Development and Growth – A perspective on vulnerability

  • Leading inevitably involves trying to effect significant changes
  • It is very hard to bring about significant changes in any human group without changes in individual behaviours.
  • It is very hard to sustain significant changes in behaviour without significant changes in individuals’ underlying meanings that may give rise to their behaviours
  • It is very hard to lead on behalf of other people’s changes in their underlying ways of making meaning without considering the possibility that we ourselves must also change
    Extract from: How the way we talk can change the way we work – Robert Kegan / Lisa Laskow-Lahey

A number of years ago I participated in a Leadership programme that helped me focus on my strengths and helped me see that by focusing on my strengths I could provide more effective leadership and generally be more impactful as a leader (so the assumption goes)

However a number of years later I have learnt that holding that view has not just hindered my development and growth but in fact completely stopped my development and growth.

This has been shaped by a new insight and learning around what development and growth can and could mean to me. Significantly influenced by research on Adult Development by Cook-Greuter, Kegan, Torbert etc.

One of the main underlying theories behind this as I understand it is the Subject – Object Shift, as illustrated in the image below

The Subject – Object Shift
Moving through the levels requires the subject-object shift — or as i’ve also understood it to mean – moving from Assumptions that hold us, to Assumptions we hold.

This shift essentially allows us to see and understand more complexity and understand the world, ourselves and the people in it.

Along with this shift in my thinking and understanding, it has added value to and increased my understanding of Brene Brown’s body of research and work (Dare to Lead, Daring Greatly, Rising Strong, Gifts of Imperfection etc).

All of this has laid out a set of assumptions and logics which looks a bit like this for me now…

1) Adults continue to learn, develop and grow and can be supported to do this,

2) In order to learn, develop and grow it requires me to be vulnerable,

3) In order to be vulnerable it requires a safe and trusted space in which to be vulnerable.

Circling back to the strengths based model, let me touch on how I’ve understood that to have stopped me from developing and growing.

Only focusing on my strengths potentially ignores those areas that can unlock an internal transformation for me to work towards my fullest potential.  Focusing only on my strengths keeps me anchored in and at a particular development level and will only ever allow me to increase my practical skills within that level as opposed to overcoming and encouraging developmental growth of who I am capable of being.  I do expect of course to develop new skills, capacities and capabilities But i’m learning these are different to what I used to think they were.  The capability to see and understand the interdependence of all things is at the heart of developmental growth.

Understanding those areas within me that need development (some might call these weaknesses) I am starting to learn that the practices of shame resilience and understanding what stops me from showing up and being vulnerable are the areas that allow me to truly develop and truly grow.

I’ve learnt that development and growth requires constant practice and discipline – there are no quick fixes to becoming a better person. Its a blend of continuing the exploration into understanding what I know and understand, how I act and live my life and what I pay attention to and focus on.

So what started as a emotional and fragile journey into shame, worthiness and fear, has been re-framed as an opportunity, in fact a personal quest or adventure to becoming a better human being, anchored in compassion and love.

 

 

 

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On being deliberately developmental

I share this and invite reflections on what you think and feel about the space that Ray describes as a work environment?

 

Looking back, forward and sideways

The new year always seems to bring on those reflective moments where you celebrate the last year and look forward to the next.

I’m a little late with this (well a week, is not that late) but that is because I’ve taken time out and actually disconnected over the Christmas and new year period from work. Well more importantly disconnected from thinking about work and all the challenges that are ahead.

Now I’m back at work I’m able to take a fresh look at the year ahead and beyond and consider what my role is and what my aspirations are for the future in general. I’m not so bothered about the next 12 months specifically but am more focused now on my journey and the impact I can make along the way.

But first I’m going to reflect on the last year – a year which pretty much for me was dominated by development on all levels – spiritually, emotionally, psychologically and physically. Not all of it was work related of course but it was a year of Personal Growth.

I’m not going to spend time here going back over the details of every key moment but I’d like to share some themes which emerged for me which I think might be helpful to others.

  • Coaching: I can’t thank the people who have coached me enough formally over the last 12  months and longer. The coaching sessions created a great deal of clarity for me when I was perhaps becoming lost and disillusioned. I found the emotional connections (on various levels) you make with others and more importantly yourself – deeply transformative.
  • Looking in all directions: Inspiration comes in many forms and can come at any time. I’ve been fortunate over the last year to connect to and be inspired by a great many people, most of which would not have known they inspired me as they were not setting out to do so. They simply created magical moments which helped me see different perspectives on a variety of problems, some complex and some quite simply but frustratingly hard to get to.
  • No excuses: When things get hard, it is all too easy to create excuses as to why things won’t or can’t change, well I’ve found that the majority of the time the real barrier is yourself. A lack of tactics, a lack of energy, a lack of drive, enthusiasm, inspiration, creativity etc. The hardest thing to do is to create new perspectives for yourself which help you to connect to other people in more meaningful and imaginative ways. Now I’m not saying there are not hard and complex problems out there but we can’t make excuses anymore. We simply have to move forward.
  • The power of “yet”: In my leadership course about 18 months ago I was introduced to Carol Dweck and her work on Growth Mindset. During the last year it became something which also moved into my world as a parent and a School Governor as the school has adopted this work for the children and adults in the school and it has had significant improvements in how the school is progressing. One of the key elements for me in the growth mindset is the use of the word “yet”. The shift in your own perspective by using “yet” is a powerful one. For example and a very simple one at that: I’m not good at that. Or I’m not good at that yet.

