Reimagining leadership: being open to insight will help us pave the way to a brighter future

Dorinnia Carville, Comptroller and Auditor General, Northern Ireland Audit Office

Leadership is often perceived as a final destination, a pinnacle reached after years of experience and hard work. However, I believe it’s how you approach the journey that sets you apart and to be an agent for change you must embrace opportunities to learn from others.

I gained great insight and perspective from taking part on a recent development programme. The power of collaboration across sectors was evident on the Centre for Democracy and Peace Building’s Fellowship Programme. Participants have the unique opportunity to engage with professionals from various sectors — community, business, political, and more — creating a rich tapestry of expertise and insights.

Meeting people from a range of sectors that I wouldn't ordinarily deal with made me realise that they are dealing with the same issues. There was lots of shared learning.

This cross-sector networking is particularly valuable in a place like Northern Ireland, a region so small that there is no excuse for silo working and not having joined up approaches to societal challenges.

I found working with people at different career stages to be a formative experience. I probably learned most from some of the people who were at the early stages of their career because they just had very different approaches, very different ways of looking at things.

This made me appreciate the traits of modern leadership: the ability to adapt and integrate new perspectives, especially from younger generations who bring fresh ideas and a deeper understanding of contemporary tools and trends. It’s a reminder that effective leadership is not just about imparting knowledge, but also about being open to receiving it from all quarters.

A transformative approach to leadership is what is needed in Northern Ireland if we are to progress past the usual stumbling blocks. By valuing continuous learning, embracing cross-sector collaboration, and integrating fresh perspectives, we can reimagine and redefine what it means to lead in today’s society and pave the way for a brighter future.

To learn more about the Fellowship Programme and apply, visit our website.


To keep up to date, follow our Twitter/X and LinkedIn accounts, as well as subscribing to our newsletter to get involved in future events.

Leadership and Groundedness

By Alannah Millar

People often ask me if Russia’s political atmosphere felt different. They are often so curious because it is so uniquely Russian. Leadership in Russia is culturally specific, but it is not in touch with the masses and its Achilles Heel is the fact that it is so separated from the experiences of many.

When I lived in St Petersburg, the political machine seemed miles away. So far away I had no opportunity to get involved nor could it really affect my everyday. Putin was but a figment somewhere very far away; his leadership came from miles above. Moscow and its politics seemed far away from the daily concerns of the local St Petersburgite. Even when Putin did visit St Petersburg, no ordinary citizens were disturbed or were able to reach him. He was cocooned away, safely shuttled between sites.

Don’t get me wrong, some leadership felt very real and pressing. The police presence on the streets and at every metro stop made my heart leap into my throat every time I passed them, my head physically bowing to avoid eye contact. But in general, any form of political leadership seemed untouchable. Even the city’s federal politics did not seem to disturb everyday life in the city. Decisions were made by the City Council, but it did little to make changes to the everyday life of most citizens in the city. And the decisions that did alter everyday life were hardly pleasant, such as introduction of partial mobilisation, which forcibly rounded up 300,000 men to join the fight in Ukraine.

At his annual New Year conference, where Putin was questioned by journalists, questions swirled over economics, foreign policy, military positions, and other questions which seemed so complex as to confound even political commentators. Despite speaking Russian fluently, it was one of the only times where I really felt like I needed a translator. The one representative, who seemed indicative of the masses asked a question which seemed at odds with the rest of the ceremony, meekly asking why the price of groceries had risen so much, citing that a bag of carrots had tripled in price in the last year. Putin seemed to shrug, as if the question was none of his concern, offered a litany of pretentious apologies and empty promises and moved on.

Putin’s politics are based on his untouchability. No one can criticise or alter his plans because of it, but it also leaves everyone else with no input and no sense that the end product has been created together. He goes it alone. Putin bases his leadership on the idea of him as a single figure and he operates a high-power distance style of leadership.

But that untouchability is a fault.

