Future Leaders Scheme – End-of-Scheme reflection and discussion

What it was

A meeting to reflect on our collective learning with a cohort of people who had completed the Civil Service Future Leaders Scheme in 2017/18/19, chaired by Director-General at MOD and held in February 2019.

In this blog post I have pasted the content of the end-of-scheme learning template that I completed in preparation for the meeting.

What I learned

What was your key learning from the Scheme?

  • Better grounding in commercial considerations
  • Importance of self-organising, planning and review for my learning
  • Preparation and considering my approach before meetings and engagements
  • The value of coaching with my team leaders and as a general approach to conversations
  • The need to ‘bring the outside in’ and harness external perspectives whenever the organisation needs to learn, grow, change or do new things
  • Importance of planning and directing senior conversations
  • Understanding my leadership style, and ensuring that I embody this

What has been your most important learning about yourself during your time on the scheme?

  • I have a distinctive leadership style with helpful and unhelpful elements
  • There is a place for my leadership style in the SCS (previously I had though there was not)
  • I am able to adapt my leadership style to suit
  • I need (and am broadly able) to create structure, context and continuity for myself as well as for the team
  • I need support on project management / team co-ordination tasks
  • My learning and development needs to be planned and managed
  • Reflection is a powerful tool that I am able to use

What has been your greatest challenge over the past 2 years and how have you addressed this?

Aside from on-the-job challenges, the greatest challenge has been finding time/energy to dedicate to learning and development. I have addressed this by:

  • Booking time in diary for learning, booking onto courses and insisting upon attending these even under sever diary pressures;
  • Making my learning public, making a public commitment to act upon learning and therefore more likely to follow through
  • Using some hours every week ‘dead time’ to focus on technical skills development. I have used the time to complete an online Python course (coding skills for data / analytics).

What were your departmental and corporate contributions during your time on the scheme?

  • Arranged and hosted 2 x Action Learning Sets at MOD
  • As part of the Experiment Group work, I developed, executed and analysed a randomised digital survey (analogous to a Randomised Controlled Trial (RCT)) of the FLS cohort (80 responses) – which showed that allowing flexible working makes a very significant difference to the number of candidates who will apply for an SCS post.
  • Contributed to early phases of corporate challenge (was not able to participate in later stages)
  • Set up the ‘lift lobby group’ of people involved in defence change programmes.
  • Began publicly sharing (blogging) my learning

Overall comments on your experience of the scheme and what your next steps will be?

  • I feel I have developed tremendously while on the FLS.
  • Some of this development is likely due to my being on temporary promotion to SCS this year – however I feel I have developed much more during this stint on promotion than during my previous stint, with FLS being the key difference.
  • I posit that the FLS has given me a framework and discipline to reflect upon and contextualise, and so truly learn from, my experiences – rather than simply experiencing them!

What I will aim to do differently as a result

Looking to the future:

  • I want to continue learning about leadership and management
  • I will continue to develop my technical skills and pursue becoming an intelligent customer for Machine Learning and AI.
  • I will continue to seek out and apply for SCS1 opportunities
  • I will aim to seek out a delivery role, and leadership roles.
  • I will consider opportunities outside central Govt Departments
  • I wish to stay in the digital/data/information field but would consider opportunities elsewhere that gave me the leadership and delivery opportunities I need.

Deputy Director Leadership Programme – additional reflections

What it was:

Some reflections on my overall learning, plus some miscellaneous learning from my notes, derived from the two days of the Deputy Director Leadership Programme held in London on 16 and 17 September 2019.

What I learned:

Focus on personal impact:

  • Focus on the key six or so relationships (boss, close peers, direct reports) where you can make a difference.
  • Where can I take a leadership position? How can I be useful to the wider programme?

Find the bandwidth to be a leader:

  • Carve out time in the diary!
  • Carve out time within the framework you are already operating in… so for example, Use 5 or 10 mins within existing meetings – do some reflection, ask how we are doing, how are people feeling, do we understand what we are doing and why?
  • Just do it!  Stop operating and start leading. Just stop doing the operator or manager work – give it to someone else. You are making the conscious choice to be in a different mode.

