Leadership in Adult Social Care: Beyond the Brontosaurus

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.” 

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2 thoughts on “Leadership in Adult Social Care: Beyond the Brontosaurus

  1. I have spent a great deal of my career considering and reflecting on the issue of Leadership. A great deal of my personal and professional learning is still dedicated to seeking out new views, new models and new applications for leadership. I am driven in some way to testing my own approaches to leadership and finding the cracks in my style, prising them open and applying the poly filler of new learning to keep me going!

    The world we live and work in is changing at such a pace and in so many different ways, that I have come to realise that there is no one approach to Leadership which can sustain us, though I am firm in my belief that the key to success is through clear and effective leadership.
    Understanding my personality, the environment and the demands placed upon me is the filter I use to shape and nurture my approach to leadership. Leadership for me is a tool, one which I can use to hone direction and shape culture. A tool which continually needs to be sharpened for it to be of any real use.

    I subscribe to all the things Matt has set out, and would add a few things:

    Generosity, Reflection & Impact:

    Learning from the best and from the worst is what we do. We absorb through observation and experience, and if we have any sense at all we filter this to add to our own resource kit bag, applying our own spin and style to it. Whilst I would not advocate going public on examples and the value of learning from how badly things have been done by others, it is always helpful to consider what could be done better and differently to achieve a better outcome. Understand the things which can be avoided in order to remove barriers, unnecessary tension and conflict. It also marks you as someone who is able to learn and adapt – adaptation being one of the greatest skills we can have in the current climate.

    Equally, be honest about what we learn from those who do things really well. Recognise what you need to take from that, take it, but be generous, acknowledge & understand how that exposure and learning adds real value to your own leadership style, everyone needs positive feedback no matter who they are. Beware though, taking the best from others will only work if you understand what it is you want to do with it, why and how – make it relevant to your world… Making the rallying call of ‘we will fight them on the beaches….’ will hardly work if what you need to do is reach a useful compromise with partners!

    Generosity as part of Leadership is fundamental for me. Recognise great endeavour and success, never underestimate the value and power of a simple ‘thank you’, and encourage and empower people to take credit for the work they do, their successes and their endeavours. That also means of course, empowering others to be strong enough to be able to stand up and own mistakes when they happen, as they inevitably will. Good leadership for me is ensuring the first question is ‘ what do we need to do’ and not ‘who made a mistake’ .

    A generous spirit does not set you apart from people it draws you closer, so be prepared to lead from within as well as from the front, understand and be clear about your boundaries and be prepared to act on the learning proximity will bring. In the context of Making It Real, unless we are connected (and find ways to remain connected) to what people want and need, it will be impossible to lead others to deliver that well.

    Reflection is important for us to refresh and reframe our understanding of the world and our place and role in it. In the context of Leadership reflection can keep us fresh and revitalised and of course, ready to act. Over reflection (or the technical term: navel gazing) is to be avoided at all costs, as it can drive us into over complication, unnecessary introspection and potentially remove us from the reality of the world we are operating in!

    Whatever Leadership style we adopt, it is essential to be clear about what we intend to lead and why. It is possible to demonstrate excellent leadership ability but not have any real understanding of the impact it has.
    A good starting point for me, once I have a grasp of the wider context, is…..what impact do I need to make/what impact do I need others to make as a result of that/how will that deliver what is needed and agreed? Be prepared to make an impact and be prepared to deal with the outcomes of that!
    Leadership with intent and Lead for success.

    Learning about Leadership is one thing, being a good, strong and effective leader is something else entirely. It takes practice, and as Matt says, bravery to get out there and do it. I don’t think it is a thing that can be perfected, and I genuinely believe it is something we need to continually grow into. If you think you have got it right, then you can guarantee there is something else you need to learn!

    I am still practising and still learning that is for sure!!

    Andrea Pope-Smith

  2. Pingback: LOVE THESE: 12 Inspiring Links from 2013 | The Dan Slee Blog

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