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.
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:
- 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…
- 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.
- 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.
- 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. Update: 2/10. 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.