Monday, 31 March 2014

Ms Johansson goes walking in Scotland

Hmm. People sometimes ask me how I choose the films I go to see. Sometimes, I go and see a movie out of curiosity, a recommendation, a review or even just because it is showing at a time that suits me... (Remember, I have an unlimited pass from Cineworld.) It was the latter with Under the Skin. (If the times had suited, I would have seen 20 Feet from Stardom...)

Many of the reviews are nothing short of hyperbole: "visually stunning and deeply disturbing: very freaky, very scary and very erotic" (in my opinion, none of these adjectives apply), "grippingly eerie, intriguing and unsettling film" (nah, not really...) or even "masterpiece" (yeah...right).

Here are the adjectives I would use: pretentious, drab, moody (in a teenager kind of way), vacuous, directionless, mildly disturbing. You might have guessed by now that I did not rate this movie. Nor do many it seems: the cinema had about 4 people in it. So do not bother, unless you are a total fan of Scarlett and have to see all of her films.

So what is the leadership lesson from this cinematic creation? I can think of a few for the director and the critics who have been taken in, but that isn't what I try and do with these blogs. Is there a theme to highlight that connects to an aspect of good leadership? Hmm, are there any solid narrative threads at all? Tricky...

I think the underlying theme for me is one of desperation: this is a film about people (and aliens) driven to desperate acts, as symbolised in the beach scene. In management circles there is much talk about creating 'burning platforms' in order to generate the energy and creativity to achieve transformation. I can buy into a much of this idea and have seen it happen. However, leaders need to take great care: urgency can easily descend into desperation. The consequences then may be anything but creative or transformational.

If you are a leader intent upon setting the platform alight, do you (at least) know where the fire exits are?


This is the twenty first of my new series of blogs about leadership ideas to be found in the movies of our time. You can read here as why I am doing this. Please subscribe to this blog if you want to read more. Thanks. Click the label 'film' to see all the others.

Clockwork homage

I do not usually write about DVDs that I have seen but I feel compelled to blog about Hugo, which I watched yesterday afternoon, while doing my ironing. First thing I would say is that I need to watch this again without my shirts in the way. This is beautiful film, with glorious use of colour and framing. It is a marvelous and enchanting story which, like a magical mystery tour, takes you to places you could not imagine. I won't breathe a single word about what happens. This is a film to be seen and be delighted, (especially if you are film hack like me).

There is superb acting from the young actors (Asa Butterfield and Chloƫ Grace Moretz) and the older ones (Ben Kinsgley & Sacha Baron Cohen especially). And it is of course directed by Martin Scorsese: so how would it not be brilliant?

As you will gather, this is a film where clockwork is a key feature of the story. At one point, Hugo imagines the world to be like a large clockwork machine with each one of us having a part to play. As he says, machines never come with parts that do not have a function. The challenge for all of us to find what part we have to play... what is our unique purpose?

Leaders are good at knowing their own purpose and more critically, helping others find their own purpose too. Leaders are good at spotting where a new cog might fit so that the whole machine judders into smoother running.

How are your watchmaking (and repairing) skills?


This is the twentieth of my new series of blogs about leadership ideas to be found in the movies of our time. You can read here as why I am doing this. Please subscribe to this blog if you want to read more. Thanks. Click the label 'film' to see all the others.

Thursday, 27 March 2014

Bored by elevator pitches?

There is still time to book yourself a place on our SpeakEasy Moot!

  • It is in the news? Click here
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Everyone's business

There were so many nights when I, as a young boy, had to watch helplessly as my father verbally and physically abused my mother. I can still recall the smell of alcohol, see the fear in my mother's eyes and feel the hopeless despair that comes when we see people we love hurting each other in incomprehensible ways. I would not wish that experience on anyone, especially not a child.
And so begins Bishop Desmond Tutu's article on forgiveness in last Saturday's Guardian. Anyone reading this will be reminded of just how many victims there are of domestic violence. A very good friend and skilled colleague of mine was murdered by her ex last year. I sat in Southwark Crown Court last week as her murderer was convicted and sentenced to (at least) 20 years imprisonment. The high incidence of domestic abuse is one of the reasons why I spend some of my time in schools helping 9/10/11 year olds understand more about abuse, including emotional & domestic abuse. (Citing the HMIC report: "In the UK, one in four of young people aged 10 to 24 reported that they experienced domestic violence and abuse during their childhood")

This matter is everyone's business.