Miscellaneous points

  • People watch what you do and how you act, be aware of the shadow you cast.
  • Be a lateral thinker – think of it like a dating agency – how can you join together different unconnected parties to the common good?
  • Like a lobster, it’s good to feel uncomfortable as you grow
  • The importance of being able to manage between ambiguity and clarity

What I will aim to do differently as a result:

  • Re-engage on leadership and learning
  • Get back into coaching and mentoring (myself and others)
  • Carve out leadership time
  • Make the conscious decision to lead not just do work

Some specific actions:

  • Adapt and update my leadership statement
  • Update my learning and development plan
  • Make time for leadership thinking and review
  • Re-engage on networking and stakeholder engagement
  • Put in new learning time (Thursday and Tuesday nights)
  • Get this blog into better shape and be more disciplined in publishing my learning
  • Start gathering shareable data about my work and consider how to publish it
  • Set up some self-coaching – e.g. some automated tweets or a similar tool
  • Complete an exercise to capture my reflections from my time as Hd C&MI
  • Write up the EOY feedback and make this the basis of the next phase of learning

Leading with Self: The personal leadership statement

What it was:

A talk, group and individual exercise led by Dionne Corradine. This was part of the Deputy Director Leadership Programme held in London on 16 and 17 September 2019.


What I learned:

A personal leadership statement can help crystallise your leadership style, your aspirations, and what you offer to the people you work with. It can also be used as part of your objectives and to measure your progress.

A personal leadership statement takes time to develop and should be considered a work in progress – it can be a blend of where you are and where you want to be.  It should answer the question “Why should anyone be led by me?”

We conducted a brief exercise to generate a first-draft personal leadership statement.  Here is my draft:

PERSONAL LEADERSHIP STATEMENT – Ten-minute draft

What do I stand for?

  • The power of science, technology and information to do public good
  • The Integrity, impartiality and objectivity of the Civil Service
  • Experimentation and taking decisions based on evidence
  • The importance of collaboration 
  • Development and growth for all

Why follow me? Because I am:

  • Inspiring:
    • Try to see where the future is going and get there early
    • Always work collaboratively, cohering teams into action
    • Work to set a compelling vision and concepts 
    • Work to engage people and stakeholders in that vision
  • Confident:
    • Enjoy communicating, engaging and influencing
    • See and do things differently
    • Practice open leadership, working out loud and being open to feedback 
    • Volunteer and step in when things are going wrong
    • Try to influence thinking outside my area
    • Aim to be aware of myself, my impact and be reflective
  • Empowering:
    • Create a team that’s fun, supportive, loyal to each other
    • Keep myself and my team at the leading edge, by driving change and developing forward-leaning skills
    • Try to help my team achieve their development dreams
    • Encourage and reward reasonable challenge, listen to evidence
    • Enable teams to do new things in new ways

Things I’m trying to be better at:

  • Servant leadership
  • Planning and managing the pipeline of work
  • Staying always a leader, not a manager or operator 
  • Maintain technical skills and being an intelligent customer 
  • Coaching and mentoring my team leaders
  • Maintaining and growing my and my team’s networks

What I will aim to do differently as a result:

  • Develop the statement above and then try to live it!
  • Bake my leadership statement into my personal objectives
  • Build in review / reminder points
  • Consider ways to test my performance against the statement
  • Get hold of the speaker’s slides for this session as they contained lots of useful thinking.

Leading with self: Strengths and Shadows

What it was:

A talk, self and group exercises on Strengths and Shadows. This was part of the Deputy Director Leadership Programme held in London on 16 and 17 September 2019.

What I learned:

A ‘strength’ is defined as a pre-existing capacity for a particular way of behaving, thinking or feeling that is authentic and energising to the user, and enables optimal functioning, development and performance (Alex Linley, 2008).

