Leadership – self and peer development

September 12, 2016 § Leave a comment

Imagine you’re with your work colleagues, during a day-long annual looking-back-looking-forward review and planning session together.

In turn, each of you takes a few minutes to speak, reflecting on your professional performance over the last year or so, referring to your values, the nature of your commitment to the work, your achievements and challenges, and your hopes for the period ahead.

You’re listened to carefully by your colleagues, after which each of them takes time to affirm what they’ve seen of your participation in the team over the year, and to validate the claim you’ve just made about yourself – including pointing out where they think you’ve undersold or oversold yourself!

The spoken contributions come from places of inquiry and curiosity, not blame or condemnation.

The atmosphere of the session is calm, reflective, honest – and safe enough for everyone to feel they can challenge themselves and each other. The outcomes: deeper trust, greater self-awareness, and a greater sense of accountability to and reliance on each other.

Sounds implausible? Could any team trust each other so much to run such a process, let alone being interested enough in each other to do so?

Well, recently I had the privilege of supporting a senior leadership team to take themselves through this process. And they were in the public sector, amidst all the pressures of delivering a service in a highly-regulated environment.

For the past two years I’d watched them work out for themselves, and for the teams they managed, what they believed was needed in terms of greater leadership and leaderful behaviour within the service. They had communicated this to their teams, and endeavoured to live out this new form of leadership, which prioritised accountability, greater autonomy, stronger accountability to self and to others, and a much fiercer loyalty to the overall vision and values of the services.

The leadership development interventions I devised with them, and my coaching, were aimed at supporting them fulfil the resulting commitments they had made to each other and to the staff. The Head of Service, fully part of the process,  had inspired them and supported them over the previous few years, to reach a place where they now knew for themselves the importance and the genuineness of the work in hand.

This form of self review which they were now engaged in, with feedback from colleagues or peers, is a powerful alternative or addition to formal appraisal and 360 feedback processes. It requires a good measure of individual skill and confidence to participate in, and enough levels of trust (though there are introductory processes for less-resilient teams as a way of helping to build deeper trust over time).

The specific opportunities of the process are four-fold:

  • Participants are encouraged, within the scope granted by the organisational context, to set their own standards and aspirations – knowing that these will be heard and tested by their peers
  • Participants lead the processes of assessment, again knowing that gaps between aspiration and achievement explored from the perspective of how things could be better in the future
  • Participants learn from this self-awareness how to identify, choose and practice new behaviours and set new, more stretching, standards
  • Accountability is inherent throughout the processes – aspirations for the future will be remembered, and each can hold themselves responsible for upholding (not destroying) their colleagues over the coming months, on the basis that best performance is what’s needed to enable the team as a whole to succeed.

If any of the above has stirred your interest, do be in touch to share your experience.

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Malala Yousafzai

January 26, 2016 § Leave a comment

“I don’t want revenge on the Taliban, I want education for sons and daughters of the Taliban.”

I went yesterday to see the film He Named Me Malala. The documentary shows Malala Yousafzai and her family making their new life in Birmingham, England, and also provides a compelling account of the rise of the Taliban in the Swat valley and the events that led to the attack on Malala and her school friends.Image result for malala image

Here is the trailer for the film: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cug1-eTOVS

I hadn’t realised how active Malala’s father had also been in protesting against the misapplication of Islam by the Taliban; though that only drove home the importance of Malala’s assertion in the film that it was she, and no-one else, who chose and who chooses how she acts.

Most significantly, of course, the question arises What would I do in such a situation?, if the rights of myself and those I love were being so comprehensively violated. I hope that I would take a stand, despite the risks. So many people around the world do take a stand; and too many are threatened, harassed, or are killed, unrecorded and uncelebrated.

So I was excited, on returning from the film, to see a University of York e-mail notification of an Extreme Values Research Masterclass. “That has to be worth going to”, I thought, imagining the application of core human values in extreme situations. Imagine my disappointment, on opening the e-mail, to read “Extreme value modelling is a well-established area of statistics, motivated by problems in hydrology, the environment, drug safety, and other fields…”.

A different meaning of values. But still a useful framing for encountering Malala through the film – her values in practice, in extreme situation; and an extreme and wonderful example of courage and leadership.

More information here on Malala Yousafzai.

 

Defining leadership

November 4, 2015 § Leave a comment

As more and more of my practice develops into working with leaders – in formal or informal leadership roles – I thought I would put together some definitions of leadership which clients have found helpful so far.

