Deeper reflections from coaching and mentoring

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“The battle and balancing between the old and new power will be a defining feature of society and business in the coming years”
Jeremy Heimans and Henry Timms

So around last christmas I started coaching/mentoring conversations with Phil Norrey (Devon County Council’s Chief Executive) and Mike Bracken (Cabinet Office Executive Director for Digital and Chief Data Officer)

I’ve previously written about some early reflections here and here but wanted to dig a little deeper in how the process is challenging my practice and helping me to develop as a practitioner and hopefully as a leader.

Some key insights and learning from the last 8 months…thanks go to Phil and Mike who have and are continuing to support me on this journey

  • Balancing thought leadership with doing leadership
    I’ve started to see this more as “how to do system leadership effectively” – One of the things I gained the most from this process is having a mirror displayed in front of me and being able to see and understand the value I offer from different perspectives and sometimes the value I create is not what I thought it was…I’ve always been keen to share my thinking and whether that makes me someone who offers thought leadership is perhaps for others to decide but It is also the doing leadership which is where I had most insight as I always thought I wasn’t doing this very well…I know more about how I can better balance this and have a clearer understanding as to my role in Devon and wider. This doesn’t remove the barriers of course but it does create clarity around direction and focus.
  • Creating a pathway from the edge to the centre
    When your work makes you work on the edges of your organisation you often feel isolated or frustrated that people don’t listen or you feel annoyed that projects never scale – a previous view of mine was to pull the organisation to the edges and hope for a disruptive impact…that didn’t exactly work – through this process I’ve learnt not explicitly but implicitly that I have to focus more and work harder to push the change towards the centre of the organisation and change the fundamental and underlying structures and systems we work in for sustained change. Again all of this is probably obvious but I hadn’t realised or given myself the time to be challenged or challenge my own thinking in this space.
  • Letting go so I can move on
    Before I started this process I didn’t think too much about the stuff I had to let go off in order to allow myself to move forward. One of the most simple things I did was forgetting my Job Title as the label by which i am defined…obvious to some perhaps, but the job titles we have are labels or boxes by which we constrain and limit ourselves. This was in response to the first session with Phil, when I asked him what value he sees from what I do and none of it was around digital – which was great to hear but equally hard to hear as I thought that was my niche!
    I also realised that letting go of ideas, thoughts, preconceptions was a healthy process and one which allowed me to rediscover ideas in new ways, gaining new insights and new vantage points.
  • Better understanding and harnessing the people around me and in the network
    This is linked to the system leadership question which has and does underpin most of my self discovery. Again and no surprise my insight here was and is such a simple one, but you can’t be a system leader unless you make a commitment to positive change, connect and collaborate with others, influence and mobilise peers and coalitions of people, accept and encourage feedback and having confidence in yourself.
    None of this happens without the people around you, the people whoa re directly and indirectly connected…creating lasting and positive change requires  bravery, courage and a willingness to build and sustain networks and relationships.
    I always thought I was pretty good at networking but that alone does nothing, the challenge is how we can all collectively create impact. It is also about knowing when you need to step back and let go and allow others to lead.
  • My role in supporting othersJust as I have asked for help, I realised very early on that I needed to be open to offering and being asked for help by others. A really good example of that process is Sarah Lay’s journey over the last 6 months
  • My personal ambition
    Before this process started my personal ambition was very much on the emergent side of things – a lets see what happens and take it from there point of view…all of this was reflected in my previous appraisals where you capture what your want to do moving forward…mine read like this – “Carl is happy and content exploring new avenues and will assess opportunities when they arrive, Carl does not currently aspire to be a head of Service or a Chief Executive”  I don’t know why I limited my own ambition or set limits…I guess it kept things safe and comfortable and this was one way I coped with the uncertainty of the future.

Now it’s different – I think differently about my ambition…I feel I want to become a “Head” of something, a “Director” of something or a “Chief Executive” of something – the what, well that will no doubt emerge or be created in response to things I help make happen. But I’ve now set that direction and that has changed how I see myself as a leader and a practitioner and most importantly how I see the opportunities and possibilities in front of me.

 

Reflections on my second coaching / mentoring session

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A couple of weeks ago I posted about my first coaching/mentoring session with Phil Norrey (my Chief Executive) and it has had such a positive impact on my thinking, approach and behaviours already.

This week I had my first session with Mike Bracken (Executive Director of Digital in the Cabinet Office) who kindly agreed to support me and help me over the coming months.

First and foremost I want to thank Mike for agreeing to do this and for taking time out to speak to me and help me professionally and personally it means a great deal and I believe it will provide the necessary challenge and encouragement along with my sessions with Phil to help me develop as a practitioner and a leader.

Like before the detail of the conversation will stay private but I will use this space to reflect on themes and specific challenges to help me work through them.

One of the interesting things in speaking to Mike was reflecting and talking about the work we are doing here in Devon (not just me, but the wider transformation that is also being driven hard by Sara Cretney and many others) and it isn’t until you try to capture everything that you realise how much is happening and how much things have significantly changed.

It was refreshing to get Mikes perspective and observations on the challenges we have faced and what we want to do moving forward and also reassuring that the direction of travel is a good one.

