Academics at Cranfield University and colleagues from the Defence Academy of the United Kingdom’s International Section recently delivered a defence and security leadership course for island nations in the south Pacific Ocean which involved coordination across six different time zones.

The Strategic Leadership Programme (SLP) was originally designed to be delivered in Vanuatu to 20 delegates from the region but was moved online due to COVID-19 and delivered simultaneously in Vanuatu, Fiji and Papua New Guinea, enabling 60 delegates to take part.  

The three Island nations are on different time zones and with the Defence Attachés from Australia and New Zealand also participating as sponsors – along with the delivery team in the UK – the course involved working across six time zones between 10 and 13 hours ahead of Greenwich Mean Time.

Dr Bryan Watters, an Associate Professor in the Centre for Defence Management and Leadership (CDML) and founding director and designer of the course, said: “The COVID-19 pandemic required this SLP to be delivered virtually in three nations simultaneously, which was a first for us and both a curse and blessing. The curse was we could not travel to the south Pacific to deliver the SLP face to face; the blessing was we could deliver simultaneously to three nations tripling the number of delegates joining the programme. The blended format worked well with delegates in each country completing activities together face to face and interacting online.”

The course was delivered through a blend of live and recorded lectures, discussions and exercises using MS Teams, with the teaching team in the UK being supported by facilitators in each island venue who joined a coaching course in the preceding weeks.

The SLP aims to assist leaders with the challenges of complex decision-making and covers contemporary thinking on leadership, strategy, change, ethics and risk, while also incorporating specific issues tailored to individual countries or regions. It is usually delivered in-person in around 15-20 countries each year and was first run in 2007 as a one-off programme in South Africa by the UK Ministry of Defence. In 2010, Cranfield engaged in the course and with the Defence Academy’s International Section developed it to what it is today.

In addition to armed forces personnel, the SLP attracts delegates from the wider security sector, including interior and justice ministry members, national security service employees, lawyers and members of parliament. Destinations are chosen as part of the Defence Engagement Strategy following a board chaired by the Assistant Chief of Defence Staff – Defence Engagement.

Dr Watters runs the Cranfield academic input to the SLP with Dr Iftikhar Zaidi of the CDML’s Leadership and Change Management Group along with Colonel Richard Maundrell and Lieutenant Colonel Saskia Hart in the International Section of the Defence Academy.