I do not consider myself an expert on leadership. I have spent the significant majority of my life not being a leader. This blog is an assortment of thoughts and observations, not a design for leadership life.
Disclaimer out of the way. “Oh what is my theory, that it is? Yes, well you may well ask, what is my theory?” (Monty Python- The Brontosaurus Sketch.)
1) “I don’t know.” Most of us haven’t evolved into the breed of superhuman that the ever improving GCSE trajectory suggested was inevitable. If you set yourself up as the final arbiter of fact you will be both miserable and have the weight of the world on your shoulders.
The good news is that the answers are out there, the skill is in working out how to listen (there are many great co-production blogs out there at the moment; one of them is here with thanks to Debs Aspland from Parents As Equal Partners.)
2) Know your weaknesses. We all have them; in fact I have loads (ranging from any form of DIY to understanding commitment accounting.) Unpack all your weaknesses in your head, assess the strengths of the people around you and be open about what you need. Then do not compromise in finding it.
3) Culture is King! One of my favourite maxims is “culture eats strategy for breakfast.” You can design the best strategy in the world, if people don’t shape it, buy in to it and then have a clear role in delivering it, expect it to be confined to the dustbin of history.
Strategies don’t change things, people and relationships do. The good news is that the Think Local Act Personal Partnership agreement already provides a means to design adult social care in the future.
4) Evidence first. Don’t be tempted by big shiny things with innovation labels slapped all over them
People who use care and support services and carers are best placed to tell you what is required. When large organisations invent solutions for people they do not always succeed. Listen to the evidence, learn from successes and failures elsewhere, speak to your communities and networks and use that evidence as your mandate for change.
5) Create space. Bureaucracy and process can be the enemies of creativity. As Seth Godin put it in the brilliant Icarus Deception “finding people to fix your typos is easy. Finding someone to say “go” is almost impossible.” People can achieve amazing things if they are allowed to explore and take risks, the job as a leader is to create space and the opportunity for change. This is not about changing processes within single organisations it is all about partnerships and the immense potential they bring.
6) Be brave. Given that there are people brighter than you (point one) and that you have weaknesses like any other mortal (point 2) accept that you need people with different talent, views and skills to drive positive change. You can go a step further and expose yourself and the folk around you to new learning and development opportunities. Developing people contribute more. Someone somewhere along the line took a punt on you; return the favour.
7) Change is hard. The range of barriers to change: resources, culture, politics, control, knowledge, traditionalism, fear (the list goes on and on.) Implementing positive change is very difficult; more people will tell you things are wrong than they will take responsibility for driving change themselves. Anticipate this, accept your role as a leader is to analyse, understand a range of perspectives that then use the skills, knowledge and passion around you to do it anyway.
8) Fail openly. Success all the time is impossible. Things can and will go wrong- understanding why is an opportunity. Making sure it doesn’t happen again is about good leadership. Establishing a finger pointing culture takes seconds, sticking your hand up and taking responsibility is tough. We don’t talk about failure enough; failure costs jobs and more importantly has a negative impact for the people and communities we serve not to mention personal reputations. Learning from failure can be really powerful; establishing a culture when openness is valued more than relentless success will be about the example you set and the expectations you agree as a group.
9) Be accessible. People will often see your role and status ahead of your personality. Talking to you can be intimidating. Many informal barriers exist that prevent folk from crossing your threshold. Equally your diary is evil, your emails soar through the roof and you have fewer and fewer people and resources to help you do the things you need to achieve. You cannot be available to everyone all of the time. Striking the right balance is difficult. Identifying the right means of two way communication is key. Use your judgement and trust your colleagues to escalate issues at the right time. Spending time alongside people at the front line can be very powerful albeit a limited insight into how your organisation really functions.
10) Look after yourself. It isn’t surprising with the pace of change and disinvestment in many aspects of social care that jargon like “resilience” is being bandied about. You can’t be an effective leader without being yourself. Equally you are not your job. Everyone has different lines as to where the personal and professional self converge. Be self aware; give what you can and protect the personal where it is necessary for you to do so.
What (I hear you ask) was the theory about the the brontosaurus then? Simple: “All brontosauruses are thin at one end, much MUCH thicker in the middle, and then thin again at the far end.”