One thing I will share is the ‘killer question’ moment, I find that evercoaching / mentoring session has that killer question which makes you stop and really think, I mean really think what is the answer here. In this instance it was such a simple question and I felt disappointed in myself for not being able to answer or provide what I thought would have been an adequate response. The question was ‘What can you point at that tells me what you think?’  For me, I’ve never really thought about my blog in those terms, although more recently I did want to start writing with purpose and clarify my thinking, I’ve historically just thrown random ideas into this blog and whilst I have found that helped me there isn’t the final picture of what my thinking is for others to easily pull apart and access…

I’ve got a range of themes to reflect and ponder from the initial conversation and it isn’t until you start to reflect on different aspects of the conversation you realise how much you get from this process. The key themes for me from this conversation are:

  • Focusing on Local
  • Sharing your thoughts does not mean people know what you think
  • What people perceive you do is different to what you think you do yourself
  • Using the ‘language of old’ to change the future
  • Grassroots movements VS formal structures
  • We all have to let go of something to allow the future we want to see come to fruition
  • My story and my councils story are two different things and should remain that way, but I’m part of my councils story

An additional theme and more urgent action which I need to resolve as well is what role if any am I going to play in any of the change locally and or further afield…This wasn’t explicitly touched on in the conversation but in starting to reflect on the other areas plus the conversation I had with Phil, it is becoming an important question for me to answer.

I have already created some actions for myself from speaking to Mike and feel very positive about the experience and process and I am already looking forward to the next session.

Stop writing to sound clever and start writing with purpose

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I was having a conversation with a colleague the other day and asking for feedback on a draft document I had produced.

Now it is worth stating that this particular colleague (Sara Cretney) is also my coaching buddy and we have a very dynamic approach to coaching in that is pretty much forms part of every conversation we have.

The benefit of this is that we have developed a very open and honest relationship and can challenge each others thinking even when we don’t understand what each other is saying.

Anyway, coming back to the conversation i referred to above about this particular document, Sara asked me some questions about the documents and was also honest enough to say that she understood some of it but not all of it, so wondered what I was trying to achieve as it all sounded very clever.

In the conversation I tried to explain what i meant which was a helpful exercise in itself but during this I realised that I need to stop writing to sound clever – I’m not sure if this is a conscious thing or something which the organisation expects and therefore is a learnt behaviour.

Anyway I said that I need to stop writing to sound clever and start writing with purpose.

This blog is my place where i can start testing this, although this blog is also my space where I intend to share half baked ideas and thinking, but my intention now is to be clearer about those and to be clear in my writing about the purpose.

I’d would welcome any comments and feedback moving forward if I am not writing with purpose and am trying to sound clever…

Thanks in advance :)

Reflecting on thinking and doing

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Think DifferentRecently I’ve let myself down by not blogging as much as i feel i need to. The benefit i get from writing a post is actually a process of reflective practice which helps me manage the variety of thoughts going on in my head and i really do need to continue my personal commitment to write regularly as i simply don’t feel effective without having that process help clarify my thoughts.

Some of the things that have been preoccupying my head space (other than the detail of the day to day work which is extremely interesting and busy and the financial challenges which face all services) is around thinking different and doing different.

Do Different

It has been a personal target of mine since before Christmas, triggered from a coaching session I had that i need to make more efforts to understand the relevance of things like digital in relation to the councils services than i had previously been doing and also moving away from simply encouraging people to think differently about digital to actually doing different things with or without digital.

The last couple of weeks have really helped galvanise and challenge some of the thoughts in my head and really challenged my thinking and my approach to thinking (if that makes sense)

The week before last I was inspired by a video which was shared by Dr Andrea Siodmok at our Corporate Leadership team event – The video was Piano Stairs

Also last week I was part of a 3 day systems thinking orientation session with our Highways colleagues and gained a huge insight into the world of highways (more than i expected) but It was an interesting and fun three days.

These two things plus a range of smaller, somewhat random things have made me identify some important lessons…some are super obvious and probably everyone will say…”what you didn’t know that – duh!!

Lesson Number 1:  Don’t over evangelise.

What I mean by this is don’t push stuff down peoples throats – I would probably say I used to do this and some people may say I still do – But I’ve tried hard to change that without losing the things people have said they value (energy, fun, enthusiasm) But unmanaged you can end up putting people off and disconnecting them from the potential benefits of even the most simple of steps and actions.

This is also one of the reasons I wanted to focus on relevance as opposed to simply saying “digital is awesome, we should do digital, heh, lets put some digital in and everything will be cool”…”oh and have you seen this awesome thing, it is soooo cool, you should try this, i find it really easy, you will too” I hope I don’t sound like this but appreciate and acknowledge that I may have done in the past.

Lesson Number 2: Give people space to digest change

When people see a change, it can be difficult to digest the scale of what is required, especially if the scale of change is radical. Give them space and support them, don’t force your thinking on to them as they will need to discover the new paradigm for themselves. It is more powerful and lasting this way.

Lesson Number 3 : Relevance is about conversations

You can’t see or identify relevance in isolation from what is happening. You have to talk with people, understand what is happening, where things are going, the opportunities, the challenges and then make sense of this before throwing random ideas in a conversation to seem clever.

Lesson Number 4: Influence is about conversations

Most of the influence I’ve had on the organisation has been through having conversations with the right people and the right time. When those conversations happen with more and more senior people the influence expands and grows. We should try harder to have the right conversations with the right people and we can “hope” it is the right time.

Lesson Number 5: Listening is about being silent

This is something that I’ve learned more and more as part of my leadership course and coaching sessions. The power of being silent and allow people the time and space to reflect in the moment is very powerful. It is sometimes hard to resist simply not jumping in with an idea, an answer or a solution. Allowing someone the space to find the solution/answer them self is a far richer experience.

 

 

A bit of determination and hard work can pay off

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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 :)