Future Leader Scheme: Module Four – knitting things together

Future Leader Scheme: Module Four – knitting things together

Reading Time: 7 minutes

 

Not long ago I was looking back on a couple of days spent in York for module three of the Civil Service Future Leader Scheme. Previous modules each considered leadership through the respective lenses of self, team and environment. Between the last module and this, I’ve changed job roles. This has meant a bit of a transitional time and being more intentional about the leader that I want and how best to support my team, instead of feeling limited to minor adjustments whilst the vehicle is already in motion.

The objective of this final session was designed to knit together those separate strands into a more complete awareness and understanding. On arrival in Coventry, I was greeted by this poster, which guided me through the following few days.

Sharing your emotions doesn;t make you 'too' sensitive

As with the other modules, I found bits of Day 1 challenging. I felt myself react emotionally to some of the discussions; it’s helpful to be able to reflect more objectively now some time has passed. Like other modules, I pushed through and found things did click together on Day 2.

Things that I learned:

Coaching

  • I’ve shared how valuable I found co-coaching before so I was pleased to see it form part of this module too.
  • Again, I was struck by how insightful their comments were even after such a short period of time, in particular, their observations about me weighing up different things and ensuring that everyone has an opportunity to contribute, which is something I feel myself doing so it’s good to know it’s recognised!
  • It’s such a great way to get in-depth and honest feedback coming from a place of total impartiality. FLS is a scheme of motivated and ambitious individuals yet because it’s mixed groups and not connected with the day-to-day work, it doesn’t feel at all competitive.

Recap of course so far

  • We had a quick review of the range of tools, techniques and theories that we have touched on over the previous modules. When seen as a collective there is a lot of new information that has been shared…

Slide showing range of models and theories discussed

  • We discussed the Plan/Do/Reflect/Think loop, and the different communication styles required at different stages. I have to confess to being a little confused (and bored) by the ‘four-category models’, so many management and leadership theories seem to boil down to that, and I worry about oversimplification. I would also like to better understand whether/how this particular cycle is different to others such as Plan/Do/Check/Act and Observe/Orient/Decide/Act.
  • There can be a disconnect between what we know of ourselves and what others know, and sometimes others can know us better or differently than we might assume. Most people were familiar with the Johari window, but this discussion took that further and introduced the ’56 adjectives’ exercise.
  • Inspired by Anna Shipman’s experiment, I’ve also asked co-workers for their views via a google form. Partly I hope to be able to use this evidence in the submission of the end-of-course assignment, but it’s also opened my eyes to another way of seeking quick feedback.
  • One of the tutors talked a bit about ‘making the unconscious conscious, and we’ve all heard ‘ignorance is bliss‘ but are those two things sort of in competition? Or at least you have to accept that not being ignorant is hard both practically and emotionally.

Serious Play

  • An early task in this module was to play with Lego! (my kind of activity!) We were asked to create something which portrayed ‘the leader you want to be’ as individuals and then as a group build something to show ‘the support required in our leadership journey’.
  • I found the different approaches that people took to the challenge interesting. Did they get stuck in straight away and build from the heart, or did they take time to consider and build from the head? My own approach, based on a lego piece that spoke to me (a ladder), was to build based on a broad idea about leadership as a series of connections and relationships.
  • In the group build (picture below), I was nominated to take the lead, which I was initially a little uncomfortable with – it felt like a lot of pressure to try to create something which spoke to what others had imagined. The approach to this was different, more planned and collaborative – asking people what they felt and whether I was getting things right or if anything needed to change. DONK! It’s only just dawned on me that it in itself was a leadership lesson about inclusivity and asking for feedback!
  • Playing with Lego won’t be for everyone, it’s a case of having to pick and choose the moments for serious play. It could become a gimmick which loses its value, but I think it could be useful in the right circumstances.

Organisational Trauma

  • This session generated intense debate and reflection. It’s also an area that could have been difficult to discuss, so I commend the tutors for handling it sensitively.
  • I was surprised that for such a human-centred concept as trauma, the definition we were asked to consider had zero reference to people and was all about serving the bottom line.
  • I definitely can see that organisations themselves can be vulnerable to and impacted by both shocks and chronic stresses, and this can compound and be compounded by the stresses of individuals within the organisation. This is an area that I want to learn more about as I think it’s highly relevant to emergency management, and found this guide which looks very helpful.
  • We were asked to think about potential ways of addressing this trauma, and one of the discussions was to be more creative and get outside of our existing comfort zones, perhaps by holding discussions in new environments.
  • I’m unclear from the course what agency any one person has to do anything about organisational trauma, which did leave a bit of a feeling of despair.

Using Your Voice

  • Excitingly, and following on from our own advice in the previous discussion, we were in a different environment for this part of the module – Coventry University’s TV studio.
  • If you’ve ever been accused of having a telephone voice, then somebody has noticed you varying your communication style, and that’s what this section was exploring, based on feedback from a survey which we had completed earlier.
  • With so many examples of good and bad communicators, it’s a slight shame that there were;t more opportunities to dissect examples and look at what made them good/bad.
  • We were asked to form small groups and provide a 5-minute briefing on the topic of “returning to the workplace post-COVID”. No further instructions were given, and our group decided to experiment with a ‘directing’ style of communication.
  • Being filmed added another layer, and I found myself being far more conscious of my body language than I would have been in just a presentation and being concerned that I was fidgeting. I really enjoyed the opportunity to practice in a safe space, and to have feedback from peers. Interestingly, they also commented on my body language, however with the opposite observation; I was too still! Having access to the recordings means that we’re also able to go back and review these presentations, and I expect to see other things watching it more dispassionately.

How am I getting on with my earlier FLS commitments? 