And so I praise Theresa May for calling for the just published HMIC scrutiny "Everyone’s business: Improving the police response to domestic abuse". This is a worthy report that has already attracted much comment (such as herehere and here). I am sure that it is being read carefully in many places this morning, not least the police forces that have been highlighted as being particularly lacking in their response.

The report is long (157 pages) and contains some excellent and it would appear, developmental help to forces wishing to improve their response to domestic violence (which should include even the ones that are praised such as Thames Valley). I certainly have not read it all.

Some of the twitter comment about this report has been about how much the police cannot do this alone and how much other partners need to work in tandem to tackle this issue. This is a point not lost on the authors of the report who say in the second paragraph of the introduction
Other agencies and partners share the responsibility to tackle domestic abuse and keep victims safe; it does not rest solely with the police. However, the police have an essential role to play. 
So we know it is "complex" and it is about partnership working and it is not all the police's fault... the only question now is what next: just how should things improve in the police service and beyond? As the report states "Domestic abuse is a priority on paper but, in the majority of forces, not in practice" (my added emphasis)

This reminds me of my often used challenge: it is easy to write a 'strutegy' but a heck of lot more complicated to create a 'stractegy'. (The former exists only on the glossy page whereas the latter exists in action - see here for more about this analysis.) So I start with this concern: has the HMIC recommended actions that will result in strutegies or stractegies?

There is much to commend the conclusions and recommendations for action that the report advocates. But here are my concerns (from an organisational development perspective):

E-learning in this area is probably rightly criticised. However classroom learning in groups may be little better unless it is complimented by tackling organisational culture and leadership. The "Myth of the Hero Innovator" remains, in my opinion, one of the most important pieces about change ever written:

I recommend you to get hold of a copy ("The Myth of the Hero-Innovator and Alternative Strategies for Organisational Change" Georgiades & Phillimore. In "Behaviour Modification with the Severly Retarded" Edited by Kiernan & Woodford. 1975)

In essence what Georgiades & Phillimore advocate is a whole system approach to making change happen and not relying on a single measure (such as 'sheep dip' training that the police service embarked upon when tackling institutional racism) to effect sustainable development of practice.

But to turn specifically to the recommendations in the report:

R1: A national oversight and monitoring group should be established and convened immediately to monitor and report on the progress made in implementing these recommendations.

I think that is a good start. The key to its success will be whether membership of this group includes people prepared to stand up to some very powerful vested interests and say what needs to be said. It is unclear what authority this group will have other than hold up a mirror...

R2: By September 2014, every police force in England and Wales should establish and publish an action plan that specifies in detail what steps it will take to improve its approach to domestic abuse.

I could be churlish and say what happened to local accountability especially as "Police and crime commissioners should hold forces to account in this respect"..? (My added emphasis) But I really fear, as above, that these action plans could look good on paper, but will they be stractegies or strutegies? Consulting other organisations and victims, as the report recommends is no guarantee that these actions will be properly followed through, or even the right actions. (Email me if you want me to wax lyrical about why.)

R3: To inform the action plan specified in Recommendation 2, chief constables should review how they, and their senior officers, give full effect to their forces' stated priority on domestic abuse.

How they what? This sounds like political speak to me...

But it does go on to say that the action plan (and their leadership of it) should be based upon an assessment of culture, values, performance management, reward & recognition policies etc etc. In other words this is about Leadership and Organisation Development! Make no bones about it. Will we see this? I hope so!

R4: Data collected on domestic abuse needs to be consistent, comparable, accessible and accurate so that it can be used to monitor progress.

Cannot argue with that. But shouldn't all national data on all types of crime and police response be like this anyway? Has the Home Office been sleeping on the job too?

R5: The College of Policing is updating authorised professional practice for officers on domestic abuse alongside other areas such as investigation and public protection. This update should be informed by the conclusions of and recommendations in this report...

Again, makes sense to me. But I am sad that there is no explicit mention of evidence based practice in this recommendation: a golden opportunity missed in my opinion. There is some (though not much) good controlled research in this area. We need more. Perhaps the Home Office could have offered funding to support some more of such research that forces could have bid into?

R6: The College of Policing is reviewing the evidence base for risk assessment in cases of domestic abuse. The College should urgently consider the current approach to risk assessment with others..

This is vital and at least 'evidence base' is mentioned here. But a mention of resources here would not have gone amiss.

