Sir Stephen Dalton is a triple Alumnus of Windsor Leadership. He participated in his first programme in 1995 and returned to complete our Experienced Leaders programme in 2009.
He was invited to take part in our Strategic Leadership Consultation in 2010 and has since returned as a Chair and speaker.
Leadership is fundamental
Stephen believes that good leadership is a fundamental factor when measuring the ability of military personnel, whether in the air, the office or on the battlefield. Individual leadership style is dependent on the environment in which you are operating and this was confirmed for Stephen during his first WL programme, when the diverse range of participants who attended alongside him shared their experiences, which included an array of demanding operating challenges, all of which were dealt with in ways dependent to the individual’s character and organisation.
A reactionary thinker reinvented
Before attending a Windsor Leadership programme, Stephen describes himself as: “far too dynamic, reactionary and quick to give a lead rather than adapting [his] style to the circumstances in which [he] was operating.” He decided to attend the programme as he was interested in developing his leadership style and was intrigued by Windsor Leadership’s offering.
The people that he met on the programme were very diverse, both in terms of their backgrounds and characters – they were dynamic but also quite reflective, whilst all had strong and keen views and opinions - he says that many were seeking advice on how to lead when a situation lacked clarity. They were all willing to learn and, for Stephen, this is a key determinant of a good leader.
Stephen really enjoyed meeting the range of fascinating characters and learning about their experiences; he was particularly struck by the examples of where they all had had both similar and differing challenges as leaders.
He valued the quiet environment that Windsor provides and the discussion around ways to reflect on the differing styles of leadership that maybe appropriate in each situation. He was heartened to hear that, like him, other leaders on the programme readily accepted that, at times, leaders can get things wrong, but that, in so doing, they could all learn so much from the experience.
Passion and new approaches
When summarising what he took home from the programmes at Windsor, Stephen talks about the amount of powerful material he had to think about.
The experiences of his fellow participants and the similarities of their individual challenges taught him a huge amount and encouraged him to find new ways through his own challenges. He came away from his programme with the passion to do more and to learn new ways of tackling the challenge that he was to face in future years.
When talking to Stephen about Windsor Leadership’s impact on his organisation, the Royal Air Force, Stephen says that our programmes are often quoted by RAF Alumni because of the rich and diverse nature of the participants. Their main take-away is the view that challenges faced are generally not unique but are similar, and the way to develop better leaders is to share learning and experiences. Whilst Stephen was in post as Chief of the Air Staff, he introduced sessions for the Senior Leadership Team of the RAF to discuss their own challenges and used a facilitator for this – a style adapted from his experiences with Windsor Leadership. These sessions still form part of the fabric of the RAF’s leadership team now.
Diversity is essential
Stephen describes the cross-sector diversity of his programmes as fundamental and critical to his experiences with us. In the RAF he has been involved in countless debates and discussions about the value of this diversity of experiences and backgrounds and each time the conclusion was that exposure to cross-sectors gives people opportunities to hear and discuss characteristics that make effective leaders in all fields.
When reflecting on the effect that the programme has had on him personally as a leader, Stephen says that he learnt how to appreciate and adapt his leadership style better, because of the exposure he has had to other’s experiences. When asked what advice he would give to someone who was considering participating in a Windsor Leadership Programme, he says: “absolutely go”.
He describes the experience as a great opportunity, for the sake of a few days out of the office. He has seen the value paid back over the years and encourages all aspiring leaders to grasp the opportunity to attend, with both hands.