Leadership should be grounded with lived experience and should engage and interact with more than those at the top of the pecking order. Leadership should not be constrained by cultural myths and history. It is largely presumed that Russia cannot function without a strong autocratic leader. With its long history of tyrants, tsars, and dictators, many believe that Russia must have a strong, centralised, autocratic power. However, to excuse Putin’s regime as a necessary form of leadership in Russia is to be lulled into delusion.

This belief is proven wrong by the strong Russian support for opposition leaders, who offer a vision of a future for Russia in which leadership is drastically changed. They offer a leadership which is in touch with the grassroots, in touch with the everyday problems of the people. The Russian opposition has no one monolithic leader. It is fractured and splintered, with gloriously imperfect factions and internal divisions. Each individual has flaws and is marked by their experience with the community they live in. And that is partly the glory of the system.

Alexei Navalny, for example, chose to go back to Russia, to be amongst his community, risking arrest and further persecution after he was taken to Berlin after being poisoned. He did so because he did not believe in leading from afar; Alexei wanted to be in amongst the community and with his people. He presented himself as one of us, not one of them.

Leadership should not be detached from the everyday concerns, but rather root itself in its team. After his death, Alexei’s wife Yulia Navalnaya queued for six hours to vote in the Russian embassy in Berlin. She was in amongst the crowd and did not ask for special treatment. She was seen, felt, and heard by the Russian community.

Leadership at all levels – whether it be in national institutions, regional organisations, or local businesses – should be easily accessible, and inclusive. It should not feel elusive and far away, but here, now, and real. It should concern itself with the cost of carrots.


To keep up to date, follow our Twitter/X and LinkedIn accounts, as well as subscribing to our newsletter to get involved in future events.

Breathing Space

A day of meeting, discussion and sharing of practice convened by the Centre for Democracy and Peace Building and Irish Museum of Modern Art.

Building upon IMMA’s new exhibition Take a Breath as a foundation, alongside focusing on aspects of IMMA’s Collections and Archives, the event will feature presentations and workshops exploring the theme of ‘breathing space.’ This gathering is intended to create space for dialogue and the sharing of practice and ideas. Namely, it is a coming together of key figures interested in exploring a conversation about our shared island with international representation.

This event is convened by the Centre for Democracy and Peace and the Irish Museum of Modern Art with support from the Shared Island Civic Society Fund.

More information including agenda to follow. Refreshments included.

Date and time
Friday, June 28 · 10:30am – 5pm GMT+1

Irish Museum of Modern Art
Military Road D08 FW31 Dublin 8 Ireland

About this event
6 hours 30 minutes

Register here:


To keep up to date, follow our Twitter/X and LinkedIn accounts, as well as subscribing to our newsletter to get involved in future events.

An opportunity to reimagine leadership: Northern Irish leaders urged to apply for Fellowship

The Centre for Democracy and Peace Building has opened applications for its 2024/25 Fellowship Programme for leaders in politics, business, and civic society in Northern Ireland.

The Centre for Democracy and Peace Building has opened applications for its 2024/25 Fellowship Programme for leaders in politics, business, and civic society in Northern Ireland.

Now in its fourth year, the Fellowship Programme has over 70 alumni, including Finance Minister Caoimhe Archibald MLA. It invites 24 ambitious leaders on a seven-month journey to reimagine and pave a new, prosperous future for Northern Ireland. The programme seeks to support the peace process, foster innovation and capacity building, and encourage collaborative decision-making so that leaders across society are strengthened and equipped to navigate complexity and deliver real change for the benefit of all.

The Fellowship Programme is supported by the Department for Foreign Affairs and Trade, and the Irish American Partnership, as well as some of Northern Ireland’s biggest employers including Allstate NI, Camlin Group, FinTrU, Fujitsu NI, NIE Networks and Ulster Carpets. The programme aims to support and equip participants to take on some of Northern Ireland’s most complex political, business, and civic challenges.

Through bespoke sessions delivered by leaders in the top of their field including Oxford academics and diplomats, Fellows are challenged to step outside of their comfort zone and harness the spirit of possibility, tackling important issues such as climate and energy, policy and governance as well as taking part in the popular residential sessions at the University of Oxford and in Dublin.

