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:


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.

Leading through complexity and change

What it was:

A crisis management case study (based on a real DFID example), talked through in respect of the actions and behaviours required of senior leaders, followed by some reflections on crisis experience from a leader, and a group exercise on our own responses to crises and change.

This was part of the Deputy Director Leadership Programme held in London on 16 and 17 September 2019.


What I learned:

As a group we identified some early things the senior leaders would have to consider:

What we are going to do:

  • The overall principles we would adopt
  • This is primarily about partnership and the stakeholders to be managed
  • What are the key risks – what action do we take against each?
  • What levers do we have on this problem?
  • The need for internal communications and keeping an eye on staff impact

Reflection during a crisis:

  • Are we the right people to be leading this?  Do we need to change leadership style or change leaders?
  • Capture the lessons – as a case study to inform the response to the next crisis
  • Is there an opportunity for a positive outcome from this crisis?
  • Setting the context for the multi-disciplinary team
  • Crisis management expertise – Is there a template we could follow?

Reflections on crisis management from a senior leader:

  • It’s really difficult to get into crisis mode, but easy to identify a crisis in retrospect! Someone in the team needs to be able to see when you are in crisis – maybe you!  
  • It’s better to over-react early than under-react, or you will always be playing catch-up.  
  • Try to get to the right policy answer as quickly as possible – otherwise you will be dragged  to the right answer eventually.
  • Keep the ability to see beyond the invested position – be able to be disinterested and impartial.
  • What are our levers?  Need to understand what realistically can be done
  • A simple tool – think what I need to do for my Organisation / Team / Self
  • It’s important for the senior leaders to understand their own strengths / weaknesses and what value they can bring.
  • Never waste a good crisis – look for opportunities for your organisation (and where applicable the wider UK) to take a leadership position – find a way for the energy of the crisis to be channelled into something valuable and enduring.

Outcomes of the group exercise on Complexity and Change

When a shock happens…

What do I think my teams will be thinking and feeling?

  • Uncertainty, afraid of the future, worry they will not be supported
  • Think about their hierarchy of needs.

What are your own personal thoughts and feelings?

  • Regret / paralysis – feeling responsible when I am not 
  • Worry about being under scrutiny
  • Worry about my decision-making and judgement under pressure

What you would want people to say about your leadership style

  • Decisive, sets clear context and priorities 
  • Leads under pressure
  • Keeps team welfare in mind

What action could you take now to better prepare yourself and your team?

  • Have someone you can trust that you can talk to 
  • Understand your stress behaviours
  • Take care of well-being and promote this behaviour in your team

What I will aim to do differently as a result:

  • Try to recognise when a crisis is happening – don’t be the boiled frog.
  • Be more open with my bosses when things are not going well (on any front) – be less afraid to ‘cry wolf’
  • Familiarise myself with the crisis management structures and learning in Government
  • Have a ‘buddy’ (or more than one) to baseline with in the event of a crisis
  • Adopt the PERMA framework to undertake some team well-being and hence resilience building.