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.

Out of steam: my film review of a disappointing T2 Trainspotting 

Last night, my partner Nancy and I watched Trainspotting 2 at the cinema. We had completed the obligatory reminder viewing of the first film earlier in the weekend. I hadn’t seen Trainspotting in years, although I am so familiar with the film I could probably recite it from memory. It was funny realising how influential the film had been on me when growing up, with it’s core message still relevant today.

I had high hopes for the sequel, and film reviews seemed positive (by the way, spoilers). As it turned out, one of the main thrusts of the film could apply to the reviews. In the film there’s a moment when Renton, Sick Boy and Spud go to pay their respects to Tommy (who you’ll remember died in the first film in a pool of his own vomit). Renton says he’s paying respects, but Sick Boy remarks it’s actually nostalgia. “You’re a tourist, visiting your own childhood.” The reviews, and the film itself, are arguably guilty of a similar fault.

The film’s plot is not too remarkable. Renton returns after a 20 year hiatus, facing various accusations from his old friends that he betrayed. There’s some revenge plot with Begbie, and some nonsense about a brothel and criminal enterprise. Really though, this is about Renton’s reflection on life after his 20 years in Amsterdam.

In truth, it’s never quite clear why Renton returns when he does. There’s some mention about a divorce and a heart condition, but I struggled to understand why he was staying in Edinburgh at all. He’s met with various accusations by his friends about betrayal. Even Spud accused Renton, since being left 4 grand was only going to go in one direction – more heroin. 

Spud actually becomes the character with the most growth throughout, becoming a typical of fictional Irvine Welsh figure (I assumed that was the natural comparison – many lines of his fiction are from the original book) as he starts to write as a means of combatting his heroin addiction.

Heroin makes little feature in the film. A central character in the first film, it is given the same treatment as other characters where it is exhibited merely as a form of nostalgia. There’s one scene where Renton and Sick Boy shoot up together. Nothing comes from it, except a slightly haunting shot of a distraught Spud watching from the hallway. There’s no consequence at all, no dilemma, no question in Renton’s mind about taking heroin again after 20 years. Sick Boy is introduced with a cocaine addiction, but this too has little or no consequence (it seems to get forgotten by the end of the film). It’s a heavily sanitised, Hollywoodesque version of drug using. It’s shown as a reminder, but lacking the three dimensional discourse that permeated the first film. 

The original film had more gusto than this, challenging head on the conventional thinking of heroin and forcing 1990’s society (well the part that was paying attention) to rethink its assumptions. This film offers none of that. We are joining Renton as tourists, visiting his childhood, and ours, as we meet familiar characters.

There are some funny and poignant moments, but too much is piecemeal and slightly forced. Renton has a ‘choose life’ monologue, updated for the 21st century, but even this seems a little cosmetic. There’s more feeling in Spud’s inner conflict, trying to explore his past with written words; Begbie’s realisation that he’s old and his reflection on his past, forcing Spud to read aloud the segments that reference him. Most of it though is stuff on the sidelines. 

Female characters are woefully underused. The film could have been shot without any female characters. Maybe that reflects the ‘boys own’ quality of the film, but it’s a missed opportunity. Anjela Nedyalkova has the most screen time, but is ultimately wasted with few chances for viewers to empathise with her. She ultimately disappears stealing (a lot of) money from Renton and Sick Boy. Her role is shrunk to a opportunistic thief, and with a heart of gold touch that renders her screen presence meaningless.

Kelly MacDonald’s brief cameo is equally frustrating. It’s a role that could have been played by anyone and given Kelly M’s talent, and the more meaningful engagement of her character in the first film, it’s sad they couldn’t bring more for that character.

Pauline Turner, playing Begbie’s wife, has perhaps the most compelling role, but is sadly underused. Shirley Henderson’s inclusion as Spud’s ex is similarly under-utilised. It’s as though the producers/writers/director couldn’t think of a decent female role and included them  for sake of adding women. Tokenistic additions that could have been absent without sacrificing the plot. 

And really, that’s the film summed up. Bit parts and slight, casual references that do nothing to develop the characters. We become the tourists in a hollow and sanitised sequel that offers only a glimmer of what could have been. Disappointed.

