Forestry England

How to improve the leadership capability of an entire organisation?
Forestry England is the nation’s largest land manager and custodian of our public forest, with around 1,000 committed staff and volunteers.


Developing leadership knowledge

To deliver on its mission to connect everyone with the nation’s forests by creating and caring for our forests for people to enjoy, wildlife to flourish and businesses to grow, Forestry England recognised that it needed to develop its leadership knowledge, skills and behaviours.

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Their brief was for a bespoke leadership model to be used across all levels of the organisation, developed with input from a cross-section of staff and presented in a simple format.

It would need to inform a range of important purposes including recruitment, performance management, learning and development plans, and succession planning.

Developing the Bespoke Leadership Model

Although there are shared standards of leadership, and new standards emerging at the cutting edge, we always partner clients in creating the best and most ownable model for them, rather than selling a pre-existing one.

We began by interviewing 80 people – the 20 members of the Board (levels 1 and 2 in the Civil Service structure) plus 60 others (the remaining levels 3 to 7).

These are the key questions we asked the Board members, and adapted for the other levels:

  • What does good leadership look like? Bad leadership?
  • How did you learn to be a leader?
  • Which are aspects of your character help you most as a leader?
  • What are the best things about being a leader? The worst?
  • What is the difference between a leader and a manager? How much time do you actually spend leading?
  • When you are faced with a really difficult leadership issue, who do you listen to?
  • What do you do when it all goes wrong?
  • How should others learn to lead?
  • How could the organisation make it easier for managers to develop into leaders?

We shaped the outcomes of the 80 interviews into a sequence of three workshops with the Board, focused on:

  • Developing the initial Leadership Model
  • Challenging and Refining the Model
  • Planning the Embedding of the Model

The final model and the plan to embed it was endorsed by the five-person Executive Board.


This is the leadership model in a three-fold format the size of a business card. Every employee of Forestry England has it, understands it and – most importantly – is making use of it in daily life.

Forestry Model
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Bespoke Leadership Model

The Bespoke Leadership Model is a key strand of a larger programme to release the potential of all the people that make up Forestry England. The 18 individual behaviours above have been used for many more purposes than originally envisaged, including a self-assessment of leadership capabilities which reveals precisely where and how the organisation can further improve its ability to lead through change.

Embedding the Model in everyday working is a continuing journey.

Workshops to embed the model and review progress have been devised for every different level, and are always opened by a member of the Board explaining what leadership means to them personally, their involvement in the development of the model and recognising their own leadership strengths and weaknesses. This spirit of candour and openness to self-improvement is, and will be, vital to the long-term success of Forestry England and its ability to grow leaders at every level.

Leadership is changing

Organisations must be well-led at the top, but also need to grow leaders at every level to ensure long-term future success.

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