My Reflections – 3 days of learning

This week I attended a 3 day residential as part of the strategic leadership programme I blogged about previously.

The 3 days were fun, intense, emotional, challenging, tiring and jam packed with valuable insights about myself, my peers (which also taugh me about myself) and my current perceived limitations.

As I sit here looking at the sketched notes during the 3 days there are some interesting themes which emerge and I’d like to share those here.

Innovation in a vacuum

This was probably one of the most interesting and surprise insights across the 3 days. The phrase was coined by a fellow participant. How i’ve taken this is that sometimes people/teams/services or anyone really who innovates in isolation and disconnected to real things can still create amazing things but they are less valuable unless they have a clear purpose and are trying to solve real tangible issues…it basically becomes misguided. Although the result is still valuable learning of course.

Don’t make assumptions

I’ve blogged about this before and it is actually really hard to surface the assumptions you are making at any given time unless you provide some kind of internal process for capturing them.

In saying all of that when you end up doing things and you are under pressure, we all found we kept making assumptions which were counter productive to us achieving the goals of any given task…we naturally all became more aware and got much better at stating them but how often do we support each other to help identify the assumptions we are making as we make decisions.

Responsibility

As existing leaders and as future leaders we need to be more responsible and take more responsibility around all the things we do.  We also need to take responsibility for coaching and nurturing other people to become effective leaders.

Now is the time

After a couple of days of reflection I think one of the biggest things I learnt is that now is the time, tomorrow won’t do and isn’t good enough. Why aren’t I creating a sense of greater urgency for action, why aren’t I challenging the counter productive behaviours I see now, why aren’t I simply stepping up and becoming a more effective leader. People aren’t necessarily going to come and ask me to do something so I need to be more proactive, take responsibility and really “lead”. That means to me, helping to create a vision, helping others to connect and understand that, allowing ownership of that to spread and to openly invite and encourage ideas and solutions around that vision. I need to stop thinking that I’m fighting a solo battle…I’m not.  I also need to really step back and understand how my strengths can be used to involve others and how those strengths can be used effectively and constructively moving forward. This may sound overly critical, but it isn’t. It is simply an honest reflection of where I’ve been this week. My challenge is how I reconcile this and become a better person.

Personal and relevant feedback is very powerful

I’ve always believed this but there does come a point when you get such intense and relevant feedback and literally straight after completing a task that it becomes a very powerful tool for personal learning.

We received a mix of feedback, so we had things we did well and things we could improve upon…and also lots of observations about behaviours and styles which is really interesting.

We should really encourage people to provide feedback and it should form a healthy part of effective teams.

The other aspect of personal and relevant feedback is the stuff you do yourself. The reflections and moments when you consider your own performance. This was enhanced as we were introduced to some really effective coaching techniques. We explored this in pairs on the first day which was really powerful and given that we didn’t really know each other that well, the groups positive views of the experience indicated they all felt as energised from the process as I did. Another example of this was on the final day when we had some rapid 10 minute coaching slots and within minutes of being coached I was really nudged into considering and focusing on the key questions which will help me grow moving forward. I’ve taken some key actions away about my behaviour and some actions around my leadership style as well as how I engage others.

Final reflections

Truly understanding your strengths and the strengths of others isn’t an easy process but an essential one and we should spend more time reflecting and having opportunities to coach and be coached.

A bit of determination and hard work can pay off

Earlier today I read a post by @loulouk titled “You’ve come a long way baby” – the post was well written and touched on something which is close to my heart which is feeling valued and qualified to do your job.  Essentially not feeling out of your depth every single day of your working life.

Well I thought I’d share my story of how I got to where I am now – this will be brief as I can make it – I’m not really into War and Peace style writing – As I’m also a person without formal qualifications, but with – I’d like to think  – a shed load of experience now, especially after 14 years in Local Government (Devon County Council) and 7 years as a Father and 10 years as a partner and Husband and more recently a School Governor and a Part Time Research & Policy Analyst for a Local Social Enterprise IT Support Organisation (Cosmic).

I started working for Devon County Council in 1996 as an office junior, pretty much filing and photocopying along general administrative duties and helping wherever I could.

As time went on, my administrative duties grew and I soon became the training administrator for the corporate training team, where some of my early inspirations came – I spent more time learning about myself and reflecting on a range of training materials then actually doing administration (if I’m honest I was a terrible training co-ordinator) But I learnt a huge amount about myself and this was a great opportunity to develop – so a positive came out of it :).

I soon felt frustrated and wanted to experience more, so I spoke to my line manager of the time (who was very supportive of me) about what opportunities I could explore as the Council was, and still is, a very large organisation and I wanted to experience as much of it as possible.  I managed to get approval for some shadowing opportunities  – one with the Youth Council Co-ordinator, which was great and very interesting and the other was with the Councils Sustainable Development Co-ordinator. It was this job, looking at community needs, community planning and community action that inspired me to try to create a job opportunity.

As luck would have I was offered a part-time job working as a sustainable development project officer. My project was to facilitate and create the councils Local Agenda 21 Plan which was a requirement around 1998-2000.

This post expanded and I became full-time and I was involved in mapping community action across the county and meeting community groups and business who were contributing to “A Better Devon, a Better World” – The councils local agenda 21 action plan.

It would appear that luck or chance plays a large part in my story (as well as hard work, of course) The next step for me happened when I met the Head of Economic Development at a Christmas meal and spoke to him about the type of work I was doing and what types of things I was interested in. I mentioned that I was particularly interested in how communities can use technology to better improve their access to information and how technology can help the organisation improve how it worked.

I bumped into him about 2 months later and he asked me to pop to his office as he would like to discuss an opportunity with me. The opportunity was to manage a project which was to see the councils two tourist information centres replaced with a call centre and a number of touch screen kiosks as well as a new two county IT infrastructure across Devon and Cornwall. I was very surprised that he thought I was capable of doing this, but I learnt that I would be providing more a support role early on as he appreciated my lack of knowledge, but admired my persistence and determination to get things done. I learnt very fast and I learnt so much working on this project, not just from doing the work, but meeting the variety of people involved in the project across the two counties.

It was towards the logical end of this project and the inevitable funding of my post that the eGovernment agenda seemed to gain momentum in the council. I was asked to lead on some work mapping services with a colleague across the directorate and also lead on some website review and rationalisation work. At the end of this process and as luck would have it again – the council advertised for a Corporate Web Manager, I applied and was fortunately successful.

I did that job for 4-5 years primarily through the eGovernment programme and I also learnt a great deal about the council during this time, finding out about all the services we provided, all of the transactions we provide and through which channel.

Towards the end of this job, my role expanded to include Web Innovations, New Media and Portal and I wrote the councils first web strategy, and started getting involved in Social Media after attending a Socitm event with Ewan McIntosh. It was Ewan’s  presentation that inspired me to continue my learning in this domain and to keep pushing the boundaries. This work connected me with my current team the Enterprise Architects. And guess what as if by magic a Job for an Enterprise Architect was advertised and I applied to that post 2 years ago and was successful.

Today, I look back and think “What the F**k happened there…I realise that I am lucky to have had the opportunities I’ve had but I also (and I’ve had to learn this) accept that I worked very hard for all of those opportunities and jobs.

I look back and feel very proud of how I got to where I am today and whilst I sometimes still feel intimidated by colleagues and peers who are more qualified than I am. I learning more each day, that it is who I am that counts.

Nearly everything I know I learnt from doing, failing, reading books, researching, and interacting with inspirational people, the rest, well I’ll just take credit there and say that I’ve always been a bit different 🙂