My time on the Civil Service Future Leader Scheme formally came to an end recently, culminating in a conference at Birmingham’s International Conference Centre. My leadership journey continues beyond the course but here’s my hot take on the conference.
It was great to be alongside many colleagues from my cohort but also enjoyable to be in a room with another 300 or so people on the same journey. The opportunities to network beyond your cohort have been surprisingly limited (or maybe I just didn’t take the opportunities that were available). So it was nice, if a little strange, to meet people for the first time at the end of the scheme.
One of the most exciting aspects was to meet up with colleagues who’ve also been documenting their progression through the scheme online.
Hello everyone 🙂
This week, I’ll be:
* joining fellow civil servants at the Future Leaders Scheme Conference in Birmingham to hear from speakers and panellists on wide variety of topics*
(*there’s also networking…)
— Nour Sidawi (@noursidawi) February 21, 2023
Great to be at the @UKCivilService Future Leaders Scheme final conference in Birmingham. Hundreds of the Civil Service’s aspiring top civil servants in one place! Are you here too? Drop me a DM! #FLS pic.twitter.com/9VAni8WHgU
— Crispian Wilson FCDO 🇬🇧🇵🇱 (@CrispianWFCDO) February 22, 2023
There is so little written about the FLS that you would be forgiven for thinking it had the same first rule as Fight Club. I’ve searched for blogs and social media, but only a handful of people have shared their views. Making those connections in real life was great, and I’m looking forward to continuing to follow their adventures.
At first look, the agenda for the conference was fairly light. I was interested to hear from a couple of speakers (Lynda Rawsthorne, a Director at DfT and Emran Mian, Director General at DLUHC) but there was a lot of time for networking. Weirdly there was very little to facilitate or stimulate that, and I wonder on reflection is a more ‘unconference’ approach might have been useful.
Who do you think you are?
Lynda’s session on her leadership journey was undeniably fabulous (and I’m a fan of the subtle Spice Girls reference in the title of her presentation)! Attendees were eating out of the palm of her hand by the end of her short masterclass in authentic, story-telling approach to presenting.
She touched on many of the concepts that the course had covered, but the key standout messages for me were:
- Get a coach/peer group to continue to support you.
- If your employer is willing to pay for training/development then take it – even if immediate benefits don’t seem obvious.
- Embrace being an incomplete leader – nobody is great at everything, know your limitations and strengths.
- Push yourself to do things that feel uncomfortable.
- Don’t procrastinate! Life changes and there will never be the perfect time for anything.
- Keep your integrity. Do things you can live with.
- A new role offers the opportunity for a reset.
- Maintain boundaries. Don’t lose yourself.
Making the transition vs Integrity
Sadly, Emran was unable to attend and a panel session on making the transition to senior civil service roles took it’s place.
An objective for many people on the LFLS seems to be achieving more senior roles. Consequently, this was essentially a ‘how to play the game’ session to ace the selection process. I’m not sure that was my motivation and therefore this fell a little flat for me.
I also thought it was a strange juxtaposition with the next session on social mobility, valuing people over competence rather than background and behaviour. The two things didn’t align – in one session being told to ‘consider your personal brand’ and then to be encouraged to ‘be your whole self’.
- As you progress within an organisation consider how you can put people at ease – relationship dynamics change and people who were once comfortable with you may not be as your position changes.
- Consider implementing a ‘no meetings between 12:00 – 14:00 in winter’ rule with your team to encourage the opportunity to go out in daylight.
- Challenge things that are accepted as normal. Ask stupid questions.
- Get to know the gatekeepers and use your networks – they help you to hear things more quickly, to stay ahead of the curve.
Reflections from a Local Government Leader
The final session of the year-long programme was a session billed as reflections about working with the Civil Service from outside. This had the potential to be really interesting and enlightening – brining a different perspective to the issues that have arisen during the course.
However, what transpired was an awkward session which fell short of what had been promised.
I LOVE a pass-agg question at a conference! OMG! Dead!
Can you talk us through, as a leader, how you determined your key speaking points and how you wanted to convey them.
— mtthwhgn (@mtthwhgn) February 22, 2023
This was one of the absolute zingers, but more generally, I think a passive-aggressive question at a conference often reveals that the speaker has hit a nerve. That deserves iexamination. Our first instinct is to leap to the defensive (or the aggressive), which perhaps it’s an ideal leadership quality.
It was also a lesson about how to prepare of these sorts of events.
- The speaker didn’t seem to be well briefed on what they should be talking about and who was in the room
- The facilitator didn’t have ‘extraction skills’ to navigate away from choppy waters
- The audience didn’t have rules of engagement
Many colleagues I spoke to afterwards found it uncomfortable. However, perhaps the provocation served a purpose. More than any other session during the day it got people talking, passionately, and sharing their views. There was a level of ‘trauma-bonding’ perhaps, but one of the functions of a leader is to generate discussion; so, mission accomplished, I guess.
Some final thoughts…
The final speaker definitely left an impression. As did FLS overall.
Like most things, you get out of it what you put in, but it’s challenging and has made me question things more than I expected. One of the very clear strands which come through in all modules, and the optional assignments, has been about personal reflection. FLS fo me has been part leadership development, part career coaching and a large dose of therapy.
I changed job role part way through the course and at my ‘leaving’ drinks one colleague said “it’s nice to be somewhere so noisy; it means I can’t hear my own thoughts”. In some ways, I think that about reflection. There is a time and a place, and it needs to be handled carefully and with copious self-compassion because it can quickly turn into negativity.
This isn’t the right time to reflect on the scheme as a whole, which has had bumps in the road, but I think had broadly been interesting. I’ll come back with some more considered thoughts later!