I’ve chosen definitions which I hope are useful, and which are also offer a take on the realities of leadership in the early twenty-first century.

There are only four! – five, if you get to the end and find a comment on the difference between management and leadership.

Let’s start with the basics. This first definition is a favourite of mine because it’s comprehensive, and does not restrict the principle of leadership to a chosen few.

“Leadership may be defined as the capacity to influence people, by means of personal attributes and/or behaviours, to achieve a common goal. … It is important to recognise that most people, at some points in their lives, are leaders. Leadership is not just about the qualities of an elite few, and is not always associated with a formal managerial role, although the leadership skills of chief executives and their teams are of fundamental importance for organisations.”

Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, UK

Even shorter – but also here an emphasis on practice, and spelling out that leadership is indivisibly associated with working with others:

Leadership is “taking initiative in relationship”. George Lakey

In other words, not only working with others, but using as a platform the relationship that has already been built. So a leader’s priority is to build trust. This means a leader developing respect for those who might be expected to follow them, and providing opportunities for those ‘followers’ to understand why and how the leader is acting.

So we can take another step:

“Leadership is a process of social influence, which maximizes the efforts of others, towards the achievement of a goal.” Kevin Kruse

Here we see three elements of leadership – influencing change, through coordinating (or at least inspiring) others, with a purpose.

And what is that purpose? We could call it the Why of leadership – leadership, but towards what end?

Or to put it another way, we need to draw a distinction between, for example, leadership as demonstrated by Bashar al-Assad and by Malala Yousafzai.

So the fourth quote:

“It 
is 
time 
for 
all 
the 
heroes 
to 
go 
home, 
as 
the 
poet 
William
 Stafford 
wrote. 
It 
is time
 for 
us 
to 
give 
up 
these 
hopes 
and 
expectations
 that
 only
 breed
 dependency
 and passivity, 
and
 that
 do 
not 
give 
us 
solutions 
to 
the 
challenges 
we 
face.
 It 
is
 time
 to 
stop waiting
 for 
someone 
to 
save 
us. 
It 
is 
time 
to 
face 
the 
truth 
of 
our 
situation — that 
we’re all 
in 
this 
together,
 that 
we 
all have 
a 
voice — and 
figure 
out 
how 
to 
mobilize 
the 
hearts and 
minds
 of 
everyone 
in 
our 
workplaces 
and 
communities.”
 Margaret Wheatley

In other words: leaders can no longer expect trust or followership simply because of their seniority. Leaderful behaviour (or leadership if you prefer – I use the terms interchangeably) needs to be encouraged at every level, because the complexity of the majority of work roles require initiative and accountability at all levels of organisations.

So I hope those definitions are interesting and thought-provoking. I will say more about twenty-first century leadership in my next post.

In the meantime, if this reflection on leadership has got you thinking about where does management come in, then here’s my fifth definition:

“It is incumbent on leadership to ensure that the organisation is effective in what it does; that its strategies, and the way in which it gives effect to these, are appropriate and have impact. It is incumbent on management to ensure that the organisation is efficient in what it does; that its internal systems function logically and smoothly. To put it simplistically, it has been said that while leadership ensures that the organisation does the right thing, management’s responsibility is to ensure that things are done right.”

Kaplan, Allan (1994), Leadership and Management, CDRA Community Development Resource Association. The full text is available at http://www.cdra.org.za/uploads/1/1/1/6/111664/leadership_and_management_allan_kaplan1994.pdf.

So we might see management as head down/’desk’ horizon; compared to a leaderful head up/’world’ horizon; or management accepting the status quo whereas leadership aims to challenge the status quo. Again, I’ll be writing more on this aspect of leadership in the future.

Any thoughts/comments? Please post below, I look forward to hearing from you.

October 27, 2015 § Leave a comment

I will be chairing the third lecture in the series of ‘Talking of Peace’, this Thursday 29th October 2015 at 7:30pm in York.

The speaker is Kat Craig,  and her topic is Britain’s War on Terror at home and abroad – making the world a safer place?

Kat is Legal Director of the Abuses of Counter-Terrorism team at the human rights organisation, Reprieve.

The full program for the series is listed below.

7.30am, Thursday 29 October 2015, Quaker Meeting House on Friargate (off Castlegate).

