Steven Whitelock: Belief and confidence

Steven Whitelock: Belief and confidence

“I’ve been reflecting over the last few weeks since we completed our final masterclass of the Emerging Leaders Programme, particularly as I start a secondment on Monday into a new role – a role which my journey of self-discovery over the last 6 months gave me the belief and confidence to stretch myself to achieve, and I just wanted to say thank you to you, and all the coaches, for creating such a wonderful, safe space for us all to grow within. My personal and professional lives have taken an incredibly positive change of direction as a result.

Last week I published the latest quarterly e-zine for my business area and had asked fellow delegates Tracie Nemeth and Stephen Sweatman-Wright to join me in sharing some reflections within it for all of our colleagues at Aviva to read and gain a little insight into the journey the three of us had been on. It was so enriching to be able to share this with them and the response has been wonderful with a number of people approaching me directly to talk in more detail about my ELP experience which I have loved talking them through. And this latter point is one that really stands out. One of my colleagues who I spoke with said that they had never been on a Teams video call with someone whose energy and spirit had flowed through to them so strongly uplifting their day, as had happened when I was talking about my journey and experiences doing ELP, and even now just writing about that is making me beam and my chest swell up in utter joy.

My ELP experience has lit a fire within me and it burns in such a wonderful way, filling me with energy, purpose and positivity and I am indebted to all of you and my cohort colleagues for nurturing, challenging and encouraging me to be vulnerable, to be humble, to be curious and to be courageous.

The new job next week (Media Relations) will most definitely put me out into my stretch zone, but it is not something I fear. I am so excited about the challenge it offers me and also the learnings I can take away from it, and that is a noticeable change in my outlook. 12 months ago I wouldn’t have given this job a glance due to a lack of self-belief within and me viewing it as so far off my radar that the leap would be too great to take, and it is a story I am loving to share.”

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Peter Ross: Case study

Peter Ross: Case study

When I applied for the course, I had been in a leader role for 12 months and the transition into this role I found really challenging. It pushed me out of my comfort zone and at times I would feel insecure and inferior to my experienced peers; I would think I wasn’t good enough, making me shy away from certain situations, conversations and not speaking up when I should. I think it was a fear of failure. My passion has always been people and seeing people excel in their roles and develop gives me real satisfaction. I know I had some strengths needed to be a good leader but did not know how to apply these and to develop myself.  I was looking for Ivy house to help me become a more confident and effective leader.

My experience of the Ivy house programme – where do I begin! Ivy House has been the best thing that I have ever done for myself both professionally and personally; it’s changed my life.

I had no idea what to expect but was put at ease very quickly by the whole team. I have never been on a programme like this before but I would encourage everyone to do it if they have the choice. Each of the masterclasses taught me something new and have had a huge impact on me but my biggest and most memorable take away has definitely been 100% ownership and conscious mind. During and since Emerging Leaders Programme I have taken 100% ownership, and this has encouraged me to step out of my comfort zone and be vulnerable. I am the one thing in life I can control, I can control how I choose to react or behave in a situation and this will have a direct impact on what I get out of it. It has also taught me it’s ok be vulnerable, as this is being brave and will help me learn and grow.

I was someone who always had limiting beliefs and I allowed this to hold me back for years – but not anymore. I have turned my limiting beliefs into empowering beliefs and now use them to push me on, not hold me back. My new mindset is all thanks to the Ivy House programme and coaches. This hasn’t only had a massive impact on my work life but also at home, I am happier in all aspects of life now and really feel like a new person.

Understanding my values and when I’m in my element has really given me clarity of what I want to do and achieve, and I now recognise when I am not in this space and can focus on getting back in alignment. I also notice I am having much more valuable conversations at work – not avoiding challenging conversations I would have in the past. Each masterclass offered something new and I have learned a lot from each part of the course. There was no part of my experience that I would change – I only wish that I could do it all over again.

Since the Ivy House programme, I feel more energised and more focused on what I want to achieve. I have already done things I would never have done before. I shared some of my learnings from ELP with the rest of my senior leader team and I was really anxious beforehand, but the feeling afterwards was incredible. I have also taken on a brand new role which before I would have felt out my depth but now I don’t. I see it as an opportunity to keep growing, keep challenging myself and start to put my learnings from the course into play. Ivy House has not only helped me step out of my comfort zone but changed the zone all together and I know as I continue on my journey that I will constantly keep changing and I can’t wait.

