The Curse of Being Organised at Work, or Facing Up To Leadership Errors

I’m going on record as saying ‘WTF?’

Seriously, what happened? 

Yesterday was all terrible rush…tired…too much work…Monday’s. Today was…bored out of my skull. The very antithesis of yesterday.

It’s not that I don’t have work to do – I was still able to build up a task list, and it wasn’t all done by the end of the day. It’s just that I do thrive on having a challenge. The work I had to do today was not the most stimulating. It’s that crappy administrative work that lays untouched for weeks or months that sooner or later need completing, but no one’s that bothered if it waits. It certainly doesn’t keep me fulfilled, like I’ve completed a big piece of work. It’s just stuff.

What’s worse, is that I know my team are busy. There’s a lot of work out there, and they’re all beavering away. So it occurred to me that perhaps I’ve got this wrong. Maybe I need to reassess how I evaluate my team’s workload. You see, I’m often busy with the normal routine of work, so it fits in with everyone else sense of daily pressures. Right now though, I feel like my camouflage has been lifted, and I’m a sitting duck exposed.

I like to think I’m organised. I keep my inbox empty, placing emails in their correct folder, flagging the ones that need follow up work. The casework waiting approval is zero. No major deadlines are waiting. The most critical cases are waiting for key tasks to be completed; it’s not that they’re just waiting there to be written up. 

So I have to think, how is it the work seems less busy for me, but not for my team? I could take the easy way out, and say it’s an organisation thing. For sure, there are some tips and tricks I could pass on, and I have done in the past, but ultimately I think it’s a cop out. In fact, I worry that it’s victim blaming. You see ‘frontline’ workers, particularly caseworkers in child protection, have significant pressures heaped on them. They’re typically at the lower end of the pay scale, but the collective responsibility is much higher. Large organisations, particularly government departments operating on an outmoded neo-liberal economic basis, lose sight of the very real complexities their workers face. In other words, it’s not a system catered for efficiency. 

So now, seeing that the work my team hasn’t diminished, even as mine has, I feel compelled to reassess what I’m missing as a team leader. Am I providing all the available time and ability to help my workers out? I don’t necessarily mean completing tasks for them – I dislike this as it infantilises and people can become dependent on that sort of thing. What I mean is providing the space for them to complete their tasks. Help relieve their pressures.

For example, do they have clear case direction? A lot of times I’ve seen workers (in different locations) put off particular cases simply because they haven’t received any clear direction. Many government organisations operate a command-and-control style leadership process (ironic for a profession of mainly social workers), and so workers have a habit of waiting until given specific instruction. Sometimes leaders can fall into the trap of thinking clear direction has been given, or even forgetting to give any direction at all. Regular supervision can help minimise this, but for some case matters they simply progress nowhere, in a kind of indecisive stasis. The more rigid the hierarchy, the more pronounced the problem.

So in this instance, is it an opportunity for a wider dialogue with workers? Not just asking them how they are going, but clarifying that they know where there are going with each case? Is it about encouraging them to re-assess where they are? 

I can also examine collective approaches. Sometimes, everyone in a team is busy, and assumes everyone else is, so they don’t ask for help, and put off undertaking home visits, meeting clients etc. Again, I wouldn’t seek to complete those tasks myself, but rather examine how, as a team, we are organised. I can encourage a team dialogue – what is everybody doing today, tomorrow, next week? Are we able to re-organise our calendars to accomodate each other?

This is about active engagement with the team. I could just sit back and wait. Feel that I’m on top of my work, and in so doing I’m making myself available for my team when they do start to send work through for approval, or when a crisis hits. This is passive availability – it’s good to have, but it doesn’t engage with the needs of the team. In fact, it could grow resentment because it might be quite apparent I have little to do, and looks like I’m not helping.

I’ve already cautioned against helping with specific tasks, because I don’t want to infantilise, and it’s also inefficient. If I was helping with specific tasks, it would be like being an extra worker,  but I can only be in one place at a time like that. As a team leader I need to be available for everyone, and be in a position to prioritise as critical issues crop up (and this being Child Protection, they will). 

So having little to do is not the self-congratulatory slap-on-the-back it might seem. Assuming there’s a lack of ability in the team to organise can be destructive, because such a perception ignores the wider complexities of workload and how organisations are structured (and so becomes victim blaming). It leads to an uncomfortable question – am I not so busy because I have been ignoring pressing, underlying, issues in my team? Critical reflection can be difficult sometimes; facing up to errors and mistakes can be uncomfortable. This is an opportunity to correct particular team wide issues, and help my team by being present in the moment to help them, and facing up to challenges I might have decided to file long ago, when I really should have tackled them head on.

Writing under strain or How Monday Can Rain on Your Parade

It gets really difficult sometimes. I had a subject all lined up for today’s blog and then WHAM! Monday afternoon hit me like me Agent Smith doing his power punch thing in the Matrix.

Long and short of it is that I was already tired, before work crisis intervened and destroyed my lasts vestiges of stamina. Ok, so I’m writing this I guess, but it’s not prepped or researched or anything. I’m tapping out words on my smart phone to get some semblance of writing and it’s all off the cuff. 