Another run-through of whether I’ve kept my promises to myself…I committed to:

  • Be more intentional about reflection. Update: 8/10. A slight decline by one point. The protected time for reflection in my diary remains, however a change in job role means that my weekly Team emails have slipped in the last couple of weeks. I wonder if there is a way that I can continue to document my reflection – I’ve found those emails helpful in the sense of having a ‘deadline’ and having built a level of expectation, and I think I need that structure so that I commit to reflecting.
  • Ask my team and colleagues for more feedback on how I work. Update: 9/10. I’ve made great strides in this area over the last few months. Partly that has been as a result of changing roles and inviting feedback as part of my handovers and exit interviews. I also took a more intentional approach to asking for feedback after challenging meetings. Perhaps this exposes a bias towards the negative and I should seek feedback irrespective of how I feel an interaction went.
  • Review my personal objectives to make them more values-based. Update2/10. I am still struggling quite a lot with this. I have convinced myself that traditional objectives don’t sit well with me, and it’s been helpful to hear similar perspectives from others in my FLS cohort. However, I haven’t yet determined or documented values-based objectives, which should probably happen before the end of the course.
  • Push myself to be more forthcoming at an earlier stage. Update: 7/10. This is still an area that I know I need to work on. Going into Module 4 I decided to specifically explore this and made a conscious effort to be more forthcoming. I contributed more in lecture sessions (about both content and my feelings), took leadership roles in group activities, nominated myself to provide plenary feedback and put myself forwards for the on-camera activity. It was therefore interesting that my co-coach still observed that “you can do this rapid evaluation and always have something of value to add but sometimes I feel that you want to speak up but don’t”.
  • I want to take advantage of co-coaching. Update: 4/10. I had good intentions but then with moving jobs between modules I have to start again with finding my ‘tribe’ of peers that I work with and connect with. I’ve already started doing that, but it has slowed progress on this particular objective.
  • Practice using other conflict approaches to build muscle memory. Update: 2/10. I try to avoid conflict where possible, so haven’t really been able to practice this. I’ll continue trying to find ways of approaching this.
  • Be a bit more vulnerable. Update: 8/10. I’ve really tried quite hard to do this. What I’ve realised is that vulnerability doesn’t always have to mean bearing your soul, but can also be seen as weighing up options, explaining decision-making processes and offering more information than is required. Like most things, the more you try the less daunting things become, so this is still a work in progress in terms of effectiveness, but I’m scoring myself highly on the basis of effort!

This isn’t the last of my FLS blog posts; I’ve still got some ‘homework to do’ and want to give myself a window of time to explore concepts from this recent module, but if you’ve been following the journey then thank you, and look out for the next post in the New Year.

Highlights from Emergency Management Twitter

Highlights from Emergency Management Twitter

Reading Time: 7 minutes

 

Elon Musk’s arrival at Twitter was already something to be concerned about. The option to purchase a verified account was a major sign that things were hanging in the balance. Then he started with the all-staff emails and layoffs (which look shonky in terms of employment law). For emergency management this raises all of the red flags; sounds all of the alarms.

There’s currently a lot of doom on my timeline; and in classic twitter style, a lot of memes! If anything, I’ve noted a slight reversal to the Twitter of old, more conversation and camaraderie.

I joined Twitter in 2009 and have been a heavy user ever since. It’s become my go-to place for information of all kinds, as well as how I’ve built connections and friendships.

The anticipatory grief about the loss of Twitter is real. My hope for Twitter is that the disruption settles. Similarly to my hope for the NHS, it’ll reform, rebrand and things will change, but it will ultimately endure. However, on both counts, I think it’s a case of wait and see…

In an attempt to avoid doom-scrolling here are some quick thoughts about Twitter highlights in an emergency management context. (Note: I’d typically embed tweets but with the speculation, I’ve included screengrabs instead)

Breaking News

The shift from having TV news at programmed intervals to rolling news channels in the late 1990s was huge. Those channels then had to find content to fill their airtime, and so emerged the idea of ‘citizen journalism‘. This was linked to rapidly increasing access to mobile phones which gave journalists the ability to speak to people in the midst of a breaking story.

The rise of social media was another step change in how we consume news. The speed and scale of Twitter (and perhaps the original ability to send tweets via SMS) made it the place for breaking news and a kaleidoscope of real-time updates.

As an emergency manager, this is extremely helpful to help us build ‘situational awareness’, and we enhanced our skills in verification and validation to process information from a wide variety of sources.

For major broadcasters and publishers, Twitter is still a major part of their newsgathering strategy. Both they and viewers will need to adjust to another new way to consume news.

Where it all began (for me at least)

One of my earliest Twitter memories relates to the terrorist attacks in Mumbai in 2008, and I’m not alone in that experience:

I joined Twitter in November 2008, so 14 years ago. I vividly remember using it to follow the Mumbai attacks that unfolded that month. It was a fresh and visceral way to consume news. And even now, watching the curation of Telegram channels documenting Kherson, it still is.

Countless disasters and crisis events since have been live-tweeted. I couldn’t list them all, but the replies to this post do more than I would ever be able to collate.

Tweet reads: When is a time you used Twitter to help you during a disaster?

Even pop singer @OllyMurs tried to get in on sharing disaster news in 2017.

Community

With Twitter emerging as a place for breaking news, there was an early adoption by Emergency Managers.

Communities developed around shared interests and found new ways to have distributed and often asynchronous conversations.

  • #SMEMChat – provided an organised, facilitated, and moderated discussion every Friday, with key emergency management topics or developments being debated in public
  • #EMGTwitter emerged as a way of categorising emergency management tweets

Tweet reads: Here’s something I’ve wondered… What is the G for in #EMGTwitter?

  • #EUCivPro initially seemed to start as a promotion of the European Union’s disaster response arrangements, but then got adopted by emergency managers working across Europe.

Sharing knowledge and increasing visibility

Twitter allows us an insight into users’ lives, or at least what they choose to share. Whilst this hasn’t always been a good thing, and some people have been better at it than others, here are some things I think are good:

  • For a long time, the official @NHS account handed the keyboard to actual members of NHS staff to share frontline insights.
  • Similarly, many Police, Fire and Ambulance services provided ‘from the control room’ days – giving a first-hand account of the types and numbers of calls received
  • Live tweeting from conferences.
  • Live tweeting through TV shows and Movies – such as the popular #EPMOVIENIGHT created by yours truly, or DisasterologistsAtTheMovies headed by John Carr and Samantha Montano from the USA.
  • It has revolutionised politics with the rise of the ‘Twitter presidency’ and the ability to speak directly to any other user. But on a more local level, it has allowed emergency managers to see behind the curtain of senior leaders who use the platform, and for emergency managers themselves to become more visible (until they were ignored).

