Staying sane while managing change: Listen to the latest Leading Questions podcast with UK civil service stalwart Sir Suma Chakrabarti

By on 19/05/2022 | Updated on 24/05/2022
Photos of Sir Suma Chakrabarti and Siobhan Benita against the Leading Questions podcast logo

The latest episode of Global Government Forum’s flagship Leading Questions podcast is now live featuring long-time UK senior civil servant turned European Bank for Reconstruction and Development president, Sir Suma Chakrabarti.

In a long and distinguished career that began at the Overseas Development Institute in Botswana and included stints at the International Monetary Fund, World Bank, the UK’s Department for International Development (DfID), Cabinet Office, Treasury, and justice department – where he was the permanent secretary – Chakrabarti has led teams through mergers, reform, crises, cuts, and redundancies. It has been by no means an easy career path but he has relished the challenges met and overcome. Indeed, as he explains in the podcast: “You should never pick me for any job which is business as usual… I am my best or worst, depending on your point of view, when dealing with change.”

Chakrabarti shares valuable advice for ambitious civil servants – the ones that do best are those who can “find the niches and angles that are not obvious… and knit different agendas together”, he says – and why leaders under considerable pressure should find time for pursuits outside of work if they are to stay sane.

“These jobs are tough and you have to give yourself space to breathe and enjoy. So, all the stuff that [British politician] Denis Healey once called ‘hinterland’ that’s really important in your life – whether it’s family, whether it’s friends, whether it’s Leicester City [the football team Chakrabarti supports] winning the Premiership – these are really the sort of things that matter because they keep you grounded and they keep you sane.”

In this interview, Chakrabarti also discusses leaving one civil service job because he was at loggerheads with the minister; why he thinks the merger of DfID and the Foreign Office is a mistake; how his mother’s experience as an Indian woman in Britain in the 1960s inspired his work as a diversity champion; the future of work; and much more besides.

This is a must-listen episode in which he reveals himself as a bold, astute, and empathetic leader with a truckload of lessons to share.  

The first episode of Series 2 features Australia’s governance chief Stephanie Foster who discussed stepping into the unknown, and embracing her strengths – and flaws – as a leader.

This second series will search the globe to find the best examples of public sector leadership in 2022. In the next episode – to go live in June – we interview Michael Wernick, former clerk of the Privy Council and Cabinet secretary of Canada. If you’d like to recommend someone to feature in a future episode, please get in touch.

Listen here: Leading Questions podcast: civil service leaders share what they learned from their time at the top

About Mia Hunt

Mia is a journalist and editor with a background in covering commercial property, having been market reports and supplements editor at trade title Property Week and deputy editor of Shopping Centre magazine, now known as Retail Destination. She has also undertaken freelance work for several publications including the preview magazine of international trade show, MAPIC, and TES Global (formerly the Times Educational Supplement) and has produced a white paper on energy efficiency in business for E.ON. Between 2014 and 2016, she was a member of the Revo Customer Experience Committee and an ACE Awards judge. Mia graduated from Kingston University with a first-class degree in journalism and was part of the team that produced The River newspaper, which won Publication of the Year at the Guardian Student Media Awards in 2010.

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