It’s frustrating because I had a few bits and pieces ready to write up, but there’s nothing like life to heap shit on you. I’m too tired to concentrate, so I have to write something, anything, just to ensure I’ve had some kind of productivity.

I’m knackered. And the problem is, when I get tired I get more prone to depression and anxiety. That means irritability (more than normal), sensitive to loud noises (including music), and a general morose thought process. I should be fresh and invigorated at the start of the week. Now I feel like I usually do by the time work finishes. What a drag.

Still, writing something’s better than nothing. It’s helping to chill me out a little but nothing is going to help me feel less tired except some rest. Hopefully tomorrow will go better.

I woke up this morning to find the dog had taken a wee on the carpet, the day of a rental inspection 😱 Looks like it was just the beginning 😂

Literary superfood versus literal garbage – how to keep the creative juices flowing

It’s a struggle these last few days. My brain feels dry. Like a giant leech has sucked the very essence of creative juices from my mind. It’s a sign of tiredness maybe, but it’s also a sign, I think, of not reading.

Now let’s be clear. I read. A lot. My life is an endless stream of report reading, news, Twitter feed and amusing 30 second videos on Facebook…no, wait, I think I diverted there. Dogs on mops. That’s what’s amusing (see, I didn’t even have to issue the rhetorical question to lead you into the answer).

No, I read. The trouble is, I don’t read enough of the right stuff. Reading is like eating. There are healthy superfoods, reasonably healthy, a little naughty, and downright garbage. 

Healthy superfoods, in reading, are the classic greats, not just oldies like Dickens, but new blood like whoever won the Booker Prize in 1965. What’s that you say? There was no Booker Prize in 1965? Oh, well, OK, 1975 then (it was around by then surely). There are non-fiction too, the kind of books that completely absorb you and drive into a philosophical journey of epic proportions, traveling the imagination highway at warp fucking 9. ‘Give me more Mister Crusher!’ yells Picard. ‘Give me more!!’ (Being a Star Trek TNG fan I must hold up my hands and admit that was never in any episode, but I’m sure it probably appeared in some form of fan fiction, depending on how you read it).

Reasonably healthy are the decent reads, the measured oddities that don’t quite reach greatness but keep us intrigued, interested and draw us in I like to class lesser known fiction by well known writers. For example, Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood is for me like kale. Cook kale in the right way and it’s delicious and healthy, read In Cold Blood the right way and it’ll do the same for your brain. His other novels though, like Summer Crossing, they’re more like chicken. Healthy in many respects, but cooked in the wrong way probably have some drawbacks. Not many though, chicken is awesome. You could just eat chicken, but you need something like kale otherwise you’ll get scurvy. OK, maybe not that bad. There are other foods out there that are nutritious and healthy without being ‘superfoods’. I guess though you set the bar lower for yourself if you don’t indulge in what’s best for you.

Slightly naughty, now there’s something. Chocolate. Tastes delicious, but death. Bacon, it’s as bad as smoking but it’s soooo good. So what fits in here? Well, it’s the slightly crappy novels that have some semblance of story, and character, but really they just go through the motions and you’re looking for simple trash you can enjoy. Here I might mention books of my youth like the Belgariad, or Dragonlance. Enjoyable fantasy romps (except Tanis – fucking shave you moping dick, it’s obvious you want to), but not exactly breaking literary barriers.

And the garbage. That’s Twitter. That’s news. That’s Facebook. It would also be Fifty Shades of Grey, but i haven’t read that so cannot comment (It’s utter shit – read Twilight because it’s the same story, and then read some Black Lace for all the “fifty shades of fucked up” FSOG will do you). 

But Twitter? News? How can these be so bad? I hear you cry. Well it’s simple. These things can be stimulating in a way, like a McDonalds Cheeseburger fills an empty spot in your stomach, but creatively it’s dead weight. Thinking Twitter develops your creativity is like thinking watching Naughty Lesbo Nurses 9 builds professional team building skills. Don’t get me wrong, I love Twitter and it can be stimulating – Donald Trump (senior AND junior) is keeping me quite occupied at the moment – but for my creative needs it’s not doing it.

So, I’m not reading. Not really. I still haven’t finished A Clockwork Orange, and at the same time I’m trying to finish off an entertaining faux factual book about some Greeks travelling in Britain and Ireland during the Dark Ages called 500 AD (it’s a ripping yarn, as Michael Palin would say). None of this is building good foundation for boosting my mind. I need some fiction; something structured and in depth. My penchant for reading recently has been for non-fiction, but everything I’m writing is practically fiction. I need better stimulation.

So yes, reading is important. It’s a type of energy that the brain needs. I exercise the brain through thinking, contemplating, wondering, and wandering (in my mind, not physically aimless because I have Googlemaps). Good food for the brain is critical. So I will set myself the goal of finishing Clockwork Orange and 500AD this weekend, and then start to rejuvenate myself with some solid fiction reading. 

I’m stuck on writing. Solution? Random short story.