It often feels weird to talk about your own strengths.

A quick three-minute estimate of my strengths, in no particular order:

  • Communicating and engaging people, through different styles and channels, both written and  verbal
  • Selling concepts, ideas and messages
  • Operating in the vision, concepts and ideas space, seeing the bigger picture, developing conceptual models and using metaphors
  • Analytical problem solving
  • Crisis management and working at pace
  • Innovating, being comfortable doing things that have not been done before

There is a simple quadrant model for addressing strengths and weaknesses; high capability and use versus low capability and use, and high engagement versus low engagement.

  • Strengths (High capability and use, high engagement)
    Definition: Energises and is enjoyable. Performed frequently and so capability and refinements are developed.
    Coaching Strategy: Build
  • Potential Strengths (Low capability and use, high engagement)
    Definition: Energises and is enjoyable, but has not yet been developed, through lack of opportunity
    Coaching Strategy: Develop
  • Fragile Strengths / learned behaviour (High capability and use, low engagement)
    Definition: Not enjoyable, but have been trained to do these things through work
    Coaching Strategy: Develop 
  • Weaknesses (Low capability and use, low engagement)
    Definition: Not enjoyable, not developed through the role
    Coaching Strategy: Work around

Strengths, when overdone can be “shadows”.  Some examples of strengths becoming shadows: 

Strength <> Shadow
Confident <> Arrogant
Team Player <> Dependent
Networker <> Avoids Tasks
Relationship Builder <> Creating Dependency
Preventer <> Risk Avoider

For example in my own case: Analytical Problem solving is a strength but its shadow is diving into the detail or ignoring potential partners in the problem

Don’t be afraid to say “I need time to reflect on it”

Think about energy – where does your energy come from? Planning and setting out time for these activities generates anticipation, which can itself generate energy.


What I will aim to do differently as a result:

  • Make a plan to address strengths, weaknesses and shadows and incorporate into my learning plan
  • Plan in some ‘energy building’ reward times.

Introducing the Strategic Framework: Leading with System – Tracey Waltho, Cabinet Office

What it was:

A talk with discussion on the Strategic Framework. This was part of the Deputy Director Leadership Programme held in London on 16 and 17 September 2019.

What I learned:

The strategic framework is a way of organising thinking and effort across Government and for addressing the big national challenges. It is expressed as outcomes for citizens.

It is long term – up to 2030 – can be seen as applying to both the citizen and the state, and posits that most government activity can be divided into one or more of the following six pillars:

  • Security – a UK that is safe and secure for citizens
  • Prosperity – a UK that is prosperous and productive
  • Influence – A UK that is globally influential
  • Sustainability – A UK that is sustainable and enduring for all current and future citizens
  • Inclusion – all citizens feel included in a UK that’s fair and just, with a strong sense of community and cohesion
  • Wellbeing – All citizens are cared for and live long, healthy lives

In discussion – most, perhaps all of us were in roles that spanned several, perhaps all, of the six pillars.

Senior leaders across Depts are engaged in ‘demonstrator projects’ that work across Departmental boundaries.

The ambition for each strategic framework project:

  • Citizen-centred – put the citizen’s needs and views at the core of the outcome
  • Open and inclusive – act with deep empathy and respect for the user and in our teams
  • Adaptive – listen and evolve in response to user needs
  • Human approach – consider people’s lives as a whole and structure outcomes around this
  • Joined-up – work across the public sector system as a whole, from problem definition to delivery of solutions
  • Long-term – set clear bold goals that endure based on outcomes that matter to the citizen
  • Trusted – we earn a reputation of reliably delivering on the issues that matter to citizens, businesses and and beyond

What I will aim to do differently as a result:

Work across Departmental boundaries – perhaps use the Action Learning Sets as an opportunity to explore opportunities to do this.

Noting that these ambitions could easily apply to digital services – use the ‘ambitions’ above to think about digital projects.