This year’s Fellowship Programme was launched by the First and deputy First Ministers and Fellowship Advisory Board Chair, Darragh McCarthy at Parliament Buildings.

They were joined by alumni from last year’s programme; Cheryl Brownlee MLA for East Antrim, Jason Bunting, Parliamentary Advisor to Sinéad McLaughlin MLA, Dorinnia Carville, Comptroller and Auditor General at the Northern Ireland Audit Office, Gareth Edwards, Vice President for Compliance at FinTrU, Deborah Erskine MLA for Fermanagh and South Tyrone, Róisín Wood, CEO of Community Foundation NI, Chloe Ferguson, President of the National Union of Students UK in Northern Ireland, Áine Murphy MLA for Fermanagh and South Tyrone and Amy Gribbon, Manager of Forthspring Inter Community Group.

Fellowship Advisory Board Chair, Darragh McCarthy, said:
“The Fellowship Programme speaks for itself as a fantastic platform for ambitious Northern Ireland leaders, as witnessed by the talented group of people at this year’s launch at Stormont and our partners are proud once again to support the scheme for another year. It is brilliant to have the support of the First and deputy First Ministers for this important programme, to recognise the potential in bringing these cohorts together to spark new conversations about the future of Northern Ireland. I look forward to seeing what unique and varied skills the next Fellows will bring and how they will shape each other for the better as leaders in society.”

Applications for the 2024/25 Fellowship Programme will close on Wednesday 19 June. To apply or to find out more, please email or visit:


To keep up to date, follow our Twitter/X and LinkedIn accounts, as well as subscribing to our newsletter to get involved in future events.

Leadership and the constellation

By Charlotte Finlay

The time for heroes in leadership is over.

Traditionally, the leadership literature landscape has heavily featured a dominant individual perspective: the hero leader figure. Even today, the understanding of leadership often ends up with a blurred distinction between hero and leader as leadership is still often perceived as an individual level phenomenon. But the time for heroes has been fading away and a new understanding of leadership is emerging. Leadership mustn’t be confused with a leader or set of leaders. Indeed, the two are very different. When we consider leadership, a leader may spring to our minds, yet leadership will rarely play out solely on an individual level; rather leadership is a complex and dynamic process.

This leads us to the question; how should we view leadership today? Let me introduce a new understanding of the phenomena to consider. Leadership is a collective, social process, best practiced in a constellation. In this context, the term constellation describes a group of leaders from the public, private, and third sectors of society to achieve a future goal. In Northern Ireland this plurality of leaders is needed given the complex challenges we face, but this leadership is also needed beyond Northern Ireland and across the globe.

I have been privileged to witness this leadership constellation in action over the last eight months, while observing and taking part in the CDPB’s Fellowship Programme, as part of my PhD research into cross-sectoral leadership. The programme brings leaders across Northern Ireland together, representing the different sectors of society, with leaders from business, politics, and the community and voluntary sector. These leaders have come together to work collectively, across sectors, to create change in Northern Ireland. The programme is underpinned by the spirit of possibility, which is what I have found to be true in watching collective leadership unfold over the last eight months.

In a recent interview one of the leaders shared their thoughts on leading with those from different sectors, and they posed these questions,

What is in the interest of the person opposite me? And is there a space that we can reach in between? Or instead of going off in parallel lines, can we create a perpendicular moment where we come together further down the line?

Leadership is a collective, social process and is therefore highly relational. Social Capital Theory is about the value of social networks. Put simply, it refers to the connections and the interactions between people. And these networks, connections, and interactions matter. Research tells us that good, strong Social Capital has enormous benefits on society, and how we fill the space that exists between us determines the strength of the Social Capital we build. Every day, we will experience leadership gaps. Where do these gaps exist? They exist between us as leaders and how we fill those gaps determines the strength of the Social Capital we build.

So, how do we avoid going off in parallel lines? How can we narrow the gap, reaching into the space between? Based on what I have observed through the Fellowship Programme this year, we narrow the gap by all of us showing up at the leadership table, choosing to participate in the constellation, and building relationships across sectors.

