Taking Leaders Online – CityBites Podcast interview with Miffa Salter

This is an update of the 14.12.20 post on taking Future of London’s courses online, featuring the podcast interview with Miffa Salter, founder-director of Urbancanda and, with colleagues Andrena Cumella and now Dr. Brennan Jacoby, the backbone of FoL leadership programmes.

The podcast is below; hope you enjoy it – especially any alumni needing a “Miffa fix” – and that you can put some of the excellent guidance into action for your own learning, leadership practice and wellbeing.

For most people working from home* since March 2020, life is a rollercoaster propelled by lockdowns and releases, steep learning curves, waves of home-schooling, rising burnout and chaotic policy (this post goes online as the UK locks down for a third time).

In June, 88% of 5,500 surveyed employees said they wanted to continue some form of home working when offices reopen fully (PropelHub). In September, 69% of [US] employees surveyed said they were suffering from burn-out (Forbes – good tips in here).

As a support and best practice network, Future of London has been working to ascertain what people need most – in order to be effective and to feel sane and human – and to deliver that as we move through the pandemic.

Like every education, network or events organisation, FoL was hurled online in March 2020. Strong board support and sustainable finances meant FoL could focus on its network, including Future London Leaders and Leaders Plus candidates in or about to start courses.

Chief Executive Nicola Mathers, a year in post at the time, on that initial shock: “The first lockdown was pivotal for FoL. Our events are seen as inspiring and useful and our network is really supportive. We wanted to sustain that for people at a chaotic time, so we focused entirely on taking our event programme online. The whole team devoted time to research, learning and practice and we were able to deliver best-in-class online events almost immediately.

“We could also see that many of our members had been thrown into emergency mode, so Lisa and the team quickly developed and launched our multimedia #LearningFromCrisis programme, to share expertise and show how peers were managing.”

Leaders candidates were a priority throughout. For many, workloads had doubled or roles had changed, so peer support – and the protected thinking space of FLL and Leaders Plus – were critical.

Course providers Brennan Jacoby and Miffa Salter of Urbancanda were already preparing, having had word from colleagues in locked-down Italy, and worked quickly with the FoL team to redesign content and formats. For people focused on learning, there were upsides…

Urbancanda founder and trainer Miffa Salter: “It sounds like a guilty pleasure but I liked the challenge and enjoyed the fact that I had to revisit all that work we’d done with FLL and Leaders Plus, update and completely rethink how we communicate it; it meant a lot of pressure but as a ‘Red-Green’, of course I enjoyed the pressure!”

Leaders Programme Manager Hazel Webb says there have been clear benefits for candidates: “The change from themed field trips to case studies enabled us to widen the scope of topics and on recent FLL courses, we heard from experts working on national and international projects.

“The opportunity for candidates to ask the experts questions has also increased, since on top of Q&A we encourage candidates to send questions through the ‘Chat’ function. Chat enables us to facilitate conversations and provide resources and contacts in or after a session. The interactivity between speakers and candidates has increased in a way, and case studies are more candidate-led than ever.”

“What we lose is that excitement of being with other people. Does that make sense?”

– Miffa Salter, Urbancanda

No one thinks this new format is great, although Salter points out that online learning is actually effective for straight information exchange. What’s being lost is the informal, personal connection, though we all try to incorporate that (witness the gentle snoring of French Bulldog Jojo Salter, below).

“When we first started,” says Salter, “it was all about ‘Can we do this, how do we operate it?.’ Now I think it’s ‘Can we humanise it?’ That’s been a big change and hopefully we’re bringing that change into the work we’re doing.”

Future of London and all of its partners are working to continually improve the calibre of online courses and events, and to decide which elements to carry forward as we start to meet in person again in 2021. Future London Leaders and Leaders Plus now have cohorts who are starting online and will hopefully finish live back at our Lewis Silkin home, while GM Leaders Plus is set to launch [online] in February. Watch this space.

For now, grab that hot drink and imagine a Lewis Silkin cookie; hope you enjoy this chat with Miffa as much as I did!

Transcript: Download


  • Virtues of Virtual, Dr Brennan Jacoby, Philosophy at Work
  • Eat, Sleep, Work, Repeat – Blog and podcast from Bruce Daisley: brilliant compendium of fresh thinking on working and leading remotely and what we may see next.
  • FoL’s #LearningFromCrisis resource hub with signposts to a great variety of support and insight.

Miffa’s quick wins for learning online:

  1. Hydrate!! Don’t just have the water bottle there, drink from it.
  2. Try to eat every two hours, avoiding sugar.
  3. Set up your workstation to support your body, including posture, vision, hearing. Get up often!
  4. Ask for content in the way that you need it: “You as a learner need to be a little more directive and assertive if it isn’t coming through to you in the way you need it.”
  5. Get familiar with the tools: use Chat, stay online to catch up afterwards, ask for more from trainers.

*Of course, millions of people cannot work at home, employed in services, healthcare, manufacturing, transport, food production and service, transport and more. In her interview, Miffa refers to the dangers of a deepening societal divide, and Future of London is considering how best to support this aspect of its cross-sector network. If you’re interested in this work, get in touch with nicola@futureoflondon.org.uk.

BACKGROUNDER: Future of London’s overall ‘pivot’:

  • Continuity: Immediate, successful shift of all seminars, roundtables and courses online.
  • Relevant programming: Rapid development of #LearningFromCrisis Covid-19 programme. First weeks shared valuable insight on how organisations navigated the crisis. Recent focus has been on medium- and long-term impacts across issues like economic development, organisational change, housing delivery and green recovery.
  • Quantity: Faster lead times and more platforms have enabled more content, events and classes.
  • Variety: Faster pace and streamlined delivery have also made FoL more responsive to the fluid world we live and work in, allowing us to tackle more topics without abandoning our core.
  • Audience: Online events have drawn a much larger audience, in numbers and mix (including overseas). Top webinars draw three times the audience we could host live. Audience profile maintains FoL’s healthy balance of career levels, disciplines and sectors, including community.
  • Accessibility: All public events are on YouTube, with transcripts available, and viewership is good and growing. Our CityBites podcast also offers a rich mix of content in a portable medium.
  • Networking: From the start, FoL staff have been more available to our network than ever, via WhatsApp, social Zoom rooms, phone or email, and we’re testing various platforms to increase and enliven networking options beyond the ‘webinar foyer’, Chat, breakouts and WhatsApp.