Leadership Development - Kerry Isherwood

Establishing good learning habits and making learning sticky remain persistent challenges in leadership development.

Kerry Isherwood

In this edition of our new Leadership Development Interview Series, we sat down with Kerry Isherwood about some of the programs she’s been involved with at Virgin Atlantic, including a large-scale coaching initiative & her take on the promise of AI coaching.

Kerry, can you tell us a bit about yourself and your current role?

I am the senior manager for leadership learning at Virgin Atlantic. We are the UK’s second-largest carrier, flying to 37 destinations with about 41 aircraft. In my role, I support managers and leaders at various levels, from first-time line managers to very senior leaders, fostering their development in a dynamic environment that constantly embraces new technologies and trends.

What does leadership mean to you? What skills do leaders need to succeed?

Leadership, to me, revolves around human skills or “soft skills” like creating psychological safety, empathy, active listening, and humility. These essential skills have always been crucial and continue to be so. At Virgin Atlantic, we view leadership inclusively across the entire company, regardless of job titles or roles, emphasizing the moment when anyone can act as a leader.

What does leadership development look like at your company?

Our primary focus in leadership development revolves around coaching, offering unlimited coaching for six months with a qualified business coach, transition coaching for various life stages, and specific programs like the Star Coach Program and mindset practices. We also use psychometric tools, facilitate team workshops, and have programs supporting women in leadership. Our goal is to prepare our future senior leaders, primarily middle and senior managers.

What was your biggest success story with implementing or improving a leadership development initiative?

In recent years, we’ve seen substantial progress after a period where our learning offering was limited due to challenges faced by the aviation industry during the pandemic. However, with a blank canvas, we introduced various programs, focusing on engagement, which culminated in a successful leadership expo. The turnout was phenomenal, with all programs oversubscribed and high learner retention rates.

What are some current challenges in leadership development?

Establishing good learning habits and making learning sticky remain persistent challenges. Leaders often question if they have the time to learn and need to see the immediate impact of the learning. Our focus is on making learning accessible, experiential, and personalized to ensure it aligns with their needs.

Have you considered using AI tools in developing future leaders? Why/why not?

Absolutely, our perspective on AI’s role in coaching has evolved. While AI won’t replace human coaches, it can enhance coaching’s reach and scale. We’re exploring AI’s potential in various areas, such as data analysis, design, and measurement, aiming to upskill ourselves to adapt to these developments.

What applications of AI seem most promising to you from a leadership development standpoint? Where does AI fall flat?

AI holds promise in providing real-time feedback on emotions, performance, and behavior. It can enhance emotional agility and help leaders identify areas for improvement. However, it won’t replace the need for learners’ commitment and willingness to change and grow. AI’s success lies in amplifying human skills rather than replacing them.

To learn from more experts on how to grow leaders at your company, check out our full list of interviews here.

If you’re looking to grow future leaders at your own company, get in touch to see how Bunch can enable you to give every person in your company a personalized, continuous development program in just 2 minutes a day.