You can view a short RSA Animate video which talks more about the growth mindset here

  • There maybe no money but: Everyone has been focused on the lack of money for such a long time now that it can’t really be a reflection from last year, however my point here is that whilst there might be austerity around public finances, there is certainly no austerity on people’s ideas, creativity and imagination. So let’s make sure we create the right conditions for that to flourish so that we can create new public and social value for a modern society.

Looking ahead my aspirations or even a set of principles are similar to those that Sarah Lay posted – Here are mine and they will drive my decisions and actions throughout the year.

  1. Live full and with meaning
  2. Balance digital conversations with real world conversations
  3. Embrace “Yet”
  4. Be “Open” with my whole self
  5. Enable others to shine and grow
  6. Don’t give up, when things get hard, embrace it and push through – that’s how you grow

So that’s about it for this post, although one final thing to say is that I must blog more, I’m missing it.

People come and go all the time but

I was surprised as many were to the resignation of a group of people at GDS (Mike, Tom, Leisa, Russell, Ben and others) – I provided a comment here on Mike’s departure and then went on holiday to sunny Cornwall.

The great thing about disconnecting yourself is that you give yourself the space and time to really reflect.

I thought a lot about what I can and can’t do in Devon, my role and what that actually means to me, my impact or lack of impact, whether or not I’m pushing hard enough or too hard, whether I’m too tolerant of some behaviours and not tolerant enough of others. Basically an all round reflection – probably triggered by my previous post. I’m content and happy with what conclusions I made and I’m clearer about what I need to be doing and what I need to be saying and showing.

I also thought a bit about why when things get really hard, I mean really, really, really hard – some people just give up…I’ve done it before and I now know my reasons why I did it at certain points in my life and I have promised myself that I won’t do that again.

I didn’t intend to reflect on what the departure of those people would mean and will mean to Digital Transformation but as you surf the waves of Cornwall your mind tends to bounce from here to there and I started to think about the implications and lessons for local government.

I then read this post on Tom’s blog and in particular this bit resonated with me:

The first government to reinvent its institutions such that their role and values are native to the Internet era will find that it can transform both the efficiency and empathy of public services, whilst creating new digital infrastructure offering the private sector a global competitive advantage. And that’s even before we get onto the potential positive impact on trust, data security and democracy

and then I read this interview with Mike on why he left Government – the whole interview is very interesting but for some reason this particular bit stuck with me.

It’s the wrong mentality to ask: how big is my department? We should be focused on the user need as that always results in reduced cost and better services. We need to say, as public administrators, that we need to work differently and more collaboratively in a system that is not set up to do that.”

So bringing together my reflections from my time in the sea in Cornwall and reflecting on recent posts I want to say the following…

  • Will the fact that these people (Mike, Tom, Ben etc) are leaving GDS change the direction of digital transformation across public services. I’d like to say no of course not – why would a few people leaving a job make such a difference – its worth stating that many people have started and left at GDS and of course even more have come and gone from local government before now without anyone going into meltdown about the future of digital transformation or local services. but unfortunately many people believe it will… Personally I won’t accept it and I don’t want to let that happen
  • The internet as a culture, as a business model, as an enabler is still so far from being fully understood in public services – it isn’t an evolutionary process into the internet – it has to be and must be a radical shift into the internet.
  • Mandates and support are critical if you really want to affect change – but in the absence of those mandates and support can we give ourselves the mandate and how can we quickly build momentum to show something different?
  • It’s time to step up and be loud and continually demand a the fundamental shift that is required to improve services OR we allow the status quo to continue and we know where that ends up…do we really want to see that!!
  • People will always come and go, it’s the lessons and inspiration they bring that truly matters – but how do we maintain momentum without clear figureheads to help drive and push things forward. Where are the local government leaders who are capable of doing this and how can we collectively mobilise them?
  • We need leadership to guide us to a completely new future – one which we need faith in, not to guide us through variations on the past.
  • I hope we haven’t spent the last 5-7 years telling a great story about digital to only step back and let the opportunity pass us by to radically reform services because it is hard and or because we ALL allow decision makers to be driven by the wrong motivations.
  • If we really want to see change, a range of people (I include myself in that) will have to let go, swallow some pride and start to really collaborate and DO things NOW and SHOW something is CHANGING.  If we don’t the dominant financial narrative will continue (its important of course but its the context not the purpose)
  • The primary purpose of public services is to improve people’s lives not to effectively manage the money, that is an enabler much like digital is, information is, data is and of course the people in and around the system are enablers.

