Tuesday, 31 December 2013

Walter Mitty & secret beauty

Reviews of The Secret Life of Walter Mitty have been mixed. As it happens, I think it is one Ben Stiller's finest movies (he directed it too). As it is (loosely) based on the Thurber short story, it is fair to say that the narrative is pretty uncomplicated. Although the film contains some troubling contradictions (would a highly skilled skateboarder become a negative images manager?), it ends up delivering a thumping good message interspersed with comedic magic (the helicopter pilot) and some quiet moments of Zen (the leopard and the football game).

Go see it. I think you will find it warming and poignant. It should make you laugh and smile lots too.

As to the leadership lesson, it would be too easy to focus on the 'Change Managing Director' who looks like a cross between the heavy baddie in Superman II and Alvin. His style of leadership is so bad as to be chillingly realistic, I worry.

But instead I would like to focus on beauty and the power of what we see that can take our breath away and make us think: what is really going on here? Without giving too much away, the film treats us to some sumptuous cinematography of places that are not widely known for their beauty. In this way, the film cleverly makes us think about how we should always go beyond the obvious caricatures of places (or people) and look instead for their secret lives too.

So in this respect, I want to suggest that good leaders never take anything at 'face value'. Good leaders seek to uncover the beauty beneath and what the real story is all about. Good leadership is about digging, exploring, revealing and finding the beauty that is always there to be found.

What beautiful thing have you noticed today?


This is the second 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.

The redemption of Mr Banks (and Mr Disney)

I am not sure when exactly I realised Mary Poppins is all about fatherhood. It was sometime since I saw and loved it as a child and long way before Saving Mr Banks came along. It suddenly hit me like a forceful palm to my forehead. It was all about being redeemed as a father, with dear Mary Poppins being the gentlest and sunniest of facilitators.

And since I realised this, I now only ever see the film backwards. In other words, everything is building up to that moment at the end when a kite is made and flown. Saving Mr Banks mirrors this, since of course we know the end from the beginning: Mary Poppins is made and becomes one of the world's most charming and adored films of all time. So I watched for clues as to how this 'kite' is eventually made since so much of the time in the film, it is lying in pieces. Mrs P L Travers seems robustly resistant to letting Mary Poppins fly.

And in the end, not only is Mr Banks saved but so is Walt Disney. I won't reveal how: but redemption is all around in the film.

Which got me wondering, how many leaders can truly redeem both themselves and others too. 

Redemption may be defined as "the action of saving or being saved from sin, error, or evil". In part, this is what leaders should be doing all all the time: taking action to save their people, their organisation and their business from error if not evil.

But how do you become a 'redemptive leader' like Mary Poppins? It cannot just be about magical chalk drawings or being 'practically perfect in every way'. (Although they can help...) Instead I think it boils down to three things:
  • Humble non-attachment: the recognition that what is achieved is due to collective effort and is never down to just the one person
  • Bright determination: the commitment to making a difference but in a way that is wholesome, upbeat and courteous
  • Knowing when to go: ultimately we all redeem ourselves and so while leaders can help this happen, these leaders must also step aside to let the full process occur
What else does it take to be a redemptive leader do you think?

This is the 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.

Monday, 30 December 2013

Leadership actually

I was very fortunate to receive a wonderful Christmas present from my wife: an unlimited movie card for the Cineworld cinema in Milton Keynes.

Over the next twelve months I can now go an see as many movies as I wish, and as many times each as I wish to see them! Fantastic! 

Regular readers of this blog will know that I have written several times before about the leadership messages contained within movies. So now you can expect many more of these blogs since I have my unlimited card! Love Actually remains a favourite film of mine (even despite this rather funny and rather scathing review) and contains the line given the PM (Hugh Grant):
Whenever I get gloomy with the state of the world, I think about the arrivals gate at Heathrow Airport. General opinion's starting to make out that we live in a world of hatred and greed, but I don't see that. It seems to me that love is everywhere. Often, it's not particularly dignified or newsworthy, but it's always there - fathers and sons, mothers and daughters, husbands and wives, boyfriends, girlfriends, old friends. When the planes hit the Twin Towers, as far as I know, none of the phone calls from the people on board were messages of hate or revenge - they were all messages of love. If you look for it, I've got a sneaky feeling you'll find that love actually is all around.
I go along with that. But I also think that leadership actually is all around too. Just as government policies come and go, business strategies become popular then fade, companies are turned around or fail or departmental heads just want things to improve (etc)... the common ingredient in all of these is leadership. Nothing much happens in business and organisational change without good leadership. And a heck a lot of things go wrong with poor leadership.

So, I will be dedicating the many film based blogs over the next year to uncovering the good, the bad and the ugly leadership in the films I go to see. I look forward to debating these cinematic takes on leadership with you.

What was the last film you saw and what leadership message did it contain for you?

Monday, 23 December 2013

Seasonal greetings!

Dear reader, here is my Christmas Card to you:

My word and theme for next year is 'Being' (This blog post explains why)

May 2014 be all that you wish and hope for. In this complicated, busy and beautiful world, may you find peace and joy this Christmas. And long may it continue.


Thursday, 12 December 2013

My visit to Number 10

Yesterday I had my first (and probably only ever) opportunity to walk through the doors of 10 Downing Street.

I was there for a meeting of the SME Panel. I have blogged about this before but in summary I have been part of smallish group of SME business people over two and half years advising the Cabinet Office on how to make government procurement more 'SME friendly'.

The essence is this: SMEs can provide far better value services and products to government based on lower overheads, more innovation and better quality. This can lead to some staggering reductions in cost to the taxpayer as well as helping the British economy to grow. It is the proverbial 'no brainer'.