Raising awareness

Quite how effective Twitter-only campaigns are is a bit of an unknown, but there have been a variety of long-running initiatives to leverage social media to spread awareness. This is important because it represents a change in approaching these sorts of campaigns – meeting people in the spaces they are already using.

  • Twitter has been used to share details of the post-disaster impacts of a range of different crises, and to raise money to support recovery projects. No better example than this from Britney Spears:

tweet reads: I’ve teamed up with @RedCross and @crowdrise to raise funds for the victims of the horrible flooding in my home state of Louisiana.

  • It’s regularly used to share details of disaster anniversaries, helping to ensure that both the people affected and the lessons from those incidents are not forgotten.
  • Strike action on the London Underground in 2014 was an opportunity for Leonard Cheshire to raise awareness about the accessibility of the tube network.
  • Awareness campaigns often took a three-word slogan #TestItTuesday, #RunHideTell, and #HandsFaceSpace which often got appropriated by Twitter users with varying degrees of support or snark.
  • There has even been an attempt to introduce September as ‘preparedness month’ spearheaded by the Clark Regional Emergency Services Agency (CRESA) 30 Days 30 Ways campaign. The UK adopted this in 2015 and it’s been nurtured by my colleagues Joanne Maddams and Monika Al-Mufti who established @30Days30WaysUK (whose month of activity in September 2022 experienced its own ’emergency’ resulting postponement of scheduled posts)

Out of respect we are pausing #30days30waysUK until further notice

Innovation

a screen grab of a tweet with the test: Happy 11th Birthday #VOST! Thanks to @_JSPhillips @CherylBle @sct_r & all the original #SMEMCamp #140confNW & National #VOAD era #VOST-ies

Disaster Memes and other fun things

The post-disaster fake news shark became a common theme, with some notable sightings in the floodwaters of Sydney in 2014, Houston, Texas in 2015, and then Belfast in 2017. People became wise to it though and called the UK Government out when they posted this:

Tweet which reads: Flooding is a real problem in many parts of the UK, but @hmtreasury is irresponsible posting graphics like this. Sharks do not attack houses in Britain.

In case you were worried about its welfare, the post-disaster shark was most recently spotted back in Sydney in 2022…A manipulated photo posted with a tweet which reads:Parramatta railway station in Sydney flooded. Bull shark out of the nearby river.

And what would this post be without reference to the original disaster meme and link to the Quarantelli Meme Thread?

Tweet which reads: A big part of our digital holdings are what we, broadly, refer to as “Disaster Memes”. We only started officially collecting these a few years ago- prior to 2016, they would have been cataloged more generally under “disaster humor”.

Without Twitter, would we have had such scintillating office conversations as “is the dress blue and black or white and gold‘ or ‘are there more windows or doors in the world‘. And not forgetting this mic-drop moment (the actual tweet has been deleted but this fan account continues its legacy)!

Tweet reads: Arrogant and offensive. Can you imagine having to work with these truth twisters?

Connection, support & challenge

Crucially, perhaps most importantly of all, Twitter has been a support channel, especially in times of trouble. It has helped people to connect with their tribe to discuss issues, seek advice, build confidence and form friendships.

Sometimes tribes have clashed, and Twitter’s inaction to combat hate speech (and provide a solution to the edit button saga) is certainly a factor in the platform becoming more adversarial. However, in my experience, the good times massively outnumbered the bad.

An exchange on twitter regarding a difference of opinion on 'grab bags'

Your highlights

I’ll be sticking around on Twitter for as long as possible. I don’t think the alternative platforms offer the same experience. However, as a good contingency planner, I have now got an active account on Mastodon, which I’m learning to use and connect with other twitterers in exile.

How have you used and seen Twitter used in emergencies? What are your highlights and what do you think will happen next? Share with me @mtthwhgn…for as long as you’re able!

Infant feeding in emergencies

Infant feeding in emergencies

Reading Time: 6 minutes

 

My knowledge of infant feeding is scarce. I’ve got a few friends who’ve had babies recently, including one whose child is fed by nasogastric tube, so I’ve picked up some bits along the way, but haven’t given it much explicit thought, certainly not professionally. As a consequence, much of my own language around this is likely to be a bit clumsy, apologies upfront for any insensitivity; I hope that by talking about it I can learn more.

An image showing a 2007 booklet titles Infant and Young Child Feeding in EmergenciesThe issue of feeding babies and the link with emergency management gained a bit of attention this summer linked to a shortage of formula in the United States, and there are a couple of previous incidents which provide indications that this is a potential issue worthy of further work including:

  • the 2008 Chinese milk scandal where infant formula (and other products) were deliberately contaminated with melamine causing kidney issues for infants or,
  • the 2013 New Zealand recall of milk products used in the production of infant formula after suspected botulism-causing bacteria were found in 1,000 tonnes of product.

Background

I first became aware of human milk banks through the Midland Freewheelers a ‘blood bike’ scheme where volunteers distribute blood and blood products in support of the NHS. But despite their name, blood bike schemes also transport human milk from milk banks (and solution for Faecal Microbiota Transplants, but I’ll let you have the pleasure of googling that).

This post pulls together my thoughts from a recent workshop convened by Gillian Weaver and Dr Natalie Shenker from the Human Milk Foundation. I’m sharing my reflections on the workshop to bring awareness to those who (like me) might not have thought about infant feeding in emergencies before, and to try to break down what is a complex and convoluted area.

There are two principal ways that infants can be fed – breastmilk or formula. This is a highly highly sensitive area of discussion; donated breastmilk helps to save the lives of premature and sick babies, supports those with feeding challenges, unable to lactate or who have no breast tissue, milk donors may be very recently bereaved, and there are cultural issues at play too. The priority of an emergency manager is ensuring needs are met rather than making any value judgements, in this case about how children are fed.

Risk Identification

Discussion at the workshop revealed the potential for a range of different types of emergencies that could impact both ways of feeding in different ways. Thinking about these different scenarios quickly becomes a bit overwhelming. Two solutions to that, firstly to temporarily ‘take the human out of the equation’ and look just at the problem, and secondly, to try to break down the problem into more manageable chunks. There are lots of different scenarios which could impact infant feeding, but there are fewer ‘common consequences’, so it makes more sense to consider those. 

