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This week as part of Ulster University’s 25@25 leadership programme, the aspiring leaders experienced first-hand what civic leadership is, from those at the forefront of their sectors.

Kindly hosted in the cutting-edge, new offices of PwC, located in Merchant Square, Belfast, those on the programme heard from an inspiring panel which included Sir Michael McBride (Public Health), Dr. Jayne Brady (Civil Service), Brendan Mooney (Private Sector), and Maeve Monaghan (Non-Profit).

The panel engaged in a fascinating conversation about the complexities and opportunities of leadership across various sectors in Northern Ireland. They emphasised the need for adaptive leadership within their sectors and their contribution to the broader civic landscape of NI.

Dr Jayne Brady, Head of the Northern Ireland Civil Service, shared her lessons in leadership: “attune what you do with your value system: you have to believe that what you are doing chimes with your values and in that lies opportunity to affect change. If you intrinsically understand your value system you can then embrace risk and innovation – based on those values you hold. Act collaboratively, understand issues and the communities in which those issues present, then focus on opportunities and empowering those communities to solve those issues.”

Sir Michael McBride explained what leadership in a global crisis necessitated: “Covid demanded a ‘command and control’ leadership style which is unusual and this style - used in the wrong circumstance – ordinarily would mean you lose everyone you are trying to lead. There is a time and a place for this style but its nuanced – the way we responded during the pandemic was radical: the innovation and delivery of services we brought about in a matter of weeks ordinarily might have taken years.

“It is important to adapt your leadership style appropriately: be agile and have situational and emotional awareness – read the room and the context, understand the environment you are operating in and remain connected to those you lead and serve and the ‘why’ behind what you are you trying to achieve.” 

"For me, leadership is not about leading from the front but from behind: supporting, enabling and facilitating others to lead and to affect change – they know the answers, so allow them to innovate and adapt.”

In the afternoon, CEO of Nextdoor, Sarah Friar, later shared the incredible story of Nextdoor - from idea to global success, helping neighborhoods across 11 countries.

The 25@25 participants also learned more about the historical context of the Belfast Good Friday Agreement, in this its 25th anniversary year, and the civic leadership that shaped it. Led by University Provost, Professor Cathy Gormley-Heenan and Director of Community Engagement, Professor Duncan Morrow, they explored lessons learned from the past and success stories to guide present and future leadership in Northern Ireland.

25@25 participant and PwC’s Workforce Capability and Development Manager, Rachael Toland said of the day: “I was particularly inspired by Maeve and what she said about the importance of social value for business. This is something that we work towards in PwC, in fact my team just won an internal prize of £1000 and chose to support one of our social enterprise partners, Madlug with this prize money by buying every employee a bag which will provide dignity to children in care. Lovely to welcome the cohort to PwC and have a chance to use our innovative frontier lab to collaborate with them and learn more about civic leadership from some of NI’s great leaders.”

About the 25@25 programme

Ulster University’s fully-funded 25@25 Leadership Programme is a cornerstone of a year-long programme to mark 25 years since the signing of the Belfast Good Friday Agreement.

The 25@25 Leadership Programme is a learning and leadership development programme for graduates from Ulster University who live and work here and who are committed to our place in Northern Ireland and who choose to lead Northern Ireland’s future.

It is designed to expand experiences, grow leadership capacity, and build a long-lasting network of change-makers, with a firm focus on enhancing and defining the next 25 years ahead for NI. Learning will be focused on topics such as Foundations of Leadership, Becoming a Creative Leader, Leading with Sustainability, and Leading for the Future.

The young leaders will also have the opportunity to undertake an incredible week-long residential at the prestigious Babson College, Boston, where they will adopt Babson’s pioneering Entrepreneurial Thought & Action® methodology, which sets leaders up to drive economic growth and social change.

As well as learning from these trailblazers, the participants will benefit from a mentoring programme, including a partnership with the Institute of Directors NI, where participants are partnered with a senior leader from across the region. Additionally, they will each receive a series of one-to-one coaching sessions with experienced and credentialed International Coaching Federation (ICF) Coaches throughout the duration of the programme.

25@25 is proudly supported by the Garfield Weston Trust and partners: International Coaching Federation, Community Foundation Northern Ireland , PwC and mentors from the Institute of Directors and Ulster University Alumni Community.

To learn more about the programme and those taking part, visit