Yesterday was a real struggle to get something together for my blog, and today’s no different. In search of some material I have opted for a random word generator to produce some kind of guide as to what to write. The story is short – I need to complete by the end of my train journey. That’s little room for planning or organisation or even too much editing, and I’m issuing a caution about language and content, so buckle in kids it’s going to be a bumpy ride.

Four words are: band, mould, wriggle, ferry.

Gavin’s eyes roamed the cabin. Not literally of course, that would be insane. Roaming eyes, but the owner still sees out of them. Gavin had a new idea for a song. Being in a band, travelling to Tasmania for a series of gigs, Gavin was desperate for something to fill out their repertoire. Despite assurances to the organisers, they only had a few original songs to play. They needed inspiration.

Returning to the roaming eyes, Gavin caught sight of some mould on the wall, Gavin gave his nose a wriggle. Disgusting. It was bad enough being in a four bed cabin with three other male death metal performers. Good thing it was non-smoking; there was enough methane in the room to power South Australia.

The ferry rocked and vibrated.

“Fuck.” Said Pedro – real name Peter, but, you know, nicknames… – sitting up. “Maybe we hit something.”

“Mmphhh mmmh.” Said Danny, lying prone face down in his bunk. Gavin was inclined to agree.

“What?” Said Pedro. “I can’t understand you doucheface.”

Danny turned his head slightly.

“Stop worrying. Let me sleep.” He uttered.

“This boat isn’t safe.” Said Pedro.

“You’re the one that wanted to come by boat and not fly.” Said Steven, directly below Gavin.

“That would be way more dangerous.” Said Pedro.

The boat shuddered, and for a moment Gavin felt a queasy vibration in his stomach. Sea sick or hungry? Gavin opted for the later, and with a neat twist sat up on the edge of his bunk, legs dangling over the side. He jumped down, stumbling a little with the swaying motion of the boat.

“Any food left?” He said, glancing over at the collection of half-eaten savoury snacks.

“Hear.” Said Steven, passing him a bag of crisps.

“Where were you keeping that?”

“Who knows?” Said Steven. “People go there and never return. But they produce nice crisps.”

“Shit crisps.” Murmured Danny. He was falling asleep again.

Gavin opened the packet and munched a handful. Salt and vinegar. Great, now he’s need something to drink.

“We need some song ideas.” Said Gavin.

“What the fuck?” Said Steven. “Why?”

“I thought we could expand our routine.” 

“We just worked on some” said Pedro.

“Yeah, we need more.” Said Gavin.

“We have enough songs.” Said Steven. “Why do you want more?”

There was just the slightest hint of suspicion in Steven’s voice.

“We have Reguritate Cats Vomit on Your Mother’s Corpse.”

“Yes.”

S”Anal Fisting Angels in Heaven, Hammer Fuck to the Face, Napalm Scrotum, Deep Throat Zombie Jizz.”

At each title, Steven counted off on fingers.

“We’ve got enough dude.”

“We may need more.” Said Gavin. “I made promises.”

“What kind of promises?” Said Pedro, peering up at Gavin. 

A long snore drifted out from Danny’s bunk.

“I promised five gigs.”

“What!?” 

“What fuck you mean?” Said Steven. Gavin always knew when Steven became anxious because he started talking like a Neanderthal. 

“Five gigs in Tasmania?”

“Yeah. Five.” Said Gavin.

“It’s Tasmania. Fuck we’d be lucky to do five in Sydney.”

“Some bikie meet apparently. We’ll get paid more.”

Gavin reflected that he should probably have mentioned that part earlier.

“And you want one more song?”

“Well, let’s start with one and see where it takes us.”

“Any ideas?”

Gavin thought for a moment and looked about the cabin. His eyes rested on the mould. He smiled.

“Mouldy roaming eyes double-p your girlfriend.”

Steven and Pedro looked at each other. Pedro shrugged.

“Okay.” Said Steven. “But you’re writing the lyrics.”

Gavin held up his hands, in a show of acquiescence.

“Cool.” He said. “Now, what was your girlfriends name again?”

Anne Marie Morris, the “N” word and Malcolm Turnbull

A little light reading today – brief opinion pieces in the world of politics. 

Anne Marie Morris and the “N” word

She said it. She should go. Why? Her comments were disrepectful, crude and ignorant, and her casual use of the ‘N’ word indicates prevalent racism. Isn’t an apology enough? No, I don’t think so. She should apologise, and at time of writing I believe that she has, but ultimately there is an issue about normalising her language. An apology alone lacks sincerity of intent, and helps reinforce the idea that racism is acceptable as long as you apologise for it. Imagine how you’d fell if someone used derogatory comments about you, and when challenged apologised straight after – “I called you useless, but I didn’t mean anything by it.” This isn’t about ignorance of racial sensitivities, quite the opposite. Anne Marie Morris didn’t say the word in Parliament, rather in a closed meeting in which she probably didn’t think she was being recorded, so she knew enough to be selective.

What I find interesting is the swift reaction of condemnation and action of the government. I compare this incident to former Tory MP David Ruffley, who received a caution for a domestic violence related incident. Although the decision was made that he would stand down at the following election, there was no other action taken. Indeed, as an MP, he remained in Parliament with the potential ability to vote on women’s issues. He even received praise from that wonderful piece of human drool Michael Gove.

