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Leadership Lucky Draw: Katie Kelly

March 14, 2024  

As Depute Chief Executive of Scotland’s East Aryshire council, Katie Kelly was a leading part of some of the most radical power sharing done by any UK council.

Now as Chair of New Local, she takes a random pick of questions, shedding light on her best leadership qualities, what she most regrets about her CV, and why she would have made a great children’s TV presenter.

Hello, I’m Katie Kelly. I’m the chair of New Local. I was previously the Depute Chief executive at East Ayrshire Council in Scotland, and I’ve had quite a wide and varied career over 30 years in public service, and I’ve recently qualified as an executive coach and mentor.

So the first question I have here is:

Pick one quality that makes you a good leader?

Well, I think if I was only to pick one quality that would make me a good leader, I’m going to surprise everybody and say vulnerability. Recognising your own vulnerability means that you can make mistakes and others round about you can make mistakes and you can work together to really capitalise on a mistake and make things better from there on. Out of some of the biggest mistakes and errors across the world and across history, some of the best inventions have come. So I think vulnerability is very important to me.

Out of some of the biggest mistakes and errors across the world and across history, some of the best inventions have come.

And if I can sneak one other wee bit in, I think for me is about being a kind servant leader. For me, that means serving communities, which we’ll probably talk about in other questions, but also serving the people who report to me.

Okay, so my second question now, and they are totally random.

What makes a community powered leader and are you one?

I would love to think I was a community powered leader. My whole reason for being and for being involved in public service in all the years I’ve been there, is about serving communities. I’ve loved being part of communities in my own life. I grew up in a village in Renfrewshire in Neilston and loved being part of a community there and being a member of the Brownies and the athlete club and having friends and connections and being part of the church.

I live in a village again now in West Kilbride. It’s a small village, only a few thousand population, but there’s about 40 community groups who meet here. And the place is absolutely alive. So a community powered leader, for me, it is about helping to grow and sustain communities so that people can live their best and happiest life.

And I think that is so important and it’s what drives me and I value. What it means to be a community powered leader is that it isn’t what I think, it isn’t what Katie Kelly thinks. It’s about the people, what the people I serve think and finding a way to help them to achieve their hopes and dreams.

My view is as long as it’s legal, our job in public service should be to serve and to find a way to help communities realise their absolute potential.

You know, quite often local authorities have got a bit of a reputation for saying no to things. You can’t do that. It’s too expensive. There’s a policy area, there’s rules that you can’t do there. My view is as long as it’s legal, our job in public service should be to serve and to find a way to help communities realise their absolute potential. And remembering every single day as part of that vulnerability, that I am a member of a community. I’m not something separate. I’m not this far away professional.

Okay, the next one. How is the leader of the future different from the leader of today?

This is a really, really important question for me for a much needed public service reform just now.

The leader of the future is going to have to be a collaborator. And is that just a jargon word? It absolutely isn’t. The leader of the future is absolutely going to have to be able to work across systems, across sectors, and actually be unselfish.

The leader of the future must work across boundaries for a couple of reasons. One – that the model we have for public service is no longer affordable in the way that it is. And there’s lots of segments of public service. There’s the NHS, there’s fire, there’s police, there’s local councils, there’s the ambulance service, but then there’s also the voluntary sector, the community sector, social enterprises.

Every one of those sectors and individuals and people within those human ecosystems have got skills and talents and if we bring them together collaboratively, we’ll be able to make things better and we’ll be able to serve better and it’ll cost less and actually there’ll be less power boundaries and reasons for things to stop happening.

Okay, here’s my next one. What’s the secret ingredient for good leadership that most people don’t know about?

Deep listening and the silence between the space of hearing and listening is so important.

That’s a tough one. I was going to say a cup of coffee there early in the morning so that you’re wide awake! But I think the secret ingredient for good leadership that most people don’t know about is listening. Deep listening and the silence between the space of hearing and listening is so important.

If listening is done well and people are heard – the people we serve in communities, the employees – then better outcomes can come forward. And people maybe with intransient views that don’t want to change their mind about a certain topic that’s maybe stopping something happening. If deep listening is practiced, people then can reflect and start to change views.

So deep listening I would say is a big ingredient – and some really good strong coffee.

Okay, so oh, this is a tough one. Your CV. What are you most proud of and what do you most regret?

You know, many people that do know me know I was very famous for driving Minis. I had a number of Minis and I could have sold Minis to people in a car showroom. I’d have been a great Mini saleswoman.

I’d have been a great Mini saleswoman.

I also have a secret ambition to be a children’s TV presenter for quite a wee while, but it was a secret ambition and I’m way too old to do that now, but I still love children’s TV and it probably would be my Mastermind specialist subject.

But I’m most proud of my career in the public sector. Before I stood down from East Ayrshire, I was absolutely delighted to be involved in national work around reducing and raising awareness around gambling harm, and also real deep research and a special advisory group around health inequalities in Scotland. I’m so passionate about that and I know that by working in a community powered way inequalities can be reduced. So I was really really honoured to be part of that and I was honoured to be part of some national work around resources for violence against women.

So what I most regret, well probably the thing I most regret is that I didn’t get to be the children’s TV presenter, but you never know – maybe after people watching this they might say, well, actually there’s an opening now for Katie to audition for a TV presenter for children’s TV!

It’s been absolutely fantastic to be part of this. And as I say, it’s morning and I’ve had some coffee, so I hope I’ve answered the questions fully. I absolutely encourage everyone that’s involved in, in community powered leadership to keep going, to know that there’s a growing movement of change and to know that you’re part of something big that is going to absolutely lead to public service reform. And thank you so much for all the work that you’re all doing out there to serve the brilliant communities of the UK.


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