I understand much clearer who I am, what my strengths are and what I am capable of. I am a true Rhino and my future is within my control. Thank you to the whole team for all the support and encouragement they have given me and I would love to be involved with Ivy House again in the future.

Anna Dilku: Case study

Anna Dilku: Case study

Following a restructure, Anna’s entire team was disbanded. Whilst she’d been through restructures in the past, this one was different. She loved her job, her colleagues, her employer and everyone around her kept telling her “you’ve got nothing to worry about, you’ll be snapped up in no time!” but she felt lost.

She was starting to think about her career path and where she could go next when she heard that ELP (Aviva’s Ivy House in-house Emerging Leader’s Programme) was accepting applications. She knew that the ELP was built on the premise that, to become an extraordinary leader, you must first know yourself deeply and take 100% ownership for who you are. She also knew that there was fierce competition for the 50 places offered across the world! Extraordinary times called for extraordinary measures, so she felt compelled to apply…

“I knew from the first masterclass that this was going to be different. Hearing my homegroup’s first impressions of me was my first experience of radical support and radical challenge – something we all learned to embrace! The content was just what I’d hoped for. I loved how we all threw our whole selves in and I hadn’t anticipated how much we’d learn about each other. Those deeper connections have laid the foundations for developing more meaningful relationships with other colleagues back in the business.


The programme forced me to carve out time to really think about who I am. Identifying my values and how they showed up helped me to refine my job search. Working through my ‘life wheel’ to identify what aspects I wanted to improve was a game-changer. Creating my vision board excited me. Writing my mission statement was invigorating. Finding my element sparked inspiration. My enriched self-knowledge means I now know what I stand for and everything I do is congruent with my values. Radical challenge from my elevator pitch has allowed me to relinquish my pursuit for perfection, in exchange for soul-nourishing authenticity.

I’m grateful to both Aviva and Ivy House for offering me a place on ELP – I’m giving more of the real me to my family with the greatest gift I can give – being fully present. I’m giving more of the real me to my colleagues, including taking part in a podcast about my faith, interviewing a globally-renowned artist live for our first virtual Diwali, speaking on a panel about Building Bridges with TikTok and CNN, launching a Sikh Yammer group, and presenting Aviva Radio.


I have ambition to achieve so much more, so this is just the beginning. Looking ahead, I will be able to walk (or dial!) into an interview knowing that I am true to myself, my accomplishments give me confidence in my talents and the creative energy that flows through me leads me to brilliant ideas.

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Reflections of a rhino

Reflections of a rhino

I found this organization via the Hello World app while applying for another program. I was so drawn to Ivy House that I didn’t end up finishing the other application to do this. I recorded the videos for the application process, but after I was done and started listening to other people’s videos, I started to doubt myself because I felt that they had said better stuff and had longer videos. When I got the email that I have been accepted, I felt ecstatic, that I had made it out of all those people.

The Ivy House Award has been a journey even though it has just been 5 sessions. It feels more like a family than strangers. I have shared things that some of the closest people don’t know about me. I will always value the advice I have gotten, and we have given each other. The sense of trust and comfort that we give each other is amazing, it’s like we have meet before. What I love the most about the Ivy House Award, in our talks, we are constantly challenging ourselves to look at our life in a different way, with a different lens. That we must say, I will do that instead of saying I think it must or maybe.

We have gone through 5 sessions.

My life – where I got to reflect on different aspects of my life circle and what we can do to change the rating we give each part. Since then, my health and wellbeing has gone from a 6 to an 8.

My element – where  I got to learn of my super-strengths. This lesson has been beneficial because it has given me more future clarity. Passion + strengths = my element.

My learning – I learnt that I should move from self-judge to self-coach. I need to be aware of the negative quacking/chatter that happens in my mind.

My inner rhino –  this has been my favourite session so far. I learnt that I need to take ownership of my life and I have the power to do that. Self -doubt doesn’t help you any way.

My behaviour –  I learnt that event + behaviour = result. In each event of your life, you need to channel your inner rhino and always try and be above the line.

As I reach the end of the first quarter of the Ivy House program, I have seen so much change in my life.

Another thing that I gained from Ivy House – one of the people in my group, during our talks,  introduced to me to an organization that deals with global issues, which is part of my future. I love how, with the lessons I’ve been getting from the sessions, I am now more confident, don’t procrastinate anymore, I don’t self-doubt/self-judge as much as I used to before I started this program. I have been questioning my life a lot that I am taking a lot of ownership for my life. I cannot wait for the sessions to come and to continue to grow with my Ivy House family. I have a rhino on my desk that I got a few years ago. So today as I was reflecting as typing this, I decided to put channel your inner rhino on it.

