Well, this is a bit unexpected! Here I am again with some reflections on my leadership journey. These aren’t formally part of the FLS course, but recent training in my new role and as before I wanted to document my (semi) immediate reflections.
Who is Frank Bailey?
Frank Arthur Bailey (1925 – 2015) is known for being one of the first black firefighters in the United Kingdom.
There is a lot more to his story than I can do justice to in a short introduction and his obituary is well worth a read. Frank was born in British Guiana and had a varied career; working as an engineering apprentice on a German trade ship, moving to New York to work in healthcare and then becoming a firefighter in London. In 1965 he left the fire brigade and became a social worker and a legal advisor.
London Fire Brigade’s leadership development programme is named in his honour. Like my FLS posts, this blog captures my reflections from the first two of four modules as a way of documenting my learning and holding myself accountable.
Module One – Leading One’s Self
As with the FLS course this module spent a considerable time discussing the differences between management and leadership. As before, I align more with the qualities of a leader however have noticed a couple of occasions, particularly with looming deadlines and things just need to get done, where I take a more management approach.
This reminded me of a recent conversation with a researcher who was exploring how emergency managers use different leadership and communication styles at different phases of the integrated emergency management cycle.
For me, the most useful part of the session was an exercise which invited us to consider burnout. The below picture was presented and we were asked to discuss which of the jelly babies we identify most with, and why. I found this a powerful way of broaching what could feel like difficult emotions.
The thing which surprised me most was how people put radically different interpretations into what each jelly baby might be experiencing – is that somebody hanging on for dear life, or are they just hanging out because they have built the muscles to do so? This is unlikely to capture the entire human experience, but is a useful starting point to check in with yourself, and with others.
Module Two – Leading Teams
This module was conducted virtually. You’ll remember that my experience with the virtual LFS module was far from positive (so much so that there was no specific blog about it), but this was a very different story, and a well-structured, interesting and open session.
FLS hasn’t gone into great detail on Tuckman’s model of team performance (perhaps because it’s a well-trodden path and want to introduce newer concepts), but the LFB course provided a deeper examination of this model.
Tuckman generally aligns with my experience, but like all models, it can only ever be an approximation. The aspect which I have some doubt over is the ability to determine precise stages – how do you know when you are forming, storming, morning or performing? The reality, I find, is that all of those things are happening all of the time, just to a greater or lesser degree.
I wondered whether, perhaps, it might make more sense to see the model something like this…where all of those things are happening at once but overlapping. The different ‘stages of development’ take precedence at different time periods, but are always all occurring and fluctuating. Apologies for the yellow line on white paper – I was short on Sharpie options!
Having posted it, I can already see some issues with my suggestion – the performing line should be more exponential perhaps, starting beneath the norming stage. Whilst these models all have limitations, I find that by thinking about how we might tweak them helps build understanding, even if you revert to the original after testing something new.
We had a lot of discussion about the primary factors which could prevent moving out of the ‘storming valley’ and some dramatically different views, suggesting that so much of this is contextual. A study (sadly not referenced because I’d like to learn more) was referenced which noted that interpersonal skills accounts for just 0.8% of the ability to break out of the storming phase. That’s a real contrast to my own view that by having good relationships you can solve most problems. There is a emergency management mantra of “make friends before you need them” which seems to hold true here, I can’t always define clear goals, roles or processes, but knowing who to call and who you can trust is a huge advantage.
|Factor||Matt||Team A||Team B||Team C||Study|
|Clear Roles and Responsibilities||10||30||20||15||16|
Lockard Exchange Principle / Forensic Leadership
One of the best modules from my geography degree was Forensic Geochemistry. My sense of bereavement for the Forensic Science Service is for another time, but during this module I was introduced to Locard’s Exchange Principle that “every contact leaves a trace”. It’s the backbone of forensic science, but to hear it related to leadership was interesting. We did an activity to consider what ‘red flags’ previous leaders have left us – I shared one about inappropriate conduct during a meeting in my first week of a job which influenced my view of that organisation for many years.
Somehow, this idea seemed linked to the idea of a ‘leadership shadow’ which we covered in FLA Module 1, but for me the Locard principle felt more intuitive – every contact you have with somebody as a leader also leaves a trace, and those traces can be good or bad.
If you have a spare hour and are interested in the more crime-scene angles use of this principle, take a look at Professor Dame Sue Black’s 2022 Royal Institution Christmas Lectures!
We wrapped up the session by considering Lencioni’s 5 dysfunctions of a team, which I was introduced to on FLS so it’s helpful to have another reminder of a useful tool. I see this almost as the opposite of Maslow’s hierarchy – if that’s what people do need, this is what people don’t need.
I’m fortunate to have built and worked in a very competent Team until very recently. My new team aren’t incompetent by any stretch, but I’m on a journey of determining their individual strengths, areas of expertise and working styles. That means getting to know a different set of people and helping them to overcome challenges to be more effective.
I don’t feel an absence of trust within my new team, however clearly trust takes time to be earned. However, one of Lencioni’s dysfunctions feels more prominent and that’s a sense that there are some reservations about coming forwards with ideas and suggestions. I need to create an environment where team members feel safe to raise questions, offer alternative views and encourage constructive conflict. I’m open to all suggestions and ideas, but perhaps need to go back to the whole brain thinking model to understand who my team are, and how best to understand their particular motivations and preferences.
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: 9/10. I’d say that I’ve seen a small increase in this since the last check-in. I’ve re-established my weekly Team emails to provide some structure and force myself to reflect (and I’m also using it as one means of recognition of the team’s work too).
- Ask my team and colleagues for more feedback on how I work. Update: 6/10. I have asked my direct reports to be honest with me as I settle in to my new role, inviting their feedback. However, there is more that I could do to seek wider views and reflections.
- Review my personal objectives to make them more values-based. Update: 2/10. I’m beginning to regret making this commitment! I’m giving myself a free-pass on this for the time being whilst I adjust to the new role, but must come back to it at some point!
- Push myself to be more forthcoming at an earlier stage. Update: 6/10. If anything this has fallen a small amount. I want to be forthcoming, however I don’t want to dominate the conversation. I did, however, push myself to take lead a discussion for my FLS cohort and have volunteered to take on additional areas of responsibility.
- I want to take advantage of co-coaching. Update: 1/10. this has dropped considerably. I need to identify my ‘tribe’ of peers, which is difficult in a new role where many more people seem to be working remotely. I feel far more lonely in this role that previously and have suggested building a peer group network but haven’t actually done anything about that myself.
- Practice using other conflict approaches to build muscle memory. Update: 4/10. Recently there was a difficult conversation which needed to be had. I tried to conduct this in an inclusive, non judgemental way to ensure that even if there was no positive outcome that relationships weren’t soured. I also backed away from having one conflict conversation altogether it didn’t feel like the right time to have it.
- Be a bit more vulnerable. Update: 6/10. Not my forte, but I am trying to do more of the ‘show your working’ to explain my approach rather than pressing ahead. This does mean things are slower, but hopefully that is part of the storming/forming and colleagues become aware of how I work the pace will pick up.
The next modules are in about 6 weeks, so I’ll probably have the next update around then!