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Alumni in Focus: Rachel Treweek

Rachel Treweek

Rachel Treweek, Bishop of Gloucester

Triple Alumna – 2005 Sep Emerging Strategic Leaders, 2008 Feb Developing Leaders and 2016 Nov Strategic Leaders Consultation 

My first programme in 2005 was a time of realising that, surprisingly, I actually had a lot to share about leadership. As a vicar at the time, the moral and relational aspects of leadership particularly peaked my interest and the programme enabled me to grow in confidence, recognising that I had insights that, whilst perhaps quite different to other participants, were actually of huge significance to all in the room. It was wonderful to be in an environment where I didn’t need to justify my presence.

It was encouraging for me that other people were curious about my role and felt I had something to share in the public arena. This gave me the freedom to feel I was genuinely a leader and could be myself without having to appear as anything else. 

Fellow participants, from an array of different disciplines, were ‘trusted strangers’ at the start of the programme, and this was important as I was able to share openly and honestly, in a way that strangely went beyond anything I had experienced in the church. By the end of the week they were good friends.

I had a superb facilitator who simply encouraged me to maximise the gifts I had and to be true to who I was. 13 years on I can still remember his words and also the powerful metaphor he gave me. He described a helicopter hovering at height over land to capture the big picture, and then swooping down to view the detail on the ground before returning to the overview position. This struck a chord as I recognised the importance of knowing when to attend to detail and when to return to the big picture. Consciously reminding myself to move back up to the big picture perspective in times of stress has been extremely useful as my vocation has progressed and the intricacies of leadership have increased. 

Making Leadership Personal 

Windsor affirmed my emphasis on relationship as a leader in terms of personal dynamics, interaction, and care of the individual within the whole. It gave me greater confidence to see my natural talents for pastoral insight and care as a key asset that I could bring to my personal leadership.

Windsor provided a rich seam of learning for me about the importance of honesty, transparency and being willing to hold up my hands and admit situations where I’ve failed or could have done better.  It goes against human logic, but doing this has actually strengthened my leadership as a result. As a Woman in Leadership I’m no longer afraid to share that it is not all about ‘shining’! 

I’ve actively chosen a culture of being available and accessible to people as I’ve moved into more senior roles. I have been intentional about this by having an open-door policy wherever possible.

Courage and Risk

My language has in the past been overly apologetic and I often pre-empted my own failure, if not verbally then definitely in my head. After my second programme (2008 Developing Leaders) at Windsor I stepped into the realm of daring to take more risks. 

‘Life is an adventure and you’ve got to dare to go into territory you’ve not been to before. I now actively look for opportunities where I can take a risk that might open up something new for an individual, an organisation or a community’.

As a result of this willingness to take risks I’ve surprised myself by making history with a couple of firsts. I became the first female diocesan bishop in the Church of England and the first female bishop in the House of Lords.   Women in leadership often feel they have to prove themselves and do everything to a high standard in order to justify their worthiness for that position. Whilst I have battled with this, I am determined to be myself. I now have the courage to enable others and encourage people who wouldn’t have been the obvious first choice.

Windsor was a lived experience which transformed me as I lived it. I now recognise that there is far greater value in learning from shared wisdom rather than having a prescriptive agenda. I love the quote that I first heard from a speaker at the Windsor Leadership Debate some years ago, ‘Leaders are like tea bags. You never know how strong they are until they get into hot water’.

Consciously Embracing Diversity

Diversity has been key in my story and I’ve often been challenged by ‘how do we live life embracing difference’. It’s a personal passion that my Windsor programmes reinforced. Everyone on the Strategic Leaders Consultation, in particular, was passionate about making a difference in the world, but the outworking of this varied hugely. Windsor allowed safe space for people to talk about significantly different perspectives with passion, often challenging and not agreeing, but respecting other viewpoints and sharing with integrity.

This challenge of diversity of thought and opinion has been a key part of the journey in the Church of England to consecrate women as bishops. Not everyone accepts the ministry of female Bishops and I continue to pursue a pattern of leadership such that I endeavour to live with integrity, having space for vehement disagreement whilst maintaining healthy relationship. My strong opinions are no less robust than those with opposing views, however my challenge continues to be how I respectfully listen to others and recognise the integrity in their own perspective.

Focussing on wellbeing

Well-being is about valuing yourself, discovering who you are and what motivates you. For many years I have been committed to honest internal reflection and it was good to discuss this in a different context with my Windsor group as we looked at what drives people and how we could have courage to look at the unhealthy places in our lives, which can sometimes masquerade as virtues.