This isn’t a contest. Anne Marie Morris comments are significant enough to warrant her resignation, and Mark Ruffley should also have been sacked, but there’s a glaring inconsistency into how politics, and society, treat certain behaviours. This isn’t about politicians being on higher pedestals. We should all be on higher pedestals when it comes to issues of misogyny, racism, or homophobia (amongst many prejudices). Simply asking for an apology alone is attempting to mitigate the damage, while conferring only a loose acknowledgement of failure. The standard should be higher, regardless of whether you’re an MP or not.

Turnbull – Liberals aren’t conservative 
So today Malcolm Turnbull tried to re-centre his party. It smacks of desperation as he tries to find the middle ground. And really, it is somewhat laughable to review the record of Turnbull as PM. He has struck to the right as much as any of his predecessors. Maybe not to the same extreme, but it says a lot about the Liberals and how far to the right they have drifted that a conservative like Turnbull is considered liberal by his own party. In the grand scheme of things I don’t think it will resolve the underlying problem of his leadership, and it may provoke further aggressive moves by Abbott. Indeed, I have to wonder why Turnbull thought it would be a good idea to provoke the right of his party at all. This will simply create further division, rather than cement his position as leader.

Light and composition – enjoying the fundamentals of photography with 35mm point & shoot camera

Wherever you sit on the photography spectrum – amateur or professional, film or digital – there are two fundamentals to how we take a photo; light and composition. It’s easy to get distracted with an array of settings and functions, and sometimes just limiting your choices can help set your creativity that little bit freer. 

Equipment and Preparation

One of my favourite past times is to go out and just take photos. I probably put in a little planning before deciding on a destination, but it doesn’t have to be some complex journey. On one occasion I just walked from my house to the city centre, taking photos as I went. Roadtrips are good, and traipsing along country paths. The great thing about photography is that location is easy, because you can take photographs anywhere.

It has been a while since I was out taking photos, and I’d planned for a little while to go out one afternoon and take some film shots. Wanting more of a challenge, I opted for a point and shoot camera, my Yashica MF-2 Super. The benefits of this camera are its limited controls. Shutter speed is constant. The aperture only alters depending on whether the flash setting is selected or not. The lens is fixed, so there’s no control over depth of field. The best control I have is the ISO of the film.

I used two rolls of film in the end. One I picked by accident (good lesson to check the film first); a 100 ISO Perutz film (probably expired). I used this first while there was more light. The second was a 400 ISO film – an Agfa black and white roll. I also brought a 3200 ISO Ilford roll, but time had moved on before I got to use it. Next time maybe.

I brought my Olympus EM-1 purely as a light meter, but after examine some basic light variations (indoors, outdoors, in shadow) I didn’t use it at further.

Using the Light

I started shooting mid-afternoon, meeting up with my friend Tim at Perth CBD. No route was established, so we were left at the mercy of available light depending on where we wandered. It was a bright day, but being in the middle of a city meant lots of shadow and pockets of places with little light. It’s a frustrating thing to see good opportunities lost because you know the light isn’t good enough. Many times I just knew not to bother. 

The benefit of this frustration was that it made me think much more about the relationship between light and shadow in my pictures. I could make determinations about the shot without having to think about the settings on the camera. This gave me more focus (forgive the pun) on the composition itself. 

Composition

In terms of composition, I had free reign within the limitations of the camera. Digital cameras can be almost too liberating in that respect. Don’t get me wrong, you need that flexibility for so many shots, but there’s always the risk that the photo becomes the settings, not the composition. It helped me see the city in better terms, and think more about the unusual qualities of urban landscape. Not having any idea what the final image will look like was also liberating, because it meant I didn’t develop anxiety of getting the ‘right shot’. 

I’ve gone on more solo photo trips than I care to remember, but it was beneficial to have someone else around. Not only is Tim good company in general, but he’s a great photographer. I’ve tried to apply the social norm of not stealing other people’s shots on these kind of trips. What this means is that if someone sees a shot they think is interesting and distinctive, you don’t then try to take the exact same shot. It’s quite annoying to have another photographer come up and take the exact same image that you spotted.

In this way, having Tim around made me think more. Sometimes he would spot something and that meant I had to move on and look elsewhere. Rather than get frustrated by this, I used it as an opportunity for ‘what else can I find’ mentality. In other words, it forced me to look harder for a good opportunity and experiment a bit more. 

As I write this I have no idea what the images look like. I’ve linked to my photography blog some iPhone shots I took, to give you an idea of the type urban terrain we had at our disposal. When I get the images back I can look in more depth at how they came out. With 60 shots to pick from surely a few will be ok at the very least. 

Regardless, I had fun. It was great to free myself from the complexities of which lens, aperture, shutter speed, and think about really makes a good shot. More than that, it was just an enjoyable experience all round, taking photos for the sake taking photos, and enjoying the freedom that can come from limitation. In photography, whatever doesn’t kill you sets you free.

Winter Write-up or How I’ve neglected my writing and I need to change

Something happened. Something snapped. I’m hoping it wasn’t a muscle. I’ve been working out more, so that might explain it. Then again, this is a mental thing. 