R7: The College of Policing should conduct a thorough and fundamental review of the sufficiency and effect of training and development on forces' response to domestic abuse... Police forces should ensure that their approach to domestic abuse training is evidence based

Good. And it says 'development' too, thereby extending this beyond the realm of just 'training'. And another hat tip to 'evidence based'. But how many forces (and PCCs especially) really understand what this means...?

R8: The College of Policing, through the national policing lead for domestic abuse, should disseminate to forces examples of how forces are targeting serial and repeat domestic abuse perpetrators in order to prevent future offending.

Always a good idea. More talking heads type conferences or maybe something more interactive... and developmental?

R9: The Home Office should reconsider its approach to domestic homicide reviews.... Police and crime commissioners should track how and when recommendations from domestic homicide reviews are implemented.

Again, good stuff. No quibbles. Although how close is this sailing PCCs into operational waters?

R10: Police and crime commissioners should consider the findings and recommendations of this report when commissioning services for victims of domestic abuse. 

Very good point and very timely given that we are now in the run up to this commissioning round. Here is a role for Police & Crime Panels to be monitoring...

R11: Tackling domestic abuse requires a number of organisations in both the statutory services including health, local authorities, the Crown Prosecution Service and probation) and voluntary and community services to work together. 

Has Ms May talked with Mr Grayling recently, I wonder, about his 'reforms' in the world of probation? Partnership is just about to get a whole lot more complicated! And I am curious that the 'National Offender Management Service' is not mentioned here: what about the prison service elements as well?

So in sum, these recommendations (and I have not read the full report) I think offer a route forward which has the potential to take a whole system approach. The proof will be in pudding.

Indeed the real proof will be in whether there are fewer victims of domestic violence in the years to come...

Friday, 21 March 2014

The challenge of collaborating on custody & control rooms

Sally Chidzoy has been investigating the proposed collaboration between Bedfordshire, Hertfordshire & Cambridgeshire. You can see her short piece on BBC iPlayer at the moment from last nights Look East slot. The piece begins at 3'54" in. I appear a little later - with about two sentences! (There is a lot more in the can as it were - but such is TV...)

The piece is here.

To expand on what I was saying: I think that when assessing the cost/benefits of cross county collaborations (of which I am generally in favour, of course) it is vital to look at the proposals from all angles, not just the police one. There are the people arrested of course, but also bodies such as Victim Support (remember people arrested are often victims too), the Crown Prosecution Service, the defending counsel and others who may well have to follow a person put into custody scores of miles away from where they live or where they were arrested.

In other words a whole systems approach needs to be taken.

I have no criticism of what any of the Chief Constables or PCCs in these three counties are doing, since I do not know what plans have been made and how they are approaching the matters. I hope that they will be consulting widely from all angles so that this results in new collaborative arrangements that not only are more efficient and effective for the police, but also for all the other parties involved.

Leadership as poetry

I saw The Book Thief the other day. And whilst the acting (especially by the younger members of the cast) was superb and the story gently and enchantingly told, I left this movie feeling that the book must be much better. My hunch is that the book contains far more detail & description than a film could possibly show. And the narration by Death probably worked in the book but felt clunky in the film.

But go see it, if only for the costumes and sets which skillfully give an evocative impression of Germany during the war. I was struck at one point by a scene of a German soldier doing something caring (I won't say what exactly) since that is an image we very rarely see. This is a good movie but not a great movie. I think, but I don't know how, it could have said more.

This is a film about words and the great importance of words in helping us to understand, appreciate, and grapple with the world around us. Sometimes words come out right, sometimes they come out wrong. Good leaders are always very careful about the words they say or write. It is probably harder being spontaneous if you are leader. Perhaps.

As I have said before on this blog, one of the most important things that leaders do is make new futures real and desirable. Words are critically important here. Being able to evoke an image in the minds of people is a hugely valuable skill for any leader. At one point in the film, Liesel is challenged to do this... and does it well.

So in my view, leaders should be poets: able to use words to describe that which cannot be seen... yet.

How are your poetry skills? 

UPDATE: Richard Crompton tweeted me of the piece he put (The Policeman and the Poet) on my collection of stories about inspirational leadership. Indeed I was thinking of him as I wrote this blog. Have a browse, it is a thought provoking piece.


This is the nineteenth of my new series of blogs about leadership ideas to be found in the movies of our time. You can read here as why I am doing this. Please subscribe to this blog if you want to read more. Thanks. Click the label 'film' to see all the others.