It also makes sense to consider risks in the context of acute and chronic stressors, for instance:

  • Acute stressors could be things like electricity disruption, which has short-term implications for keeping frozen milk frozen and perhaps the ability to communicate with milk donors.
  • Chronic stressors could be attributes such as an apparent lack of common operating model and resource pressures, these have longer-term impacts on the day-to-day services and exacerbate, and can be exacerbated by, the acute stressors.  

During the workshop discussion, I was drawn towards thinking about a trifecta of supply/demand imbalance, pinch points and interoperability, something like this… 

Image of a hand drawn diagram on lined paper showing a triangle of factors, supply/demand, pinch points and interoperabilityEach risk scenario has differential impacts on each of those parameters; some are more obvious than others. For instance, lockdown restrictions might impact the ability to donate milk (supply/demand) but perhaps less obvious is research which shows that the stress of an emergency may impact the ability to donate milk (also supply/demand)

Having considered the risks based on those three factors, I would then move towards building resilience in each area – take each factor in turn and explore what could be done to mitigate the impact of risks:

Pinch points

Some people mentioned that there could be issues in terms of insufficient freezer space, so there is a very practical step of looking at options to increase capacity – the obvious place is to buy more freezers, but perhaps there are other options to consider the shelf life of human milk, ability to rapidly scale up and down donation services and to consider other storage options (there is exciting work to consider whether freeze-dried milk might offer a feasible alternative solution). Another aspect which came up as a potential pinch point related to supply chain issues affecting commercially produced infant formula, which could perhaps be counteracted by exploring options to increase domestic production.

Interoperability

That’s a bit of a jargony title, but essentially means working together. Not all risks will be geographically dispersed like a pandemic, some which be much more local. A degree of resilience would come through being able to turn to/offer help to other milk banks facing issues. However, different milk banks seem to do things differently, which means they’re less able to lean on each other for support in times of pressure. It could be a useful step to explore this starting with a kind of buddy system.

Supply/demand

There is a background context of changing usage to be aware of here, milk bank use has increased over recent years and continues that trend. In addition, there could be situations where there are short-term changes to supply. The most recent fuel supply issues in the UK had a notable impact on donations, presumably because people couldn’t travel to drop off or collect donations. Supply chain issues for formula (such as those in America, China or New Zealand) may lead people to divert to milk bank usage, increasing demand. As mentioned already, the stress of an emergency can impact milk production – so another ‘easy win’ would be for there to be better support on this issue for people who are displaced, perhaps considering deploying lactation support workers to rest centres?


The contamination of formula with cronobacter sakazaki and the complexity of the infant formula production network received specific consideration from Simon Cameron from Queens University Belfast; this links to existing food chain biosecurity considerations (as described briefly on page 61 of the National Risk Register).

Charting a course to overcome the challenges

Many of these issues are business continuity issues for the milk banking and formula sector to resolve, and better data would help understand the scale of the challenges and the costs of action and inaction. However, they have friends in the public health, environmental health, healthcare and emergency management communities. A large part of emergency management is making friends before you need them rather than when you need them.

In my experience, current arrangements for supporting breastfeeding and infant feeding in an emergency in the UK are inadequate. People affected by an emergency may be taken to a ‘survivor reception centre’ or ‘rest centre’, they might get a cup of tea and a pamphlet explaining what support is available. It is unlikely that there will be specific, adequate and appropriate facilities for preparing infant formula. Making sure these locations are accessible for people with mobility needs is standard, why isn’t that the case for infant feeding needs? Emergency planners should give this greater consideration.

There is international guidance on this (from UNHCR in 2007, and more recently this guidance from the Philippines and this guide from the US CDC in 2022), so this isn’t starting from scratch, and there is clearly a wealth of experience in the human milk and infant feeding sector that should be tapped into. However, the most shocking thing to me is that this is all voluntary, seemingly run by volunteers. That there is no national service for human milk is astounding, and perhaps the most effective risk mitigation would be for the importance of this service to be recognised. 

Another area where I think emergency managers could assist is to invite milk bank and infant feeding representatives into relevant conversations and exercises. It’s not just the practical element of feeding infants, but also the psychosocial impacts on parents, and considering this practical issue may help reduce distress for adults. We agreed to explore opportunities for observer attendance at rest centre exercises to start building stronger bridges between sectors, so I look forward to reporting back on that before too long.

Finally, perhaps each of us can take action as individuals too:

  • Learn more about human milk donation – the UK Association of Human Milk Banking is a good place to start.
  • Ask friends and family with children under 5 years old what steps they have taken to consider emergencies. Encourage them to join the Priority Services Register of their energy company to get extra support.
  • Find your local milk bank and consider making a donation (they accept donations of cash as well as milk!)
  • Consider writing to your MP to bring this issue to their attention and ask them to lend their support to this much-needed service.  
Future Leader Scheme: Module Three OR… When training courses give you lemons

Future Leader Scheme: Module Three OR… When training courses give you lemons

Reading Time: 5 minutes

 

Earlier in the year I blogged about my experience and reflections at the first module of the Civil Service Future Leader Scheme. I made a commitment to share blogs after each module, and promptly failed to blog about module 2! Not a great start, but let me explain…

In June, Network Rail and 13 Train Operators took strike action. That caused difficulties to travel arrangements and the decision was taken to shift to virtual delivery. There was much opposition, given the additional benefits of meeting in person, but ultimately the decision had been made.

2 days of training from my dining room was about as far from stimulating and thought provoking as it’s possible to get. Frankly I just didn’t feel inspired to write about it.

The great news is that Module 3 was back to in person delivery in glorious York, and was enlightening (and a little provocative). As with the first module, I’m documenting my early reflections ( subject to the group agreement about confidentiality) after two days of examining and challenging concepts relating to partnership working.

In 1642 the Dean of St Pauls Cathedral, John Donne, gave a sermon and said

No man is an island entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main; is a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as any manner of thy friends or of thine own were; any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind. And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for thee.

There’s some heavy irony given Brexit, but this really encapsulates my views about partnership working. Everything is a partnership, or a collection of partnerships, or a complex, interdependent system of partnerships. We champion qualities such as independence and self-reliance, but non of us can exist without others, nor would we want to. Partnerships are fundamental to how society functions.