Heels? On a sofa? – that photo of Kellyanne Conway

So, today I saw the photo of Kellyanne Conway, Counsellor to the President, kneeling on a sofa in the Oval Office, while guests were gathered to meet POTUS. Apparently, this has caused something of a stir. I don’t really care about whether she was wearing heels. I was more interested in the photo itself.

My initial reaction was that KAC looked a little like a bored or disinterested teenager does when their parents invite complete strangers round. She’s focused on her mobile phone, seemingly oblivious to large group of people gathered around her. 

That sparked a thought in my mind, about photos and their ability to ‘tell a story’, and how often that ‘story’ can be a misrepresentation.

I think this photo is fascinating in many respects. KAC’s pose is intriguing enough, but look at the whole room. It’s a large depth of field, trying to bring POTUS  into focus amongst a sizeable number of people. I don’t know how tall POTUS is, but he seems to be dwarfing those right next to him. That makes little difference, because the perspective of the shot makes those (mainly men) standing in the foreground much larger, effectively dwarfing POTUS. If the intent of the layout was to make POTUS seem like the central figure, this shot undermines that effect. Even without KAC in the foreground, there’s plenty to take attention away from POTUS. There is a type of golden triangle effect, drawing  the eye towards POTUS, the way he’s stood at the end of the two channels of people, but he’s so distant the impact is underwhelming.

I’m curious about what purpose there was to surround POTUS with women in the background, and keep men in the foreground – if any. The men, and KAC, dominate in a big way. With some of the men looking at KAC, it’s effectively turned her into the main subject. 

There’s a funny casualness about KAC’s position on the sofa. Very much at home and relaxed. In that respect, it does bring a slightly less formal atmosphere to one of the most formal political rooms in the world. 

I’m sure the media and Twitter discourse is focused on that casual positioning and with vaguely sexist undertones, her heels, but for me this is a story of context. In the linked article there’s a second shot as she’s lining up to take a photo with her phone. The context of the image becomes clear; she was in the process of setting up a camera shot on her phone. From the angle, it was probably easier to take that shot from level of the sofa than standing up. 

I find this a useful examination of the subjectivity of photos. Not all of them tell the story we think they do. People’s perceptions of the subject matter as well. Would people have had the same reaction to this photo if it were Michelle Obama? Ultimately, I think the message I get from this photo, it’s story, is one of casualness. Something about KAC’s posture suggests a familiarity about the Oval Office, whatever she was actually doing in that moment. Compare that to the formality of the men around her. It paints a telling scene for the observer, at a glance, of an arena normally so difficult to describe succinctly with words. This of course is what photos manage to do.

Student Bee: Returning to university while in full time employment 

I’m back to school. After a year’s hiatus I rejoin the academia. Last time I did the course I undertook the work full time; that was hard. This time I’m going part-time. Looking at my calendar this semester I wonder how I ever managed it. 

My modules this semester are Leadership and Policy Analysis. I don’t have many anxieties about the modules; I did really well in my first year. My target is high distinction. After averaging 77% last year I think this is quite achievable.

I always feel I get a lot out of uni work, partly the reason I did the new degree. My mind works faster, probably because I’m reading more, and my thinking becomes much more focused.

I’m looking forward to this year, where I hope to cement a decent set of grades, and start to consider options for Ph.D. Only a disaster will lead to me getting less than distinction (well, that or cocky overconfidence), and I reckon I can set that bar higher.

Nihilistic, rudderless and banal: 5 reasons why Jeremy Corbyn has to go if Labour, and the UK, is to be saved

Labour’s narrow victory at Stoke and disastrous loss at Copeland is the first definitive sign of just how much Labour is struggling under Jeremy Corbyn. In the aftermath, it might be easy for some to dismiss the loss at Copeland as emblematic of current polling, as though that somehow justifies the loss. Of course, that raises the question of why Labour is so far behind in the polls to begin with. Here are 5 lessons to be drawn from the recent by-elections.

