanced my personal impact and helped me thrive in a role outside work – as director of a campaign group where I’m regularly speaking to the media and in public meetings. Years on, I frequently reflect on the course content and I’m grateful to my organisation and the facilitators for the opportunity to take part.
Nigel Gibson, an ARC participant who subsequently became Account Manager at PASàPAS

The impact we had

Years after they have completed the programme, many of its 1200 participants cite ARC as “the best course I’ve ever attended”. It has given them:


  • A deeper understanding of themselves, their clients and the people they lead
  • The courage to be authentic in the way they lead and live their lives
  • Practical, immediately applicable tools to enhance their leadership and personal impact
  • Clarity on their aspirations for themselves, their clients, their people and the firm as a whole – participants left ARC determined to leave a legacy, not a faint smudge or a trail of damaged, disaffected people
  • Increased clarity on what it takes to turn exceptional individuals into exceptional teams

In their own words, often in unsolicited feedback, participants have said that the programme “was fundamental in shifting my mind-set and capabilities – in work and in life”, “was a game changer for me, and set me up on a path of self-improvement and being able to find strength I didn’t know I had”, “was one of the best training courses I have attended. You are extremely competent and very good at reading people. I would recommend the course to my peers,” and that the ARC Leadership programme “was one of the first courses I’ve ever done where I could just think about me. Who I am, what I want to be.”

ARC also supported the organisation’s agenda of creating a coaching culture, evolving as the firm’s own approach has evolved. The programme was referenced in an article on the firm’s commitment to developing its coaching culture and, by enhancing its internal coaching and facilitation capability, the firm reduced the cost of delivering the programme by more than £450,000.

The programme’s impact on the firm’s leadership caught the attention of other member firms: the programme soon expanded to Switzerland, was successfully trialled as part of the firm’s global leadership development curriculum and attracted interest from member firms in Africa and the Middle-east.

Our work together was recognised externally, too. Together, the client and LeaderSpace submitted our work for the Training Journal Awards, where we made it to the final and the programme was described as “an invitation to be unconventional, to test one’s boundaries, to be oneself. The air of mystery surrounding the programme and its content is closely guarded by the programme’s alumni. This has created a buzz of excitement, and a sense of the programme being a ‘must have’ at the Senior Manager level – not just a slot on the management curriculum or a box that needs to be ticked.”

We’re still in touch with many of those 1200 participants. Years on, they’re telling us things like “I got promoted to Director and found the ARC course to be a big part of my prep for this” and “I frequently reflect on the course content and I’m grateful to my organisation and the facilitators for the opportunity to take part.” One even went so far as to say “Hopefully I never ‘recover’ from ARC if ‘recover’ means going back to being the same as before!”