Let me start again.

Last night I was writing. Well, rewriting I should say. Any hoot, in the midst of my literary lat pull downs it occurred to me that I don’t write often enough these days. 

There were a group of us talking about how much time we commit each day, often to unnecessary futile tasks. If we committed just 7 minutes a day to writing that would be 200 words a day (assuming 30 words a minute). 365 days x 200 = 73000. A novel.

I like my morning preparation for the day. The routine works. Early bus. Arrive I. Plenty of time for a coffee. No rush and easy start to the day. Time on the bus to listen to music, get in the mood. It’s almost meditative.

No doubt it has its benefits, but in the meantime important words are being left unsaid. Or, rather, unwritten. I do two bus journeys each day. 20 minutes or so each. Even if I was to reduce my writing time to 20 words a minute, that would be 800 each working day. In 6 months that would be over 100,000 words. 

Writing can also be meditative. And I exercise most days so I think I am sound in mind, spirit and body. I definitely need to rethink the routine. 

I kinda persuaded myself that university work was a good excuse to set aside the blog, but I’m not so sure. Seems like a cop out to me with hindsight. I reckon I could easily have made the time for both.

So the blogging is back, each weekday, and maybe the weekend if I get a chance (fuck, I just need 7 minutes). In the meantime, I need to reacquaint myself with writing projects, which I’ve handled with kid gloves for the past few months. Not acceptable. Bad mental-projection-of-myself-as-a-writing-slave-monkey.

Looks like the bus has nearly arrived.

Remember, 7 minutes.

Dissecting the General Election – the difference between narrative and reality

So I’m going to just come out and say it – I called it. In my last blog post I wrote that there was a realistic chance of hung parliament and Tories being the largest party. Realistic, but slight, compared to the wider polling predicting a Tory landslide, but still, I thought quite plausible. I gave it a 1 in 4 chance.

Now, consider, is that a convenient narrative on my blog post, or is the reality that I gave more chance to an outright Tory victory and I was just covering lots of bases? I’ll let you decide.

The point I’m making is about the difference between narrative and reality, and why both are important in politics.

First up, let’s consider what happened. Theresa May gambled and she lost, big time. Considering from where she started at the beginning of the campaign, her defeat is even more stark. Catastrophic for her and the Tories. For the 5th time in twenty years they’ve failed to get a majority in Parliament. It’s questionable as to whether she’ll be able to stick it out or not. The DUP might give her the votes she needs, but I know little about them, outside of their general conservatism. Who knows what kind of bedfellows they will make. 

Whichever way, it’s a big defeat for May and her reputation lies in pieces.

What else occurred? Well, I’ll get to Labour in a moment. How did everyone else fare? The SNP had a disastrous night, and I can’t see how independence is on the table now. What’s worse is that they lost seats to the Tories, undermining their own reputation as progressive alternative to Labour in Scotland. It’ll be a sore pill to swallow for them.

The Lib Dems surprised no one by doing poorly, although perhaps by low standards they did very well, finally returning to double figures once again.

The Greens lost votes to Labour, but kept their one seat. 

UKIP…well, they just died on the night. No doubt though such electoral disaster will go unremarked on news broadcasts and programs like Question Time, which they frequently dominate. 

So Labour. The big winners? Yes, in many respects, that is the narrative. They’re even talking about forming the next government such is their confidence after the election (Labour that is, not the abstract ‘they’). Of course, it’s not the reality. The truth is, Labour lost, with as few seats, give or take, as Gordon Brown in 2010. 

Most pundits and commentators, and of course Theresa May, were expecting a Tory landslide (or solid victory) and the pummelling of Labour. In that regard Labour won, so the loss is technical. To put it another way, it’s a bit like a non-league side getting to the FA Cup final but losing to a Premier League side. Technically they lost, but who do you think would be hailed as heroes and the ‘real winners’?

It says a lot about Labour’s situation that they could be painted in such terms – non-league. After terrible local election results just a few weeks ago, it looked likely everything was only going one way. Thanks to the social care debacle, as well as Theresa May’s quite frankly bizarre refusal to engage with voters, and lots and lots of young voters, Labour surprised everyone, even themselves. 

They set themselves a low bar – stop the Tories having an overwhelming majority – so to end up the way they did helps build the narrative.

So which matters more? Reality is important, because, well, it’s reality. You can’t force legislation if you don’t have the seats to do it. You can’t direct policy even you’re not in government. On the other hand, if you have the strength of narrative behind you, you can make it seem like you are stronger than you are really. It can force even confident governments to make concessions when now were required. Positive narrative helps motivate, and propel action. If you don’t get carried away and believe the hype, it can be a potent force.

So what should Labour do now? 

Firstly, I think they need to consider the future. It’s possible there might be another election in a few weeks, if all the coalition/agreements break down, or there might be one in Autumn. At the latest, there will be one in five years time. I look at the electoral map, and while Labour held up handsomely in the north, midlands and London, there was a notable gap in the south. Sure they picked up some great seats like Brighton Kemptown and in Portsmouth, but these are islands of red surrounded by Tory blue. Labour needs a southern strategy, because without more seats in the south it cannot hope to get a majority. That doesn’t mean sacrificing principles or watering down its message, it’s more about how to tailor that message to the right people, but it has to be done to achieve victory.