Things that I learned:

Coaching

  • An early activity was to highlight a personal strength and match with somebody who’s strength was an area for your own development.
  • I’m good in a crisis (helpful, that!) and comfortable with ambiguity, shades of grey, messiness and shifting sands. I matched with somebody far more disciplined, boundaried and goal oriented to be my co-coach, providing feedback on our observations at the end of the course.
  • This built on the Module 1 advice that self reflection isn’t enough, it is helpful to hear feedback from people who are not like us.
  • This was incredibly powerful and I’m very grateful to my co-coach and it was fascinating what they observed about me within just a couple of days, it all rang true but was delivered in ways which would have taken me far longer if I was just navel gazing.

Partnerships

  • Picciotto’s definition that partnerships are “a means to an end – a collaborative relationship toward mutually agreed objectives, involving shared responsibility for outcomes, distinct accountabilities and reciprocal obligations” generated much debate, particularly about whether they are a means to an end, or could be an end in themselves.
  • We talked about whether partners were equal and how power relationships affect the relationship and ways of working.
  • Considering how we might improve on Picciotto’s definition we covered factors such as trust and transparency, but also recognised that there would be limits to that, and that different partnerships might need different things as a result of their context and personalities.
  • There were suggestions that the definition also needed to reference clarity, but I’m less sure about whether that is the goal, or if understanding would be more suitable – in some respects it’s easy to have clarity, but that doesn’t necessarily mean people understand.

Rules

  • Various activities and scenarios were presented where we were invited to consider rules and assumptions.
  • The first activity related to an escape room challenge. I love an escape room however, this activity rubbed me up the wrong way because it seemed to suggest that rules don’t matter, which I feel opens the gate to anarchy. If the objective was to ask us to consider what assumptions we might be making, rather than suggesting if we don’t like the rules then change them then the exercise failed for me.
  • Other activities related to ‘trading’ and ‘making a case’, both of these were interesting explorations and it was interesting to get feedback from the trainers that our our cohort collectively took a different and more collegiate approach, especially to the first scenario.
  • The most useful learning for me came from approaching the same negotiation but from different mindsets (avoidance, accommodation, collaboration, compromise and competition), where both individual preferences.
  • We considered the role of the Civil Service and it’s relationship to Government, democracy and morality. One particular conundrum is whether it’s better to work on something you’re passionate about or if that can present challenges to objectivity. I also have an emerging question about the use of consultants and contractors and whether this client-supplier relationship also impacts on objectivity.

Negotiations and Conflict

  • Distributive vs Integrative negotiations – each have their advantages and uses, but also limitations. Need to consider in advance what might style might work best for a particular negotiation.
  • For me there was a lot to learn from the session on preparing in advance for a negotiation. I frequently witness people doing this but rarely seem to find time to do it myself. A useful structure provided to structure negotiations was Process/Behaviour/Substance. In my world things like the Joint Decision Model provide a helpful process, the developed plans or emergency responders represent the substance, but perhaps the bit that is missing relates to behaviours. A useful technique to develop further.
  • There was also a connection, for me, back to the ‘VoicePrint’ work of Module 1, where different negotiations can literally require a different tone of voice.

New Commitments: 

  • I want to take advantage of co-coaching – exploring options for that and to learn how to get better at giving and receiving feedback
  •  I will practice using other conflict approaches which I’m less comfortable with – I currently feel anxious about using these which is a negative feedback loop, so if I try using them more, maybe I’ll change how I feel also.
  • I’ll attempt to be a bit more vulnerable myself – this also doesn’t come naturally (and maybe should explore that further separately), but it seemed to be a useful negotiation technique to build rapport and empathy.

How am I getting on with my earlier FLS commitments? 

A quick stocktake on whether I’ve kept my promises to myself…I committed to:

  • Be more intentional about reflection. Update: 9/10! I have allocated a weekly half hour slot, late-ish on a Friday afternoon, to consolidate my thoughts, what has gone well, what could have happened differently, what I’ve learned and what’s stood out in the things I’ve read. I’m capturing these reflections and sharing with my team and have received feedback that it’s often the favourite email of the week – perhaps because I make extensive use of emoji’s. 🤷‍♂️
  • Ask my team and colleagues for more feedback on how I work. Update: 6/10. I have tried to do this, prompting my team in their quarterly development conversations to consider this and seeking their input on an essay relating to leadership but still find it a little awkward. On the advice of my coach, I also asked some friends how they see me, and whilst there were differences, there are some consistent themes in their observation of my behaviour.
  • Review my personal objectives to make them more values-based. Update: 2/10. I haven’t fully completed this yet, it’s harder than I thought to marry my personal values to some objectives and activities in the workplace.
  • Push myself to be more forthcoming at an earlier stage. Update: 6/10. To be honest this has been hit and miss. I volunteer to get involved and to lead pieces of work, I make my views known and try to bring balance to discussions. However, I recognise that my comfort zone is to listen before speaking. Lots of things you read encourage listening before speaking and when I hear ‘be more forthcoming’ I internalise that as ‘speaking without thinking’. That’s not helpful, but I think the feedback is actually about being a bit more transparent, and that’s something that requires more work.

The next module is in November, so come back then to check on my progress and latest musings!

Ramen Resolution: Ebisu

Ramen Resolution: Ebisu

Reading Time: 2 minutes

 

After a week long holiday in the south of France and extraordinary wedding of a close friend, what I needed was delicious noodles. Ebisu in Toulouse did not disappoint!

Orders are placed via a touchscreen unit in the entrance. This reminded me of one of the very first ramen experiences I had in Japan, so that was some nice nostalgia!

The restaurant is located near the very popular public square at Le Capitole and has options of indoor or al fresco dining. There were no tables available outside, but inside there was plenty of space.

The menu options are simple but range from ramen to yakisoba, and they also have a cold ramen offering.

It has been 35 degrees for most of the week and as appealing as a cold dish sounded, I had to try the classic Shoyu ramen, I added an extra egg because why not! I also ordered gyoza and a large sparkling water, because I was super dehydrated after walking 30,000 steps around Toulouse!

The food arrived quickly, and was everything that you could have wanted. No frills, no fuss, just excellent noodles.