 

 

 

Unpicking the disconnect between internal and external influence

Since hearing on Wednesday evening that I was selected and judged to be in the #LGC100 at number 48.

I’ve been pondering and reflecting on a few things which didn’t sit right with me, and started asking broadly 2 questions of myself and with some colleagues – the questions were broadly along these lines:

  1. How can I be judged in the Top 50 nationally around influence and power but yet sometimes feel rather isolated and disconnected to the power and influence internally?  In my case this is really about the disconnect between the perceived impact and influence of the work, ideas and passion of those people around the LocalGov Digital Network (external) and my position as Digital Communications Manager and as a paid employee of Devon (internal).
  2. What can I do to better understand the influence I have and how can I improve the way I use it to benefit local and national outcomes around the redesign and transformation of local public services?

Let me try to answer them the best I can, most of the following will be a very honest account of my self-reflection and my areas for development, I share this here in good faith and hope that anyone reading that can offer advice and guidance does so in the spirit this was written.

The issue around internal and external influence or even perceived value to ones own organisation has been a subject of conversation for many years with many people and we would often say things like “Why is it my council will believe what an external person says over me when I have been saying the same for ages” or something along those lines…Well instead of resorting back to a traditional mindset of blaming others I decided to take a long hard look at what it is I do internally that is different to what I do externally.

After some soul-searching and a really great conversation with my head of service – I came to a conclusion which for the first time made some sort of sense and they split into two areas:

  1. I have a self-limiting belief which is still subjected to the powers and structures of the traditional hierarchy of the organisation I work for and like it or not, I’m obviously still accepting a “position” within that system and I’m not acting like a true leader in my field and supporting and helping the people at the top of the organisation to understand and connect to the digital agenda in ways which are meaningful to them – I’ve clearly focused too broadly and not enough on how it truly relates to each and every part of the business.
    This is a fault of mine and I have already taken steps to resolve this but the biggest shift was in accepting that whilst I’m seen as “disruptive” I’m still only on the edges and NOW is the time to mainstream and scale up the impact and influence internally – watch this space.
  2. I’ve been able to tell a very generic and a broad story/picture of digital in the LocalGov Digital context and that has allowed me to consider the wider benefits and implications. I’ve been able to blog about this, talk openly about this in public forums, conferences locally, nationally and across Europe. I’ve been able to work with colleagues to champion a different way of thinking and working and through voluntary action make a small difference…
    My missed opportunity internally and I’m calling it a missed opportunity even though we (my team) have made some great progress, continue to make good progress and consistently push for better outcomes but it has been my inability to grasp this issue and understand its impact around me that up to now, I have not formally pushed as hard as I now realise I need to, to get the team the explicit validation, mandate, recognition and support they need to be even more effective.
    I need to work smarter, not harder to create the alignment from the top of the organisation to the team and outwards to other teams so the impact has a truly transformational impact. This is clearly something i thought i needed to work really really hard at and often on my own, but that is clearly foolish, I’ve developed some fantastic relationships internally which I need to use more effectively and smarter for wholesale change and I need to seek the support and trust of some different people over the coming months to make a positive difference.
    However this inability to tell an effective story internally is also partly down to the journey the council is also taking around reshaping itself, so it has not been an easy task to fully understand which angle, perspective or tactic to take – this however is resolving itself now, with the councils new strategic vision and operating model which create a perfect hook by which i can start to articulate the exact story that Devon wants to tell and share – this is a work in progress with colleagues to co-design and co-author the story we want to tell and that will start to appear soon on Re:Work Devon.

The second question around what I need to do to better understand my influence will I suspect be an ongoing process, but I’ve taken some steps to seek out new mentors and coaches who can help me navigate this and hopefully that will come to fruition in the near future.

I’ve also started to talk more openly to close colleagues about this and have asked them to challenge me and to think about what this influence might mean. Some may say that I am over thinking all of this and that I should simply get on with work – well I believe that in understanding this better I’ll be significantly more effective and able to deliver and contribute to a deeper and more profound change and transformation not just locally but further a field.

That is worth exploring and understanding…I guess I didn’t have to be so open about all of this but I’ve been clear to myself that thinking in public is a commitment to a set of wider values which I firmly believe are at the heart of the transformation and reinvention of local public services.