Please Note: due to extensive building works in the neighbourhood of the Meeting House, the bottom end of Friargate is closed for a considerable period.  It is therefore necessary to approach from Castlegate rather than Clifford St.  Also the cycle rack in Friargate has been removed by the builders so cyclists will need to use one of the other racks in the Castlegate area.

———————————————————————————————————————————————–

Invitation to a series of Peace Talks: Thursdays in Autumn 2015

1st Oct: Faith, Power & Peace – Creating peace by peaceful means

Diana Francis, Trainer in Conflict Transformation, & Past President of the International Fellowship of Reconciliation

15th Oct: Security and the Dispossessed – How the military & corporations are shaping a climate-changed world

Steve Wright, Reader in Applied Global Ethics at Leeds Beckett Univ

29th Oct: Britain’s War on terror at home and abroad: making the world a safer place?

Kat Craig, Legal Director of the Abuses in Counter-Terrorism team at Reprieve

12th Nov: Reimagining Security: an alternative approach to the UK’s national strategy

Celia McKeon, Assistant Secretary, Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust

Quaker Meeting House, Friargate, York, YO1 9RL

7.30 – 9.00pm

Retiring collection

For more details: tel 01904-624065

or e-mail: peacenetwork@yorkquakers.org.uk
or see www.yorkquakers.org.uk 

Bringing some truth into the light

December 18, 2014 § 1 Comment

It seems appropriate to post a seasonal reminder of some positive things that are happening. It’s a personal collection, of course, and for some of the stories the good news is the shining of light on the forces which oppress or undermine human fulfilment.

Thank you to all those I’ve worked with over this year, it has been inspiring to see and support your work and your aspirations for the future. One shift in professional development is to move from seeing yourself as the hero, to instead seeing your clients as the real heroes of the piece; and that more and more seems my experience in the work that I do.

So, those positive news stories:

Naming the past: the secrets of Brazil’s military dictatorship. How fitting that the report should be introduced to the media by Brazil’s current president Dilma Rousseff, herself a torture victim under the country’s military dictatorship

But of course we don’t need Truth Commissions in the UK, surely? Find out here about the work of Scotland’s Poverty Truth Commission.

Though there is much more the Church of England could do (for example, joining the disinvestmnet from fossil fuels movement), here’s the Archbishop of Canterbury speaking up about hunger in the UK; and news of the Church’s first female bishop.

News of an online archive of art by people with mental health problems; and the Guardian’s own Christmas appeal on challenging the stigma of mental health.

Amnesty International UK is highlighting the UK’s complicit role in torture and illegal rendition; and here are some of Amnesty’s own good news stories.

Two images to finish with:

First, a stunning info-graphic on the numbers which make up the internet – such as the number of tablets and smartphones sold each day around the world, the number of e-mails sent, the number of sites hacked…

And second, all the water in the world is just a tiny drop on the world’s surface; no wonder it’s such a precious resource, if only we knew it.

With best wishes for 2015,

John

Supporting wikipedia

November 18, 2014 § Leave a comment

How often do you use Wikipedia? Once a month? Once a week? Once a day?

I make a donation once a year, recognising its invaluable contribution to our working and social lives (if only to get us started on an inquiry or research topic!), and in honour of its mission of making available to everyone in the world all the information in the world. I thought others might be interested in donating too.

I don’t get deluged with e-mails as a result, just a brief thank-you and an invitation next year to donate again; and it feels good to support this piece of the global commons.

Quakers, Slavery and Climate Change

June 18, 2014 § Leave a comment

I’m speaking in York on Monday 21 July.

Quakers, Slavery and Climate Change

Learning from 18th Century American Friends’ journey to abolitionism: parallels for our responses to climate change

This is as a result of some personal research I’ve been doing over the last couple of years. My aim has been to examine how an organisation and its communities made a fundamental internal change over an issue which every member was connected to, directly or simply as a citizen of a society in which slavery was embedded. I hope that there is enough similarity between the two contexts to draw some useable suggestions for approaches and ways forward, today, in responding to climate change.

Chaired by Danielle Walker, Director, Friends Provident Foundation

Monday 21 July, 7.30 pm, Friargate Quaker Meeting House, Friargate, York, YO1 9RL

Copy of my paper here: Quakers, Slavery and Climate Change.

Contact me for more information or to respond to the paper: 07986 016804,  john@johngray.org.uk

 

 

 

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