I think the noodles were probably handmade, they had a rustic-ness to them, almost like very long spatzle! That meant that some bits were chewier than others, which was a fun quality. Toppings included spring onion (which could have been sliced more finely), bamboo shoots and a nori sheet. The nori sheet was thicker than the ones that I have typically found in London and elsewhere.

The gyoza were incredible, from the theatrics in the kitchen of the flaming pan to get them crispy, to the plump and tasty dumplings, I couldn’t fault them.

Would it have been interesting for there to have been a French twist – like, we’re in Toulouse, have a sausage version, or throw in some cassoulet beans? But, it was a very good bowl of noodles and would definitely return or recommend if you’re passing by and need a quick ramen fix!

Future Leader Scheme: Module One

Future Leader Scheme: Module One

Reading Time: 4 minutes

 

Last year I was encouraged by my manager* to apply for the Civil Service Future Leader Scheme. I applied without expectation, was invited to a selection interview and heard I’d been selected towards in the autumn. And then…nothing!

For months there was a confusing barrage of messages, emails, virtual meetings and online platform messages, but little-to-no directed learning activity.

In part delays have been due to the COVID pandemic, and I suspect that wrangling 400 students and multiple levels of technology competence is no mean feat. But the course didn’t give me good vibes.

However, I’m writing this post on the train back from Coventry and can honestly say that it was one of the most stimulating courses I’ve attended in some time and a privilege to spend time with an array of people with massively interesting positions and unique challenges.

There were two consistent themes in the discussion for me, one about reflection and one about accountability. Which is why I’m planning to blog about my experience of the scheme; to force myself to reflect on the learning activities, organise my thoughts and set intentions, openly, about putting learning into practice. I can then come back and review these to see whether I have followed through on my intentions, and I welcome that challenge externally too.

As a group we agreed some rules, one of which was about confidentiality. Definitely don’t read this series of blogs looking for the latest scoop! They’ll be high level reflections rather than my verbatim notes and I won’t quote anyone directly. Where possible I’ll try to credit any intellectual property, but it’s not always obvious what is/isn’t IP! If I’ve inadvertently reproduced something without attribution or permission then I’d be happy to edit or remove.

Objectives and Overview of the FLS Module 1 course:

  • Outline the structure of the programme and define a working agreement.
  • Define critical reflection and explore links to self-awareness and leadership.
  • Reflect on values, biases and assumptions which underpin leadership.
  • Consider the impact of a leader’s behaviour on others.
  • Form an Action Learning Set and practice the skills needed.
  • Reflect on aspirations and outline steps needed to achieve them.

We were also asked, as part of the course to ‘share an image of leadership’. There were some great contributions and rationale given, and I’ve made a note to look into the pack behaviour of wolves as a result!

The image that I chose was of the part-submerged US Airways flight 1549, which made an emergency landing on water in January 2009. The pilot of the plane, Chelsey Sullenberger, said in a later interview that “it was comforting to me to know that [the cabin crew] were on the same page, that we were all acting in concert” and about creating the conditions for other people to perform their role effectively.

a plane, US Airways flight 1549, shown half submerged in water following an amergency landing in January 2009 on the Hudson River, New York

Things that I learned (sorry this is a lot of bullet points):

Reflection

  • Holding up a mirror to ourselves isn’t enough – mirrors can be distorted and we might need some constructive, objective feedback
  • A working agreement is a charter between a group which sets out the norms for how the group intends to operate. It helps to create a safe, supportive space.
  • Try to recognise where your feelings are (and label them – ‘name the demon’) before responding.
  • Reflection is a helpful diagnostic tool and way of embedding learning. We all do it differently and what works for one won’t work for another. Think about getting a better balance between mandated reflection (formal development conversations) and situational or spontaneous reflection.

Relationships

  • Are our relationships with people different, is knowing people different, as a result of the pandemic? What does leadership look like in that context?
  • The Johari Window wasn’t new as a concept, but it was the first time that I’ve seen it in this way, with the focus being not just on understanding where different traits sit, but what actions we can take through self-disclosure, external feedback and shared exploration.
  • ‘Knowing’ is not just what people tell you or is documented. There are things we know which it is hard to define or articulate.
  • Find ways to seek more information using open questions and strategically deployed silence.
  • We each have values, but those values exist in a hierarchy. Can also consider ‘anti-values’.
  • Where do values come from in a secular society?
  • Emotional intelligence varies, be aware of, accommodate and support neurodivergence.
  • Can also use empathy to find common ground and positives. Where does somebody get their energy from? Doesn’t always have to be a negative emotion/situation that is being empathised with.

Values and objectives

  • What do you want, and what are you prepared to do for it?
  • As you get more senior more people are looking towards you. It’s lonely at the top and you can trust feedback less. Find a tribe who can give the honest feedback you need.
  • Make one change at a time so you can determine cause and effect.
  • There are leaders and there are influencers. If they’re not the same people, find and connect them.
  • Consider the influence of culture on how you present yourself and how other people interpret you.
  • When the rate of learning > rate of change = thriving conditions.

Things I’ll (try) to do differently as a result:

  • Be more intentional about reflection – allocate a half day each week
  • Ask my team and colleagues for more feedback on how I work – including perhaps asking them to draw a picture of my leadership!
  • Review my personal objectives to consider where I can make them more values-based, which feels more natural and comfortable to me than what I see as destination-based goals.
  • Push myself to be more forthcoming at an earlier stage.

An activity that I enjoyed was to draw ‘our vision of a leader in the 21st century’. My contribution is below, without interpretation because I’d be interested in how this is perceived! Drop me a tweet or leave a comment (not about my artistic prowess please)!

drawing of a figure with brain and heart identified and linked with a green arrow, a series of connected dots, some of which are obscured by a dark shape and some are illuminate by light

The next module of the course isn’t until the summer, but there are virtual events and sessions interspersed so I intend to cover those in much the same way.

 

* I have a slight philosophical issue with ‘manager’ which I’d like to explore more some other time. To me, the idea of ‘managing’ carries a connotation of coping, rather than excelling and improving. For that reason, I’m more drawn to leadership than management.

What Comes Next: Future Nostalgia

What Comes Next: Future Nostalgia

Reading Time: 4 minutes

 

As we move into late-stage-pandemic I’m reflecting again on what has been learnt (here are my previous musings), and what lies ahead.

