What if we thought of leadership as…? (FLS)
Module 1 of the Future Leaders Scheme (FLS)—Understanding Your Leadership Role
The Future Leaders Scheme is one of the UK Civil Service’s Accelerated Development Schemes, aimed at high-potential grade 6 and 7 civil servants. You can read my candidate statement here and my early reflections here.
This blog post is being written as part of my coursework for the Module 1 of the Future Leaders Scheme that I will be studying for the next couple of years. I thought it was worth sharing — I found it interesting to write and good to think about what leadership is and for. It was useful to ask myself: Where does a thing come from (what is its history)? What role did it play previously? And what will it become after it is no longer useful to us?
The aim of module one is to begin an ongoing process of consciously and critically reviewing leadership practice and its impact. The first module focuses on you as a leader by:
- identifying our leadership as it is now and the leader that we aspire to be in the future;
- critically evaluating our own practice;
- the context in which our leadership takes place;
- the factors that influence our choices as a leader and the impact that those choices have on ourselves and others i.e. our leadership shadow; and,
- the changes that we want to make and ways that we might put those into action.
The purpose of the pre-work is to begin the critical evaluation of ourselves, our organisations, and our organisational context. This is intended to help us deepen our understanding of our approach to leadership.
What image represents leadership for you?
“Leave the door open for the unknown, the door into the dark. That’s where the most important things come from, where you yourself came from, and where you will go.”
- A Field Guide to Getting Lost by Rebecca Solnit
What if we thought of leadership as a piece of paper?
When we set out on a journey, we start with a metaphorical blank piece of paper — you leave your imprint on it, and it will never be the same as it was before. It provides the starting point, with the unknown in front. And “the art of straying” means that to be lost is to be fully present, and to be fully present is to be capable of leaving the door open for the unknown.
If you look closely, you can also see all the places where other people have walked: they are going through the same field or ocean, but they are traveling on their own journeys, separate to yours. Just as our leadership journey is our own to direct and will leave its own mark on whatever we encounter, we can use the paper to shape other journeys, too.
The blank piece of paper is an invitation to start from the beginning and work out why, what, and how, together. This calls for an openness to the wisdom and perceptions of others about what is needed and how it will come into being. There are endless possibilities for what this piece of paper will become:
- Some will make a paper plane and watch it soar.
- Some will sketch a human body, thinking about how different parts of our anatomy are metaphors for leadership, empathy, curiosity, and advocacy.
- Some will craft a complicated 3D diagram to illustrate the interactions between empowerment and direction.
- Some will paint molecular clusters to show connectedness and teamwork.
- Some will create paper mache (papier-mâché) bricks to lay together to construct a foundation, showing collective strength and that it takes a village to collaborate.
- And others, they will make do with whatever is to hand to stitch together a patchwork that represents identity, community, openness, and belonging. For they recognise we are all building and changing simultaneously.
But, a blank piece of paper to hand may be a viable option if we were starting from scratch. That approach is no longer viable. History has both a weight and a presence — we’re not afforded a blank sheet of paper. We’re merely building upon what has passed, on the advances of those that came before us.
So there may now be scuff marks on the “blank piece of paper,” or it may be re-constructed into something else using fragments or left-overs of previous formations. Perhaps then we need to take the bricoleur’s line and start from where we are, improvising to remake old things to serve new purposes or constructing from whatever we have available. Whatever we construct of leadership is neither permanent nor final, but way-stations for people around us, who have other histories and potentials. One person’s configuration of it does not eliminate others. And all stand open to reinterpretation.
Ultimately, it is not the piece of paper that is important. It is that big questions that don’t necessarily require answers because the journey to answer them is sometimes more valuable than the destination.
Will proposing a blank, scuffed, worn piece of paper miss the entire point? Perhaps. But, everyone’s interpretations of this task will be diverse — and each person will see the value in their own expression of leadership and that of others. But, the real magic will be if, later on, we’re asked to redo the activity. If we’re given the time to draw our representations of leadership and share these changes with the group. What will the outcome be then? Will we create a shared language of leadership that is accessible to all?
Who knows. But I’m keen to find out.
I have developed a wiki to openly document my Future Leaders Scheme learning journey: