NHS Cumbria CCG had a recent development day for all staff and drama was used (a potted, single actor version of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar) to draw attention to two critical factors in leadership success.
First question for us all to ask is ‘who are our allies?’ (or even our co-conspirators!). We work in complex systems and that is just as true at the team level as it is at inter-organisational level. We have the people who use our services at the heart of what we do. We are trying to get stuff done (provide a service, change a service, improve an outcome and so on) which helps the people we serve. Yet how often does that important objective fall by the wayside because we (sometimes unexpectedly) meet opposition and/or apathy? There was a clear message in the day that we need to be conscious and deliberate about working out who already our ally, who needs to be our ally and how they can help us get close to our objective. Then paying attention to building those relationships and communicating clearly with our networks about what it is we need to get done.
And there was a second question in two parts: Where do you sit on a spectrum of political awareness: the ability to read situations and behave accordingly? And what is your motivation on a scale of low integrity – “I can only focus on my little bit of all of this/it’s all about me” to high integrity – “This is too important not to do the right thing”. The two questions lead to four potential roles in organisational politics: the oblivious, single minded, hard-working donkey; the altruistic but innocent team playing lamb; the wise and long-term thinking owl; and the cunning, short term fixer – the fox.
Thinking about what I was learning, I decided there isn’t really a good or bad place to be (despite the pejorative terms like cunning fox or inept donkey!) just different insights on how you might behave depending upon what the situation demanded. The opportunity presented by the framework was to make sure I was not ‘stuck’ in any one role. It sounds fine to be an ‘owl’ with lots of insight and ideas and long term plans for the common good – but not if nothing ever gets done. It sounds terrible to be a donkey and yet sometimes you have to ignore all the politics and finish what you started.
And being more of a fox? Maybe sometimes reading the politics well to seize an opportunity and ‘just do it’ is a style that everyone needs to try?