Tuesday, 18 March 2014

Non Stop Leadershp

Liam Neeson is one of my favourite actors: I carry his performance in Schindlers List around with me in my head & heart. His performance in Non Stop is equally arresting. In a twist of fate, the current mystery and tragedy surrounding Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 has brought elements of the movie into even closer and scarier focus. If you want an edge of the seat drama that will keep you guessing until the end: this is definitely a film for you. At times, I wanted an oxygen mask to fall out of the cinema ceiling to remind me to breath!

The casting is credible (even Michelle Dockery manages to shake off her dour Downton garb) and the story is (just about) plausible. Thankfully the trailer did not reveal all. It is a bit a corny ('flawed man finds himself in a crisis') but transposed into a modern day and dangerous setting that we can all relate to, it becomes fresh again.

SPOILER ALERT: Do not read any further as I am about to reveal something of the plot line.

At a key point in the film, Liam Neeson's character has to regain control and the respect of the passengers (things are rather getting out of hand). How does he do that? He does not use violence and he does not use threats. Instead, he is disarmingly honest about his failings. In one leap, he transcends the two dimensional and 'not to be trusted' air marshal into being a three dimensional human being that is to be trusted and followed.

This is true of many leaders who have to handle people's reactions based upon what those people think they know about the leader rather than what the leader actually is. Poor leaders continue to wrestle with the impressions people have of them. Good leaders will reveal themselves in three dimensions to those whom they seek to lead.

How much of 'you' do you reveal?


This is the eighteenth of my new series of blogs about leadership ideas to be found in the movies of our time. You can read here as why I am doing this. Please subscribe to this blog if you want to read more. Thanks. Click the label 'film' to see all the others.

Engaging PCCs?

Just a quick post to link to Bernard Rix' most recent thematic on "PCCs & Public Engagement". As you will read, I assisted Bernard with this thematic. There is some very useful analysis there on how much (and how little) PCCs are doing to engage with their publics.

It is still, just, possible to say these are early days for PCCs. But only just. Given that while this governance structure is only a 16 months old but given that it was partly built on the limitations of Police Authorities engagement with their publics, I would have thought that PCCs overall would have made greater progress.

So CoPaCC's second thematic is really a call to arms: many (if not most) PCCs need to wind up several gears on their engagement strategies. Some are leading the way. It is time for them all to do so.

So please can we see an end (and startto:
  • Public consultations that start when all the strategic deliberations are more or less over (do it earlier!)
  • Surveys that only tap into people's opinions (rather than their judgments)
  • Focusing on processes & outputs (rather than seeking the public's views on desirable outcomes)
  • Singular methods of engagement (when multiple approaches would work far better)
  • Engagement than ends just with consultation (as opposed to joint action)
  • Too much focus on looking backwards (looking forwards leads to far richer conversations)
  • Fragmented consultation strategies (joining up with several agencies is cheaper and better reflects the experience of the public)
I live in hope...

Friday, 14 March 2014

PCCs: the good, the bad and the ugly

Prompted by this article in The EconomistPolice oversight - Missing a beat, I added this comment which I republish here:

What is good about PCC based police governance:
  • Policing has always been political, and introducing PCCs has made that more explicit
  • Many of those elected are 'big beasts' or rapidly becoming so - able to challenge daft Whitehall policy
  • The range of indie PCCs has added plurality, spice & diversity to the tribal party political debate on policing policy
  • PCCs have had to grapple with real budgetary challenges & made precept decisions on that basis
  • Many PCCs have pursued innovative paths and highlighted issues that had hitherto been largely overlooked such as the interaction between policing and mental health service users
  • Many PCCs really understand ‘evidence based practice’
  • Some PCCs have made real efforts to reach out to their publics in systematic and indeed very ‘human’ ways (watch out for CoPaCC’s forthcoming thematic* review on PCC engagement)
  • The majority of PCCs have conducted their office with due probity in recognition that they are spending the public’s money
  • Some Police & Crime Panels (PCPs) have grappled positively with their hard (limited) and soft (more extensive if act shrewdly) powers to hold PCCs to account
  • It has provoked a further debate about what should be good governance of the police & justice services (PCCs are not ‘it’, in my view)
What is bad about PCC based governance:
  • Introducing PCCs has introduced tribal party politics into policing which has turned off many citizens
  • Despite introducing these political specialists, the government has not listened to them enough
  • With some notable exceptions, PCCs are largely grey, male and white (in contrast to their more diverse predecessor police authorities)
  • Too many PCCs are defaulting to budget first and strategy second with little linkage between the two
  • Too many PCCs have not put their heads above the parapet and stayed largely invisible
  • Too many PCCs just have no clue about what evidence based practice really means and how it could challenge police culture
  • Too many PCCs still think that running a few public meetings in cold & dark town halls equates to real engagement
  • A politically significant number of PCCs have sailed very close to the wind (I will be generous) on personal expenses, appointing old chums and generally gilding their office 
  • Too many PCPs have either been bland fan clubs or sniping cabals, detracting from constructive scrutiny & debate
  • The founders, supporters & protagonists of this system of governance can only think of giving even more power to single individuals while limiting the checks and balances on this power
And I will add: what about the ugly?