Four days after the first set of lockdown rules were introduced in the UK in March 2020, British pop star Dua Lipa dropped her highly anticipated second album, Future Nostalgia.

Future Nostalgia Alternative Cover Art shows a black high heeled boot treading on a melted disco ball against a grey background

That album features extensively in the soundtrack to ‘my pandemic’ and now, coming up to two years on, listening to it has the effect of evoking some very strong memories. Explaining the title to NPR it was confirmed that ‘future nostalgia’ was meant to describe a future of infinite possibilities while tapping into the sound and mood of something older.

The next few years will see us re-examining and re-evaluating the COVID response to shape what comes next. In much the same way as this album, looking backwards serves as the basis for looking forwards and creating something new. In this blog, I’ve set out my observations and tried to put that in the context of future nostalgia and the possibilities that lie ahead.

I ate a lot of chickpeas. I see a future that involves less meat for me. That’s better for the environment as well as animal welfare. I need to diversify my recipes though! 

I indulged in way too much doom scrolling. I have become better at setting personal boundaries with social media. I’m not great at it yet, and the recent ‘wizard author’ controversy tipped me back over the edge for a moment into rage, but it’s a journey of progress! 

I really missed hugs. I’m going to hug more (consenting!) people more often.

The long tail of delayed and postponed events is something I hadn’t considered in my own planning. I’ve had concert tickets that have been postponed for nearly 2 years. Adjusting will continue to require flexibility, patience and acceptance. I have decided to just see that as part of the rich texture of recovery, which emergency managers know is far more complex than the response phase.

I found both enjoyment and assurance in the creativity of online events and lockdown birthday celebrations. They’re not the same as in-person events by any means, but the future should embrace the creativity that has been shown (L Devine’s URL tour where she live-streamed on a different streaming platform each week, Sophie Ellis Bextor’s Kitchen Discos on a Friday evening, Drag Queen Bingo on a Saturday, Kylie Minogues Infinite DISCO extravaganza, the pivoting to recipe boxes by local restaurants, online virtual museum tours or gin tastings) and look for these to sit alongside more traditional events in the longer term.

Emergency managers knew with fairly high accuracy and confidence, what would happen, yet were ignored. Other professions will feel that too. We need to build our profile both within and between our organisations but also directly with society so that it is harder to ignore us next time. This isn’t about having the answers; all responses will be difficult and complicated, but about using the expertise, experience and capacity available.

Eat out to help out. Hands. Face. Space. Stay alert. Flatten the curve. Support bubble. Rule of six. Shielding. Clap for Key Workers. Control the virus. Protect the NHS. Lockdown. Our messaging has been far too simplistic. A global pandemic is bloody complicated. The implications are going to vary across both space and time. It is impossible to distil messaging to a three-word slogan without losing meaning and nuance. Simple messages need to play a part in a much more in-depth communications strategy. Instead of the Government telling us the rules, more time should be spent on explaining the science to allow individually informed judgements. People should listen to experts. Experts need to listen to people too (some of the SPI-B work has been fascinating but could have played a large role). In my view, this would make rules easier to implement (and could boost compliance) but might also help avoid the conspiracy, politicisation and fetishisation of future response.

I’ve started to feel nostalgic for lockdown. The clear blue skies, peace, the weather (of summer 2020 at least), the slower pace. Aspects of the last two years have been awful, but I can choose to spend more time in nature (like when we were only allowed one government permitted walk per day). I can choose to spend more time checking in with friends and loved ones. The intensity of my own nostalgia is driven by the ‘get back to normal’ messaging. I don’t want to go back to a normal that depleted PPE stocks to a bare minimum. I don’t want to go back to a normal where existing health inequities mean you’re more likely to die if you’re from a particular community. I don’t want to go back to a normal where office presenteeism is the measure of effectiveness. If we go back to normal, everything we have all been through has not been learned. We have an opportunity to remember and learn from the silence, stillness and incredible loss.

 

I’ll leave the final words to Dua Lipa herself:

You want a timeless song, I wanna change the game.

FUTURE NOSTALGIA.

 

Ramen Resolution: Panton Yokocho

Ramen Resolution: Panton Yokocho

Reading Time: 4 minutes

My Ramen Resolution ( to eat more ramen and blog about them) began life in 2017. Four years later, here I am still finding new noodles to devour!

For our work Christmas social we went on a treasure hunt around London’s glittering West End, and along the way we passed this incredible kinetic sculpture. I knew I would have to come back and find out more about Panton Yokocho!

advertising stand with moving noodles in a bowl

The original branch is in Mayfair (ooh fancy!) and I haven’t made it there yet, but another branch on Panton Street opened recently above the Japan Centre, which is really the ideal location, especially when you’re off the the theatre just around the corner!

From the outside it looks a bit like you’re just walking in to a generic Zone 1 office building. The moving noodles from December had been taken inside, so there really wasn’t much to indicate we were in the right place. However, stepping inside was like being transported to the hustle and bustle of a the Tokyo back streets (note: ‘yokocho’ translates as alleyway).

Think neon lights, colourful lanterns, retro signage and a banging j-pop soundtrack. A little like this…

mtthwhgn seated under lanterns at Yokocho

The menu concept is highlights of ‘regional noodle cuisine’, allowing you to sample different styles from across Japan.

I’d booked a table, but that seemed to confuse the staff a little, so I think it’s safe to say that walk-in’s are pretty popular.