Ivy House is proud to be working with Rise, a global programme to find extraordinary young people – like Melissa – who can become the leaders our world needs.

Antonia Moore: Case study

Antonia Moore: Case study

Antonia joined at us at a pivotal point in her career. She was driven, bright and determined but wasn’t sure about what that meant for her future. Having been identified as someone who was passionate with great raw potential, she was sent on The Ivy House Programme as part of the next step in her career.

She joined Ivy House at the perfect time; full of ideas, but unsure where she wanted to go, Antonia’s Ivy House journey was about giving her focus and direction – and developing the skills that would get her there.

“What really struck me was the programme started off with ‘who’ rather than ‘what’. It began with helping me to explore who I am. What are my values? What is important to me? How do I show up? What’s my brand? Then, having understood that it asked me to think about who do I want to be? How do I want to shape my future? What do I want from the world? It helped me see the possibilities and opportunities ahead – and created a space for me to think about what that meant for my future.

From there my experience was that I was then a blank page. It’s almost like coming to Ivy House on the first day of the workshop wiped all the noise away! Then from that place, I could build the skills to help me step up; skills like how to have a great conversation, how to influence, how to build trust. How to have presence, how to be brave and understand what’s holding me back.

What made it exceptional was the opportunity to connect with other people. I was discovering things that were within me, but it was the people around me who helped me to do that. Not just the facilitators and coaches (who were amazing), but also the people who were in the group as well.
Ivy House has given me the confidence to show up as the real me; to be more confident, authentic, accountable and human. I’m no longer afraid to make mistakes, I’m braver and more honest which has had a huge impact on me – leading to a new job and promotion, that I’d never have had the confidence to go for before.

Ivy House helps people to understand their own potential, to maximise their skills and creates a generation of leaders who think differently. Leaders who can look at the bigger picture, value diversity and can admit when things aren’t going right. Organisations can feel really confident that anybody they send on this programme, if they embrace it, will come out with those things, because it’s within all of us – Ivy House just helps to unlock our extraordinary.”

To hear from more delegates about their experience of the Master Programme, check out our video.

Stephen Kakouris: Case study

Stephen Kakouris: Case study

Stephen is a very bright, well-travelled and immediately impressive individual. You could see he had a strong ambition and a thirst for learning and, whilst never allowing his disability to hinder his aspirations, he had found it very difficult to get the kind of job his education and ambition would normally afford him. Joining us through our scholarship track he is a shining example of the lasting impact of our programme and what can happen when this learning finds brilliant people with untapped potential.

“At the time of my joining the programme, I had finished my Masters degree and was having a challenging time finding a job. I felt like I had so much to offer but that I could not put myself in a position where I could prove it.

I have a speech impediment that I did not feel comfortable addressing in a professional environment – I wanted to get comfortable talking about myself in a way that the real me shows up in interviews and professional environments and get some clarity and vision on where I was headed.

As someone who has done my fair share of guided introspective voyaging, I found Ivy House to be of the highest quality. The content was relevant and a catalyst for growth and my peers were of an extremely high calibre. I experienced radical growth in every way; professionally, it helped me build the tools to get from unemployed to being promoted in my first job, to being head-hunted by my dream company and now, already beginning to advance in the company after a year.

As for my personal life, it gave me the kind of life-change tools that have enabled me to become a truly effective communicator. I have so many memorable takeaways – I use the content when I have difficult conversations to have at work/life, and when I am facing any key decision.

Where am I now? Working for a company that aligns with my values and that I have always wanted to work for. I feel excited for my future both personally and professionally (despite a global pandemic). I currently live with a fellow Ivy House peer and have regular contact with alumni friends – we frequently talk about the impact Ivy House has had on our lives, that we couldn’t have the level of conversations and communication we have without going through the programme. Undoubtedly the best programme I have ever been on – if you get the chance you should grab it with both hands.”

Jay Kalama: Case study

Jay Kalama: Case study

Jay joined our programme at a time when he was showing high potential in his role yet held some limiting beliefs about himself that needed to be addressed. Jay brought his full self to the programme and he was not only open to learning and keen to develop but also someone who had overcome significant challenges in his life so far and was ready to overcome some more.

“I was put forward for the IH programme by the Head of D&I. I was looking to learn how I can be better in my current role by adopting new leadership skills whilst interacting and building a bigger network with other leaders who may be on a similar journey to myself. I was presented with a programme and access to a world of learning beyond my wildest dreams.