However (and this is a rather large however...) many (most?) government procurement departments at all levels and in many agencies seemed to be wedded to processes that favour larger organisations. And the only winners are these large companies: not the taxpayer, not the growing economy of smaller businesses and not the citizens (as the beneficiaries of these services). Frankly it is a huge scandal and it has been my pleasure to have been a small part in this government's attempt to turn the procurement tanker around in the English channel, as it were.

Anyway yesterday, we were graced by the presence of Lord Young and Nick Hurd MP, Minister for Civil Society. They both listened carefully to all the points made by the panel members present. We also had some useful information given to us by Stephen Allot, the Crown Representative for SMEs.

Here are some of the points that were made:
  • We were introduced to the "Small Business / GREAT Ambition" strategy of the government.
  • The measures in this include abolishing PQQs for low value tenders (less than €200k), putting all public tenders onto a single site (Contracts Finder), a trip-advisor type feedback mechanism for purchasers to rate suppliers and vice versa... and more. 
  • The G-Cloud level playing field has shown just what SMEs can do: "as of the end of October 2013, 56% of of total public sector spend by value through the G-Cloud framework had gone to SME suppliers" (from Stephen Allot's blog)
  • One of the suppliers around the table declared that they had just won a contract with a bid of £6m. A large well known IT supplier had also submitted a bid (and lost) of £100m. This points to the vast improvements in taxpayer value that can be achieved by procuring from SMEs
  • Many parts of government are pursuing this strategy with verve and alacrity while other parts (sometimes even within the same Department) are still living in the 'dark ages'... paying out to over priced contracts because the procurement processes were not SME friendly
  • A system will be introduced to shame government purchasers & large primes who fail to pay their suppliers on time
Nick Hurd challenged the group to come up with a list of actions that can be taken before the next election to institute irreversible change in how government procures, beyond what is already planned. That will be the subject of a future blog...

Wednesday, 4 December 2013

Being: my word for 2014

Every year, I adopt a word from I CAN, the children's communication charity.

This charity helps children who struggle with communicating to get the support they need. My work and activism depends on my being able to communicate well. So this charity has a special importance for me. And it helps children too. Why wouldn't I shell out £15 to adopt a word...?

Last year I adopted "Childlike" (you can read why here). And in previous years the words have been "Perspective",  "Prosperity" and "Abundant".

This is my word for 2014:
I have ordered an apron too!

But you may be wondering why "Being"....

This has been a difficult year for me: I have been to more funerals this year than ever before. And this isn't just because I am getting older. Many of my friends, family and neighbours who died this year did so under unexpected and very tragic circumstances. I am still grieving. I have no intention of going into details but this year (if it has taught be anything) has made me appreciate the present, the now, the being here now...

Sometimes at this time of year, we risk becoming very acquisitive and thinking about what we have rather than who we are. In all the eulogies I have heard this year, I have heard only talk of the people they wereWhen we die, we are remembered for who we were not what material possessions we accrued. 

And so by picking this word, I am resolved to being here now, to worry less about what I have and focus on being in the present. To savour each day, each moment... not like it could be my last (even though it could be) but just because it is a moment, a day that will never happen again...

And with this blog post, please accept my seasonal greetings. May I wish all my readers an amazing 2014 which I hope is full of good moments for you and your loved ones.

Leadership priorities for 2014

In issue 378 of Police Professional, there is an article entitled A Challenging Future which features some very useful unpacking of the presentation given by CC Mike Cunningham (Staffordshire Police) to the Excellence in Policing conference, on what kind of police leadership is needed for the future. I recommend the article to you as his slides (now uploaded) only present a smidgeon of what the article reports him as saying.

To summarise, CC Cunningham asked more than 200 personnel at Staffs Police what they thought were the key leadership issues for the future. This helped him identify four priorities:
  • Ensure lines of communication with staff and officers are open
  • Welcome challenge and understand how the service can respond
  • Develop early intervention strategies, spotting problems as they emerge
  • Spend time discovering the fears and concerns of staff and officers: a step change in staff/officer engagement

I like this. I always like lists of priorities when they number under ten and I like lists of four even more! And I think these four are useful.

But the question is, as we turn towards the end of this year... what do you think should be the leadership priorities for police (and other public service) leaders in 2014? 

I have posted blogs like this one in the past (see this link for the 2013 list, and these for 2010 and 2012). So please post below, tweet or email if you wish

So to repeat the question:
What do you think should be the leadership priorities for police (and other public service) leaders in 2014?

UPDATE 031213|2312: Thanks to Suzanne Thompson ‏@Suzze05 for these five priorities
  1. Open & transparent leadership - visible & approachable
  2. Be intuitive & responsive to the 'informal work culture'
  3. Be open to genuine innovation & collaboration opportunities to improve practice & add value.
  4. Welcome positive change but do not be afraid to openly challenge change based solely on ideology & not evidence based.
  5. Listen..no really, really listen, not just pay lip service & go through the motions as staff know the difference
UPDATE 041213|0920: Thanks to Roger Nield ‏@rogernield2703 for these priorities
  • Listen to what the public want.
  • Do something about it - not just do what's easy or what interests your organisation.
  • Tell them what you've done.
  • Do this without arrogance, fear or favour and without thought of reward.
  • You can boil this down to "Do Good"
UPDATE 081213|1628: Thanks to Annette Hill ‏@familyhrguru for these priorities

UPDATE 121213|2108: Thanks to Sukhvinder Stubbs ‏@Sukhvinder2011 for this observation