Archive for February, 2019

Leadership and maximising our canal network

Monday, February 25th, 2019

With many colleagues taking some well-earned leave with their families during the half-term week, it was an opportunity to catch up in the office and more widely. Making the most of it, I spent a very enjoyable couple of hours with Adnan Saif and Simon Pepprill of the Canal and River Trust at Stone. We chose to meet at Stone deliberately; it is known as Canal Town, and it was a pleasure to conduct our discussion in the sunshine, walking along the towpath of the Trent and Mersey Canal. We probably don’t make enough of our canal network in Staffordshire, and it was good to be reminded that we have more than any other county in terms of navigable canals, at 265km. Many of our colleagues work closely with the trust on improving the network, particularly in developing the towpaths as cycle paths. There is however, more that we could and probably should do to help the Trust to develop their potential. There is a clear alignment in their volunteering strategy with People Helping People, and there is probably something around reducing isolation and improving physical and mental wellbeing on which we could work together.

On a completely different track, I have been following, and occasionally contributing to a debate on LinkedIn around leadership, and more especially the applicability of military leadership to a civilian setting. Four years after hanging up my uniform full-time, I now feel qualified to comment from a position of experience in both places. The bottom line is hardly surprising; soldiers and civilians want the same things from their leaders – clarity, consistency and trust. Having started in a part of the Army where the soldiers were highly qualified mechanics and technicians, I learned very early on that everybody wanted to do the best job possible, that I would never know as much as the people that I was leading about their specialisms, and that my job was to solve the problems that prevented them from being more effective. The motto of the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst, “Serve to Lead” is deliberately simple and in English to ensure that it can be understood by every cadet under training. The concept of Servant Leadership is controversial in some areas – the leader in the role of servant to those whom they lead – but it works for me. I’d value your thoughts.

Digitisation, and the Children’s Services Ofsted

Monday, February 11th, 2019

I’ve spent part of this weekend with the leadership and governors of Staffordshire University, where I am the Deputy Chair.  It’s a fascinating organisation, on a similar journey of modernisation to the County Council, and facing some interesting challenges.  I learn a lot from the sessions with them and from listening to the people involved, both staff and students. 

Like us, the university in on a digitisation journey, and probably ahead of us in many ways.  They have always been a leader in computer science, and Liz Barnes, the Vice Chancellor, has put huge emphasis on expanding this area, along with computer gaming and e-sports.  This last one was a fascinating example of moving quickly – it went from a concept to delivering the teaching to the first students in little over a year, making Staffs Uni one of the first in the world to offer a degree in e-sports.  We also move quickly in the County Council, but I sense that there was a little more acceptance that it would not be perfect before implementation, and I think that we could learn from that.  If the idea is right, one can keep a little capacity to making running amendments and adjustments as the idea develops.  As the famous French philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre put it, “Better is the enemy of Good”. 

Lastly, many thanks and well done to everybody who has been involved in the OFSTED inspection of our Children’s Services over the past 2 weeks.  We will get the formal feedback in 2 weeks’ time, but the immediate debrief was a positive experience; much that was good and better was reflected to us, and those areas for improvement being known and understood.  I am hugely impressed by the inspirational manner in which everybody “turned to” and told their story to the inspection team – despite our being in the middle of a complex transformation process, everyone that they spoke to was positive about what they were doing and who they were doing it for.  People often talk glibly about leadership – as if it were the secret ingredient in a cake recipe to be added by those in the know – but there is real, quiet and effective leadership in our Children’s Service, built up over a long period.  I’m very proud of you, and a bit in admiration.