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