Collaborating well and solving complex societal problems requires a constellation of leaders, working together within a social process. To finish, I love this quote from Warren Bennis almost thirty years ago, who summarised this need for leadership and the constellation when he wrote:

None of us is as smart as all of us. In a society as complex and technologically sophisticated as ours, the most urgent projects require the coordinated contributions of many talented people. The richer the mix of people, the more likely that new connections will be made. We must recognise a new paradigm: not great leaders alone but great leaders who exist in a fertile relationship with a Great Group (Bennis, 1997, P. 202).

More is still to be discovered when it comes to cross-sectoral leadership, yet one thing remains true in the pursuit of a better leadership for the future, which encapsulates the reason for the Fellowship Programme; that “We came here to do something, together” (Godin, 2023).

To conclude, as leaders, let’s remember leadership is not found in leaders alone, but is found in a process of learning with others, for the greater good of society. Let’s consider leadership and the constellation. For in narrowing the gap, in this perpendicular moment, there lies a spirit of possibility for leadership today, tomorrow, and for the future.

Charlotte Finlay is a PhD candidate at Ulster University



  • Bennis, W.G. and Biederman, P. (1997) Organizing genius: the secrets of creative collaboration. London: Nicholas Brealey.
  • Bolden, Richard & Hawkins, Beverley & Gosling, Jonathan & Taylor, Scott. (2012). Exploring Leadership: Individual, Organizational and Societal Perspectives. Human Resource Management International Digest. 20. 10.1108/hrmid.2012.04420gaa.013.
  • By, R.T. (2021) Leadership: In Pursuit of Purpose. Journal of Change Management, 21 (1), 30-44.
  • David V Day (2000) Leadership development: A review in context – ScienceDirect. Leadership Quarterly, 11 (4), 581-613.
  • Dunoon, D. (2016) Reimagining leadership – and its relationship with management – for the public sector. International Journal of Public Leadership, 12 (2), 94-111.
  • Empson, L. (2017) Leading professionals: power, politics, and prima donnas. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Eva, N., Wolfram Cox, J., Tse, H.H.M. and Lowe, K.B. (2021) From competency to conversation: A multi-perspective approach to collective leadership development. The Leadership Quarterly, 32 (5), 101346.
  • Friedrich, T.L., Vessey, W.B., Schuelke, M.J., Ruark, G.A. and Mumford, M.D. (2009) A framework for understanding collective leadership: The selective utilization of leader and team expertise within networks. The Leadership Quarterly, 20 (6), 933-958.
  • Godin, S, (2023) The Song of Significance. Portfolio.
  • Hardy, M. (2022) Responding to Turbulent Times: Where Does Leadership Come In? New England Journal of Public Policy, 34 (2), 1-9.
  • Putnam, R.D.(.D. (2000) Bowling alone: the collapse and revival of American community. New York: Simon & Schuster.
  • Terry, V.(.1.)., Rees, J.(.2.). and Jacklin-Jarvis, C.(.2.). (2021) The difference leadership makes? Debating and conceptualising leadership in the UK voluntary sector. Voluntary Sector Review, 11 (1), 99-111.


To keep up to date, follow our Twitter/X and LinkedIn accounts, as well as subscribing to our newsletter to get involved in future events.

Fellowship 2023/24 Graduation

On Thursday 14th April, we were honoured to join our 2023/24 Fellows at Hillsborough Castle for their graduation ceremony.

On Thursday 14th April, we were honoured to join our 2023/24 Fellows at Hillsborough Castle for their graduation ceremony.

It was an evening of celebration, as we looked back on the Fellows’ meaningful and insightful contributions over the last year. It was heartwarming to see so many close relationships and connections made throughout the Fellowship which will continue to thrive in the future.

The CDPB team would like to personally congratulate all of the Fellows. We are humbled and inspired by your commitment to making change and we cannot wait to see the impact you will continue to make for all in Northern Ireland.