Is Corbyn secure in his position? Almost certainly. Many of his critics were quick to lavish praise after the election, and at this point his position seems untouchable. Perhaps he’ll grow into the role more. The narrative is about his leadership, turning about a result that once destined to go awry. The reality is that his opponent slipped up more than once. However, I always think you make your own luck, and we saw a different Corbyn in the election campaign. Being behind in seats is maybe a boon, because it will make him continue to campaign, keep up the momentum. That doesn’t correct all his deficiencies. I don’t buy this zen leadership thing; I genuinely think he struggles to make a decision and still doesn’t convince. He needs time to grow into the role perhaps.

It’s a precarious position Labour are in, how to play the minority game. They could do with a determined message of intent. Stating a desire to form government is good enough I suppose, and the narrative supports it today. Tomorrow though, I think reality sinks in  and most realise it won’t happen. So what then beyond that? Labour still needs clarity over Brexit – lacking in the campaign I have to say – and needs to think about what kind of economy they will have in 2-5 years. 

Right now the narrative favours Corbyn, but as May returns from Buckingham Palace, the reality is she’ll still be at the top. Being Prime Minister is still being Prime Minister. Even if Theresa May’s forced to go, her successor will occupy the same spot, and maybe bring their own narrative – a breath of fresh air perhaps? Corbyn, and Labour, need to find a way to give people a viable, realistic alternative for the UK, otherwise the reality is that people will keep with the Tories, however unpalatable it may seem. Labour can be happy today, but without setting a determined course they risk falling into the trap of fighting old battles not new ones. That’s the difference between realities and narratives; the latter is the same over and over and becomes staid. The former helps bring clarity for the future; it hurts, but it’s the truth.

Polling Day UK: My prediction is it won’t be pretty for anyone

I hadn’t expected to be watching a UK election so soon. Not because I took Theresa May at her word that there wouldn’t be one, but more because I thought the time had come and gone. October might have been a better time, as an earlier night would suppress turnout (bad for Labour) and she had the benefit of being new and fresh in power. It made little difference though, I watched the election appear and thought, well, that’s it. Tory landslide.

After watching the election campaign, I can’t deny that the narrative for Corbyn is compelling, but nothing I’ve seen has convinced me sufficiently that it will be anything other than a Tory landslide. Here’s why.

Firstly, the polls. Sure, some have narrowed, but I haven’t seen a single one placing Labour in front. Even the most hopeful reading shows Labour a few points adrift. Most are showing wider gaps. In the last few decades, polls have overstated Labour support (see 1992 and 2010), and underplayed Tory support. Polls are still the best gauge of how an election is going, and based on the evidence the Tories are going to win.

Secondly, I don’t believe the narrative about Corbyn. I remember the narrative for Brexit (or, rather, Remain) and Clinton. Both Remain and HRC entered the polls with a strong narrative of being in the lead. Sure, Clinton had most polls onside, but her campaign was shakey and, frankly, shallow. She had too little room for error, placing all her eggs in the industrial states, and promptly losing all of them (well, the ones that mattered). Remain’s was worse, because the polls were narrow and so it should have been clear that there was a good chance they would lose. A very similar situation occurred in 1992, as the polls showed a Labour lead (but not in the right places – something I get to in a moment). They should have ignored the propaganda – the narrative – and focused on what was happening. 

The problem with Corbyn’s narrative is that he has done little to motivate it. Yes, in some measure he’s upped his game, even to my surprise. He’s got more poise than I’ve ever seen before. In many respects this is frustrating, because it shows how he could have been. Maybe he feels more comfortable campaigning – I won’t deny it helps focus the mind a great deal. Unfortunately, I’ve seen this before in the far left. They exist in a perpetual state of campaigning, mainly because they have had so little success so they don’t have much choice. It also explains why they struggle with power on the rare times they get it – they forget that leading and campaigning are not the same thing. I don’t find Corbyn’s rise too surprising in that respect. 

Labour have delivered a good manifesto; it was a genuine statement of intent. No one could deny where it was placing Labour. That wouldn’t necessarily draw people to it of course, but it was distinct and finally produced the narrative Labour had been bereft of since, well, probably since Tony Blair stepped down. Compared to the Tories, and indeed all the minor parties, it provided energy and dynamism. My difficulty with this is that it may not be sufficient. The manifesto is likely to be the type of thing that only motivates people that already agree with Labour, not necessarily those that Labour needs for victory. There are many independent voters, and some Tories-willing-to-vote-Labour-from-time-to-time that wil not have been encouraged by it. 

So the policy is there, and the narrative (putting context to Corbyn’s policies) is also beginning to form. Unfortunately, much of the rest is actually the result of the vacuum left by the Tories. Theresa May has wisely retreated from public scrutiny – she’s actually been revealed as a very poor campaigner and performer. In terms of leadership she’s leaving plenty of room for Corbyn to seem like he can fill the gap. Unfortunately I think it’s just an illusion, a shallow cover over a void that May and the Tories don’t need to fill. I see too little evidence of a major shift in opinion. Even the social care debacle quietened the moment the Tories reversed it; embarrassing yes, but it didn’t destroy their campaign. Labour might have been hoping to carry that all the way to polling day, but the Tories made the only sensible judgement call they could, and Labour is left there with nothing.