This was the first time I had been put forward for an external leadership programme. What I noticed immediately was that, compared to an internal development programme, the unique perspectives and talents of a diverse group of people can add incredible value to your own personal learning journey. Another thing that was incredibly different was the detail that the Ivy House coaches went into with you as individuals. No stone was left unturned. All aspects of your life were discussed which left you thinking about yourself, relationships, habits, your job and above everything – your purpose.

My biggest takeaway was realising I’d spent the last four years forgetting my passions. I knew what my strengths were, and it was now time for me to go and find my purpose – to shape my development and future roles to combine both my strengths and my passions, enabling me to work in my element. I am now working for the biggest sport brand on the planet, Nike. I’ve been here for 18 months, working in my current role for the last twelve months. Two promotions in two years has helped me build my confidence to take 100% ownership for the life I want to lead, and leading others to do the same.

Ivy House has had a life-changing impact on me. The programme isn’t about, ‘follow this road and at the end you’ll be successful’, it is all about YOU. How are YOU showing up, what are YOU doing to create the best possible life for YOURSELF, are YOU doing everything YOU can to build YOUR network. They create the space for each of us to understand the life we want to create, recognising that we hold the power to create that future.”

You can hear Jay talk about how he built a career where his strengths and passions combine in a short video he made – and why the path to get there wasn’t straight forward.

Hannah Stenton: Case study

Hannah Stenton: Case study

Hannah joined our programme as a high performing and popular colleague; her extroverted and bubbly personality was an immediate highlight when meeting her and she displayed confidence and fun from the outset.

During the morning of the first day, we ran a challenging feedback session where delegates who did not yet know one another were faced with the task of sharing ‘first impressions’ and ‘your impact’ feedback with their peer group. For Hannah this was a particularly stretching experience as she received a considerable amount of feedback that shocked her and that she’d not heard before. Coming from people with no agenda, no knowledge of her and only positive intent, it meant for the first time ever she had to dig deep and truly bring her vulnerability to the group. This is her journey.

“Ivy House has been the most life-changing programme I have every been on. It truly has impacted every part of my life, giving me the drive, ambition and tools to take the next step in my career, and supporting me through a challenging period in my personal life.

The programme creates an amazing environment of openness and trust. I found myself being more honest with the people I’d just met on the programme than I’d ever been with my friends and family. One of the big things I learnt was ‘Self Mastery’, which has really helped across all aspects of my life but, I believe the biggest difference it’s made is helping me to discover my values and make value-based decisions.

So, what are my values? Happiness, thoughtfulness, challenge, trust and energy. Prior to defining my values, I was the biggest ‘yes’ person. I was all about people-pleasing and doing everything to make everyone else happy, at the expense of my own work and wellbeing; my choices now are so much better informed and I’ve even started saying ‘no’ to things which has been really liberating!

Ivy House made me realise if you aren’t 100% happy with any aspect of your life it’s in your power to change it.

Where am I now? Well, knowing my values meant I had the insight to choose a role I love, I come from a marketing, comms and customer background and I now work in finance leading comms, engagement and culture change – and I am making a real difference. I bring massive energy to my role as I really am in my element, it utilises all my skills and my passions but I would have never even considered a role in finance before Ivy House.

I am in such a great place right now personally and professionally and this is all thanks to Ivy House. I’ve said it before and I will say it again, its honestly, totally life-changing.”

Ivy House Award case study – Farnborough Hill

Ivy House Award case study – Farnborough Hill

Farnborough Hill has always offered an education that ‘educates the whole person’. Academic success is not the sole focus of the School; while it is an important aspect, the School recognises the need for a more rounded, character education.

The academic curriculum is well established and the results and value added scores attest to the success of the School in this regard. The achievements of pupils, both current and former, illustrate the prowess Farnborough Hill pupils have in a variety of other disciplines, from music to drama to sports. PSHEE and Sixth Form Enrichment have provided an extra dimension to the curriculum, yet it was still felt the School could do more to assist the pupils in realising their ambitions.

When Head of Sixth Form, Craig McCready, was introduced to Ivy House he experienced a lightbulb moment: Farnborough Hill produces tenacious, ambitious young women who are more than capable of leading, but the School did not offer a specific programme to develop their leadership skills. There was lots of focus on teamwork, opportunities for public speaking, running events, mentoring younger pupils, all skills needed to be a good leader, but nothing that focused on the pupils reflecting on their own individual skills, abilities and goals. Here was Ivy House, a company promising to produce ‘extraordinary leaders’.