Or to be fair, some of them are really quite handsome!

Wednesday, 5 March 2014

Cinema etiquette

I really love this!! Please could all cinemas show it at the start of a movie! (Thanks to Kevin Lloyd who pointed me towards it)

Monday, 3 March 2014

Cuba libre

Cuban Fury is a fun movie: a rom com with a salsa twist. There isn't much to tell that cannot be gathered from the trailer: guy with low self esteem falls for beautiful boss and seeks to woo her with his long forgotten salsa dancing talent. You can write the ending of course. It features all the usual ingredients: misunderstandings, happen chance meetings, coincidental back stories, admiring glances held on camera longer than you would hold them in real life and a smattering of slap-stick.

If this doesn't attract you enough, then go and see it for the gnarled face and brooding humour of Ian McShane, playing the salsa dance teacher who has seen it all and yet still believes. This is a film with passion, pathos and pirouettes.

Office romance is a central part of the narrative and therefore features several collegiate conversations and liaisons: several of which I am pretty sure would not pass company HR policies these days! The relationship between Nick Frost and his manager, Chris O'Dowd borders on the abusive.  You know what, it does more than just border on it..!

And as always poor management just serves to highlight what good leadership and management should all be about. Nobody abuses their staff like Chris O'Dowd does in the film, in real life... do they?

But how does one know? Do bullies know that they are bullies? Are they consciously or unconsciously mean and abusive? 


This is the seventeenth of my new series of blogs about leadership ideas to be found in the movies of our time. You can read here as why I am doing this. Please subscribe to this blog if you want to read more. Thanks. Click the label 'film' to see all the others.

Worthy winners: Dallas Buyers Club

I have woken to the news that Matthew McConaughey & Jared Leto have won the Oscars for Best Actor and Supporting Actor for their parts in the Dallas Buyers Club. I saw this movie a few days ago and privately predicted a win for Mr McConaughey and I am delighted that his colleague has picked up an Oscar too. The central character begins the film as a dishonest, womanising, drug taking, alcohol abusing homophobic cowboy. What makes Mr McConaughey's performance so electrifying is that you are made to love this man with all of his faults and frailities. Equally, Jared Leto is a pitch perfect blend of strength, weakness, despair, humour, vulnerability and defiance in the face of raging HIV.

If you have not already guessed so, I rate this film very highly. In the mid 80's I was involved professionally in tackling AIDS and HIV and well remember the hate, the bigotry and the fear that the infection provoked (which was not helped by the frankly daft government TV advertising campaign in the UK at the time). This film captures that era well and remains relevant to this day (not least the role of the pharmaceutical industry). Go see it if you have not already done so.

For me, the core leadership theme underlying this movie is about not giving up: even when all the odds are against you. I know this is something of a corny leadership theme, probably starting with Robert the Bruce watching a spider, but please indulge me. The idea of the tenacious leader that fights to the bitter end is an alluring legend but one which I think is misunderstood.

There are plenty of leaders who never gave up and still failed. Their stories tend to be forgotten while the successes are remembered and so the analysis is often short on logic.

What I think marks out the character in Dallas Buyers Club is his capacity to keep on keeping on and be light of foot. Good leaders are tenacious (yes) but not blinkered: they remain adaptable. This is the ingredient in robust leadership that is often overlooked.

So are you carrying on regardless or are you adapting your game?


This is the sixteenth of my new series of blogs about leadership ideas to be found in the movies of our time. You can read here as why I am doing this. Please subscribe to this blog if you want to read more. Thanks. Click the label 'film' to see all the others.