The third issue is that I don’t think that the polling experience is showing sufficient leverage for Labour to be gaining where they need to. They’ve extended their lead a little in London – no surprise – and showed some resilience in Wales and even Scotland, but the long and short of it is that I don’t see sufficient energies by the Tories in defending their weakest seats. Rather, they seem to be trying to gaining Labour ones. It suggests that they feel they are performing better than the narrative suggests. Labour might be getting more support in places like London, Manchester and Liverpool, but I have yet to see the type of movement they need in the south.

That comes to the fourth problem, which is minor compared to the others, but I think indicative of Labour’s underlying trend. Corbyn is getting big crowds for sure, but these are people that already agree with him. Yes, it is rare for UK politicians to amass crowds like this, but that doesn’t mean it’s indicative of wide ranging support. Consider, if people were openly supporting Corbyn and Labour then why is this not measured in the polls? Why is the anecdotal evidence still reporting poor trending for Corbyn on the doorstep? More importantly, for my mind, these large crowds aren’t turning into major operations on the ground (i.e. Door knocking, leafleting etc.). It’s passive campaigning, and not likely to garner more support, although it does help build the narrative for Corbyn being on the rise. I just think it’s deceptive.

So, if I was to summarise, I think there’s a 70% chance of Tories getting a 50+ majority. I think 25% of a hung parliament with the Tories the largest party. 5% for hung Parliament with Labour the largest party. I don’t see a realistic avenue for Labour to win a majority – sad but that’s how I see it. It’ll be devastating for Labour supporters that got their hopes up, and it will lead to further internal turmoil if Corbyn refuses to leave immediately.  For the Tories, their reputation will be shot. It’s been a poor campaign by any measure (which says a lot about Labour’s weaknesses that they haven’t been able to acquire sufficient gain). I’m not sure how Theresa May’s reputation will survive this. In fact, I can see Boris Johnson already setting up to ‘rescue’ Brexit and stage a challenge within the next twelve months. 

Who will lose the most? The UK, already suffering the repercussions of its self-harming episode last year with Brexit, will be the biggest loser. Nothing I have see – nothing – has led me to believe that there is anything in the political classes in British politics that can safely navigate its ways through Brexit. Tim Farron’s attempt to gain the Remain crowd as a platform has failed miserably, mainly because the British stubbornness extends even to catastrophic decision making. It’s like jumping off a cliff, only then realising you’re going to die, but thinking “but I might survive” and rejecting pessimism in the process. People talk about the death of the NHS, decline in education, business, standards, human rights,  but the truth is all that was lost when Brexit appeared on the scene. I’m looking at a distance and I think it’s fading away into death. For me, it’s a car crash of it’s own making, and I’m glad to have my little piece of solace out here in Australia. I could be wrong – the polls could be completely off the mark and Labour romps to biggest surprise victory – but I doubt it. I can’t muster the energy to even think about voting, much less worry about the outcome. Really wish I could, but I can’t. Polling day will be ugly, there’ll be no winners, and it’ll leave a mark for generations. 

5 lessons about leadership from Game of Thrones Tywin Lannister

An important and influential figure in the TV series Game of Thrones (I’m assuming some basic knowledge of the series, and spoilers by the way), Tywin Lannister was portrayed as being feared and respected, with a ruthless streak (see how he engineers The Red Wedding). He was a noble, with a sense of honour (particularly about where his family was concerned) and stubborn family loyalty. On the other hand, he was also willing to use torture, murder and war to further his aims, and was not beyond turning against his former king (the “mad king”) when it bacame clear the rebellion of Robert Baratheon was going to succeed. 

Characters like Tywin Lannister intrigue me greatly, because they are still able to portray considerable strengths as leaders, while being undeniably brutal at the same time. It’s sometimes called the dark side of leadership, and is an important consideration in understanding how even ‘evil’ people gather followers. It’s important to recognise how the ‘dark side’ can affect us in our working life, and how we need to mitigate these effects by focusing on positive, durable leadership qualities.

Here’s 5 reasons I think Tywin made an impressive leader, in spite of his ruthless side.

1. He gives clear direction. One thing about Tywin is that he is clear about his instructions. When faced with particular crisis, setback or problem, he moves quickly to respond and resolve them. In the first season, after facing the disaster of the Starks defeating his son’s army, Tywin quickly reorganises his forces to respond. He sends his son Tyrion to King’s Landing to serve as the Hand, he directs his army to move away from the Starks, while at the same time instructing some forces to cause as much damage in the lands they are vacating. 

His clear direction relies on being able to separate the various challenges he faces. He is willing to delegate to achieve his aims – Tyrion gets effective carte blanche to rule as the Hand. In fact, he gives clear direction to Tyrion about what he should be during – “Rule” – how he should do it  “heads, spikes, walls” (so ruthlessly I guess) – and asserts a humane authority for Tyrion (a son he has always looked down on, both figuratively and literally) as to why he’s been chosen – “because you’re my son”. 