To drink, we ordered a Matcha Detox (left, £6), which doesn’t appear on the online menus, so might be a special; and a Cedroni (right, £9), which is a take on a negroni, but made with tarusake rather than gin. I suppose this is to give additional woodiness, but to be honest I just enjoyed it and didn’t think too much about it. I was interested to try the sake flight, which seemed good value (£9) and the Blue Hawaii Melon Cream Soda, but they will have to wait for another day.

cocktails at Yokocho

The food arrived all together, which I don’t hate, but it does mean eating things in a slightly funny order so that the noodles don’t continue softening, and can mean that the side dished get a bit cold. But remember that ramen is designed to be a quick meal.

ramen noodles and food at Yokocho

  • Yokocho Ramen (bottom, £13.90) – ironically, this originates in London, so doesn’t really play into the ‘regional noodles’ vibe, but it was great. You probably know by know that tonkotsu is my favourite for the lingering creamy coating it can leave on your mouth. This is a different, clearer and saltier style of broth, but it worked really well and the presence of a naruto fishcake was a bonus.
  • Kumamoto Tonkotsu Ramen (top, also £13.90) – Nick tried this and thought it was delicious and garlicky. Special mention was given to the nitamago egg bobbing gently in the broth.
  • Cheese Tsukuni Yakitori (£7.50) – these were a little like the meatballs that you get in Ikea covered with a grilled dairlylea cheese slice. It was tasty and the chicken was very moist, but on reflection I’d probably go for the fried chicken karrage next time.
  • Shio Kosho Wings – we had visited on ‘Wing Wednesday’ where a side of wings was £4.00 instead of the usual £6.50. The wings were very crispy but definitely needed the addition of some Shichimi powder for a bit of additional flavour.
  • Pumpkin Croquette Bun (£4.90) – I always really want to like a pumpkin bun, but in reality they can taste a bit like a veggie burger. The spicy mayonnaise was a hit!

I don’t usually review the toilets in the places I go, but on this occasion they get a special mention too for the (deliberately?) badly printed martial art movie wallpaper, which I adored.

cartoon face on retro wallpaper

Overall, Yokocho was a little on the expensive side compared to other ramen joints, but this is about as central as it’s possible to get so I think there’s probably a bit of an uplift because of that. However, both ramens and the side dishes were great and would definitely make a return visit if I was in the area because you can also pop into the Japan Centre and pick up some cool stuff there too.

Here’s to another year of noodley goodness!

Ramen Resolution – Mikawa Japan

Ramen Resolution – Mikawa Japan

Reading Time: 3 minutes

 

I have a long-standing theory that the best Japanese restaurants specialise in a particular dish. I would always recommend exclusive sushi places, dedicated ramen joints, or restaurants that only sell okonomiyaki.

However, that theory has been blown clean out the water with a trip to Mikawa Japan, which offers a range of sushi, sashimi and ramen.

My visit ahead of a gig at the O2 Shepherd’s Bush Empire was a bit of a last minute decision (thanks in part to the Victoria Line doing everything in its power to mess up my journey). The original plan has been to go for ramen at Shoryu at Ichiba Japan Centre in Westfield, but I thought that might be cutting things too fine for the start of the concert.

So Google Maps suggested Mikawa instead. Initially I was sceptical – the website is pretty sketchy and it was tricky to find details of the menu other than some photos which looked like they’d been taken on a potato.

Mikawa is one of those traditional Japanese restaurants – think sumo wrestler wood cut illustrations on the walls and red lanterns. However, they brought a Western vibe (and a great pre gig warmup) with a 90’s pop playlist!

I visited with my sushi obsessed friend, so we picked the Mikawa Set (an 8 piece salmon sushi roll, 6 pieces of nigiri all of different types and 3 types of sashimi and then we both opted for the Tonkotsu ramen. You know you’re in for a good experience if there is chūhai (essentially it’s a Japnanese alcopop) on the menu too, we chose yuzu and white peach flavours.

The sushi/sashimi arrived first and was marvellous.

My personal highlight was the tuna sashimi was so fresh, slightly salty and almost meaty rather than fishy. Nick loved the salmon sashimi, which I agree was also really good. The other stand out item was the wasabi, which was less lurid green than you find in some places, and has a texture similar to crunchy peanut butter. The only downside was that I wanted more, but we also had a bowl of ramen to come.

The noodles arrived as a ‘main course’ which is better than some places that just bring it as and when. We both noted how nice the bowls were too.

The noodles themselves were overdone (in that they were soft when they first arrived and then they continue to soften as you eat too). Nick wasn’t sure about the addition of ‘spinach’ as a topping, but I have to disagree; I thought it added a different more earthy dimension. The broth was delicious. It could have been more unxious (spelling?) but it was smooth and rich with a subtle sweetness. Two half eggs were also slightly overdone, but had so much flavour. And the pork slices were beyond great!

I would go back to Mikawa in a heartbeat.

It’s great to find new places, especially in areas of town that I’m less familiar with, because it’s an incentive to return and do more exploring. I’d make sure I go hungry beforehand though, so I could get even more sushi!

Book Review: The Silence

Book Review: The Silence

Reading Time: 2 minutes

 

I’ve blogged before about the importance (and absence) of a true lessons learned processes in emergency management. The current system of debriefs and action plans is something. But it’s not everything that we need.

One of the most primitive ways that we share information, and pass on important lessons, is in the form of stories. Admittedly that’s far less measurable than some RAG-rated entries in a database. But potentially it’s powerful.

My latest project is to collate staff experiences of response to an incident, but through less traditional mediums, their own artistic interpretations of their memories and then to collate that into a zine. It’s a bit of an experiment to see if there are different ways to tell the story of a response, rather than limit that to the narrow confines of a debrief and it’s report.

With that in mind, I set out last weekend to go to London’s largest zine collection for a bit of inspiration.

Along the way I stopped in to a bookshop and one of the recommended reads was The Silence by Don DeLillo. A short novella rather than a mighty tome.

The blurb:

Superbowl Sunday, 2022. A couple wait in their Manhattan apartment for their final dinner guests to arrive. The game is about it start. The missing guests’ flight from Paris should have landed by now.

Suddenly, screens go blank. Phones are dead. Is this the end of civilization? All anybody can do is wait.

My interest was piqued.

However, I have some bad news. This was not an enjoyable read. Other than a few fleeting references to the situation (and it’s still unclear exactly what happened – cyber hacking? power loss? geomagnetic storm?) it wasn’t really about the incident. Worse, I’m not really clear what it was about. Or what message it was trying to convey.

Critics have lauded the book as ‘stylistic’. However, it feels like the author simply developed an algorithm to say the ‘right’ apocalyptic fiction words regardless of what order those words appear in, and at the expense of any kind of plot.

There is dialogue, but rarely are there conversations, just a series of loosely connected statements. I have never met anybody who speaks like this, and yet here are a collection of people who all do. I found it incredibly hard to read, so it was fortunate that it was short at just 144 pages.

I would not recommend this book. You can find a million better things to do.

The one positive; I learned a lesson to avoid this particular style of book, and I learned that lesson through the power of a story.