Craig McCready delved into the Award and found a novel take on developing leadership skills. Ivy House does not offer a one-size-fits-all approach to leadership. It does not tell the pupils they need to have x character or y skill to be a good leader. Instead each person’s inner being is explored; to discover what makes them tick, their passions, their drive, their ambitions and weaknesses; in short giving them the tools required to foster their own, authentic leadership style. To borrow a phrase often voiced by Head, Alexandra Neil, it allows each pupil to discover and hone their ‘unique gifts and talents’ to prosper as leaders in their own way, much in the same way that the School develops musical talent, or linguistic gifts.

The Ivy House Award has enhanced the School’s leadership training tenfold. While the pupils may have already had the nascent skills, informally developed through experiences at Farnborough Hill, the Ivy House Award has revolutionised the way in which the pupils think of themselves as leaders. Their inner explorations have developed confidence in who they are – their weaknesses have been laid bare, their strengths have been celebrated and they have come to realise that they all have the characteristics of a leader.

Curious to find out what The Ivy House Award could do for your students?

Read more here

Ivy House alumni interview – Amy Higham

Ivy House alumni interview – Amy Higham

What did you think of the IH Programme?

It promised to be a life-changing experience and it absolutely lived up to that. It’s had a massive impact on my personal and professional life. It’s made me reflect a lot more on how I can interlink the two.

I think I was nervous at first about the unknown. I’ve never experienced being put into a room with so many talented people from different backgrounds and organisations. I was thinking that I’d have to shine the light on myself a little bit – there’s quite a lot of self-reflection. But it was a safe environment and everyone was really supportive.

How different is it from other courses that you have attended?

It’s totally different. It brings the leadership skills training that’s normally reserved for executive board members, chief execs and financial officers, and gives it to you at an earlier stage in your career. We don’t do that on our internal programmes (at M&S). To have professional coaching from experts who’ve coached senior leaders was very different.

At age 26, I think it would have been so useful to have this experience earlier, particularly the insights around understanding your own personal values. It can prevent a lot of conflict or unnecessary conversations.

What were your main takeaways from the workshops?

The biggest thing for me was around the art of more effective conversations. I’m not sure any organisation covers this in detail. I think when you’re first leading people, you’re just learning through trial and error. I’ve never had any sort of direction in the seven years that I’ve been a line manager on how to have an effective conversation and I had never realised the importance of that until coming on the programme.

My biggest challenge was not wanting to tackle difficult conversations. It’s nerve-racking but I felt so much more equipped to go in and hold my opinions lightly and talking about facts.

How has the experience affected your relationships with your team/department?

I have been much more open with my team, about what I’ve learnt, for example, giving and receiving feedback. I think that has broken down barriers within the team and encouraged everyone to be more open. It definitely feels much nicer walking into the office in the morning or onto the shop floor.

In such a big organisation with 85,000 employees, we’ve only sent about fifteen (emerging leaders) on the Ivy House programme. We’re not going to touch everybody but if everyone I come into contact with can benefit from something that I’ve taken away, that’s great.

I’m keen that the people that signed me up for the programme know that it is going to add value as I passionately want us to do something bigger with the kind of stuff that Elke and the team are teaching.

How have you used the core principles in your personal life?

During one workshop, Elke asked the question, ‘who likes to be right?’ Most people put their hand up. I think that’s something I was guilty of, not holding my own opinion lightly, whether it was a personal or professional conversation.

I just feel like we’ve got a totally different relationship now, for example, with my dad. It is just nicer and more comfortable to have a conversation with each other. I’ve explored more about him and understand now why he might be how he is and to accept him for who he is. I just need to adapt how I approach it. You can only change yourself.

If there was one thing that the course has helped you with, what is it?

Effective conversations are definitely a big thing for me.

But we also covered purpose which helped me and my team when I was back at M&S: ‘Why are we here? What is our purpose?’ and ‘Are we always working towards that purpose?’. So it has been particularly instructive with meetings:  ‘Why are we having them? What is the purpose? What’s the output of them?’.  

In every organisation there are so many unnecessary meetings. I think it has helped me and my team to weed out any ineffectiveness. We’re still working on it, but we question the purpose a lot more.

How would you describe yourself as a leader before the course? And then afterwards?

I would have said I was supportive, straight-talking, inclusive and directive. My leadership style was hierarchical, but I think Ivy House has helped me to reflect more, be more open and vulnerable, share more of me as a person, which has allowed the team to trust me more.