2. He gives second chances. Yes, believe it or not, Tywin Lannister actually gives people another chance. There’s an episode where he berates one of his subordinates for delivering crucial orders to a family that support the Starks (thereby giving them vital intelligence on the Lannister army and its movements). Tywin criticises the soldiers inability to read (it is inferred that was why the mistake was made), and warns him that if he endangers the Lannister forces again he’ll pay with his life. But that’s it. The soldier is humiliated, disciplined, but otherwise left entact in his position. 

Consider some other ‘bad guys’ in films and TV and how they have traditionally been portrayed. Darth Vader’s a good example in Empire Strikes Back – he routinely kills subordinates that fail him. Many other anatagonists have been similarly portrayed. This kind of approach can work if instilling a sense of obedience through fear is your sole purpose. In practice, for most people that don’t have magical powers of strangling you from a distance, this approach rarely reaps rewards.

Looking at Tywin’s approach above, he is clear in his anger and the reasons for it (Tywin actually goes a little length to explain the mistake by getting a book), despite the level of his anger it is controlled (he doesn’t hit his subordinate or yell right in his face), and he sets out future parameters if the same mistake is made in the future. This sends an important lesson to his other subordinates – you need to think more carefully about what you’re doing, I will apply consequences, but I will give you a second chance to learn from your mistakes.

3. He provides vision. While being described by other characters as a fearsome and ruthless adversary, he is also able to set out a clear vision of what he is trying to achieve. This is neatly summarised in the first season when he speaks to his son Jaime about the importance of family. He highlights the futility of power for ones self, since death is ultimately going to rob you of those accomplishments. He even points out that time will erase memory of those accomplishments. What Tywin does do is talk about family and the family name, and how this is the thing that keeps him motivated because it is the only thing that endure. 

For himself and Jaime (and presumably the other children), this is primary motivation – the strategic plan. Of course, while many of his soldiers would feel duty bound to follow Tywin on account of nobility alone, that is not sufficient to encourage them. It would be more likely he would talk to them about the power of the house, being a house of higher nobility and influence etc. etc. and how they can benefit from this. It’s the same vision, but Tywin can adapt his message as it suits, and he remains consistent to it.

4. He is evidence based. Tywin demonstrates an ability to respond to problems once he is certain they are one. In the first season, he moves quickly to respond to information that the Stark army is heading in his direction. Prior to this it is inferred he has been waiting to see what the Stark army might do. He’s not foolhardy or arrogant enough to simply go full pelt into battle (although, as I will describe below, there is a slight vein of arrogance that undermines him in this scenario).

When his grandson, that lovely young chap Joffrey, is asking about dragons, Tywin reveals his scepticism based on previous dragon skulls, and how they steadily decreased in size over the years. It is clear he is dismissing the concerns at that point. While we know he is wrong, Tywin is simply acting on the evidence presented. Remember, Joffrey’s concerns are based on vague reports, not details. I am sure that if Tywin was to discover the reality of the three dragons he would re-evaluate the information, but faced with the evidence at hand he is prepared to respond to fears by presenting logical evidence in counter it.

This is where there is a slight criticism of Tywin, one that arguably gets him killed. While he uses evidence appropriately, he demonstrates a lack of an enquiring mind, and this often leads to him making misjudgements. In the scenario of the Stark army, Tywin doesn’t question his spies reports or the Stark’s motivations. He simply responds to the evidence on face value. This leads to him falling into the Stark’s trap, and seeing his other army getting routed. Had Tywin followed up on the information, he might have realised the deception.

Similarly with the dragons, Tywin is quick to dismiss the concerns on the basis of the evidence presented, but he doesn’t appear to have an interest in making a greater determination about the threat. For example, he doesn’t ask for greater reports about the size of the dragons or their capabilities. Were he to do so, he might receive more useful, detailed information that helps him re-evaluate his assumptions and beliefs.

We see this arrogance when he is faced with Tyrion holding a crossbow. Tywin routinely dismisses Tyrion’s former lover out of hand, even thought Tyrion warns him not to and is holding a loaded weapon. When Tywin continues, Tyrion opens fire killing him. Had Tywin given greater consideration to the situation he was in, and listened to Tyrion, he might have survived the encounter.

The point I’m making here is about critical analysis, reassessing information and evidence presented. Tywin appropriately responds to fear responses by focusing on the evidence, but he should have made greater inquiries about the detail. 

5. He leads from the front. Tywin is shown leading his forces in battle on more than one occasion. He displays considerable confidence in his own abilities. In many respects this could be interpreted as taking responsibility. Tywin’s reputation is therefore not just built on calculation, but also direct action. He’s prepared to take the same risks his followers do. Seeing Tywin lead from the front most be morale raising and inspiring for his troops.

So there’s Tywin, a powerful, ruthless and calculating leader who ends his days being murdered on the toilet by his own son. Not all influential leaders have great endings if their negative, dark side, influences overcome their more positive qualities.