How I’ve changed as a leader in the last year

I’ve been a fellow of the Forward Institute for 9 months — half way through the programme — exploring the concept of responsible leadership. It’s an opportunity to reflect on how I’ve changed — and the task still required.

Our team’s in a very different position from last year. 12 months ago we had restructured but were yet to have our new joiners arrive. We’d shifted perceptions of what our service was for, but we were practicing a digital culture and mindset at the fringes. Now we’ve increased our output; we’re grappling with how to adopt a DevOps approach and we’re helping colleagues outside ICT to explore how this culture and mindset. All this requires new skills, new relationships and continual moulding of our culture. But as one team member reminds me, I came in promising homemade cakes, and haven’t baked enough.

Responsible leadership requires awareness of the system

Responsible leadership stresses the importance of understanding the whole system to help leaders see beyond the needs of the organisation. I used to assume that doing good work was good enough. I’ve become more aware of how to align our team so it’s making lasting impact and we’re seen to be embedded in the corporate priorities and needs of the borough. I’m learning about the incentives that work for and against change — safety, money, power, recognition — and how these can help us achieve systemic change.

We’ve experimented with different techniques to help teams learn more about the context they’re working in and get fresh perspectives on our work. We’re collaborating with other councils more (the duplication of effort was something my shadowing partner was particularly struck by), and I’m also trying to learn more from charities.

Responsible leadership requires emotional intelligence

For some time, I’ve been aware of the difference between what I know and feel, and what I can convey. I’ve worked hard to bridge this gap; to be more aware of the soft signals I send out, and more comfortable with the direct feedback I need to give.

I’ve used the ‘out of body’ experience of being shadowed to think about how I’m being an advocate for our residents and my team’s skills, rather than just my own opinion. I’m also more considered about the role I’m playing in meetings. I’m thinking more carefully about each person and what they need, rather than just how I get what I need. But I’m not yet doing this naturally.

I used to not mind how many people seemed to be intimidated by me. It was a nice contrast to the days when I was told I would be taken more seriously if only I had more grey hair. But now I see what a barrier that is to helping people do their best, so I’m trying a range of things to show why I’m not so scary really.

I’ve long had a nasty habit of separating people from tasks. When something needs to be done, I just explain it, rather than spend time developing a relationship. So now I’m using the knowledge and practices from the Forward Institute to try to break my habit. I’m currently enjoying using some time in my diary to have more informal conversations around the office.

Responsible leadership must be sustainable

I’m trying to reduce my impact on the environment. It’s not mattered enough to me, previously, and I’ve denied my responsibility in doing something given the scale of the challenge. Taking the train on holiday to France may be a bigger undertaking than not eating meat in my regular diet and I’ll admit that replacing washing tablets with soapnuts would have been a grander gesture if I’d not had to buy them on Amazon Prime. But at least I’m trying.

Caution or responsibility?

The biggest impact I’ve noticed is a bit more caution. I’m a bit less likely to rush into something gung-ho and manage the consequences later. I do consult a bit more broadly, although I struggle to think aloud in the way people want. I’m a bit more likely to seek some permission rather than just cower for forgiveness. It could be I’m more cautious, or is it that I’m acting a bit more responsibly?

A different leader?

I know that I’m not yet a different leader. Each week I report half-baked attempts to be more effective. In some respects, I may actually be worse because — as with deconstructing any behaviour — it has to be taken apart before it can be remoulded. But I better understand the problem to be solved. That provides a clear challenge for the next 9 months.

Customer services, Digital and Data @ Hackney. Obsessed by digital + policy. Ex policy wonk and failing entrepreneur. Distracted by sport. Personal views

Customer services, Digital and Data @ Hackney. Obsessed by digital + policy. Ex policy wonk and failing entrepreneur. Distracted by sport. Personal views