1. Copeland is a disaster. Make no bones about it. I saw Cat Smith, Shadow Minister for Voter Engagement and Youth Affairs, trying to make some attempt at explaining the historic closeness of results in Copeland. Despite it being Labour, it has generally always had narrow margins of victory. Unfortunately, while this is true, it is distracting from the wider issue that Labour lost it this time. In 2010, Labour’s loss at the election was described as the biggest in its history, only then for 2015 to see further decline. Both times Labour held Copeland. What does it say now if, as is suspected, people in the seat were actively voting against Corbyn? It signifies just how badly Labour is now doing. To put in context as well, Michael Foot was gone after four years, and it was another 14 before a Labour government. At this point, we’ll have had at least 10 years of a Tory led government by 2020, and Labour could be so far down in the polls to be insignificant in terms of parliamentary power. A quarter of century of Tory rule is growing more plausible.

2. Stoke flatters Labour. Yes, UKIP’s efforts were undermined by poor organisation, and a poor candidate (I cannot see how the Hillsborough fiasco could have done anything other than ruined Nuttal’s chances). However, this shouldn’t allow Labour to think all is well in it’s heartlands. For a start, Labour have found how easy it is when your opposition is so weak. Quite the situation the Tories are in at the moment nationally. I do wonder what might have happened with a more organised UKIP campaign, or perhaps a candidate not so Trump like in nature. Labour had a central campaign message – the NHS – while UKIP had nothing. That doesn’t mean that people found Labour’s message enticing, it’s simply that when faced with a consistent political message, and a chaotic inconsistent mess, people will always pick the most consistent. It’s why the Tories tend to dominate so well compared to Labour. Their messaging is much less nuanced than Labours, and they tend to put their policies in terms of what they will do for you, the voter. Labour’s tend to be more abstract and less direct – they look like they’re telling you what they will do for everyone else, but not YOU. Labour need to learn this lesson and not draw a vain belief that the NHS campaign is the right one. As Copeland showed, people are willing to sacrifice the NHS if they are receiving a more direct form of campaigning.

3. Labour is descending into nihilism, particularly from the far left and newer recruits. Corbyn’s lack of humility about the Copeland result, unwilling to accept responsibility, signifies a Prima facie resolve from Labour, to struggle on even when faced with defeat. In reality, it is defeatism that has turned into nihilism. Faced with no prospect of victory, Corbyn and his cult like following have simply given up and opted for masking their dismay behind a “we will soldier on”. It’s a lie. Instead of trying to improve the situation, they will move ever towards more extreme policies, which are designed to put people off, further justifying the self-destructive passage that may end Labour for generations.

We can see something of this in terms of policy. All Labour seems to be these days is an NHS swan song. Don’t get me wrong, I am horrified by what the Tories are doing and can do further to the NHS. People are literally dying as a result. It’s easy to see why Labour has a particular focus. However, it’s not the only policy that matters and people have other interests. Consider the example of a group of friends that meet up regularly. One of them only ever talks about one thing, the state of the NHS. At first the friends tolerate this, because they are friends and they are sympathetic to the situation. However, as time goes on, the other friends realise this all this person talks about. In fact, this friend doesn’t appear interested in the rest of them. At first they make excuses for leaving early, but in the end they simply stop inviting that friend. That is where Labour are now. A party sounding a one track record that’s scratched.

Why won’t Labour talk about other policies effectively? Well, it’s mainly to do a lack of creativity. Corbyn doesn’t know what to do about the various ‘wicked problems’ the UK faces. Instead of accepting his own inadequacy, he merely sticks to the same topic to distract. Again it is nihilistic – there is no hope of victory, therefore the only course is one of defeat.

4. Corbyn is a really, really poor leader. I don’t know how many times I’ve reflected on this in my blog, but Corbyn is displaying fewer and fewer credentials for being a representative of anything. He rather stupidly referred to how the people of Copeland have been let down by the establishment, after Labour have been representing that seat for over 50 years. 

He failed to take any responsibility for Copeland. When asked by a reporter if he ever looked in the mirror and asked if he was responsible, Corbyn answered “No, thank you for your question.” What he should have said is something like, “Obviously I am disappointed by the result in Copeland. I don’t think it represents the hard work we put in, but it clearly shows that there is a gap between our policies and the people we are pledged to represent. We need to examine closely why that has occurred and how we can work to persuade more people to vote Labour. As leader though, I clearly have to take responsibility for the result, and to learn from this etc.” 

There are those that blame the MP’s. In some measure, the MP’s are responsible. For a start, those imbeciles that nominated Corbyn two years ago. They are directly responsible for Labour’s current collapse. Then there are the rebels. Truth is, last year, they shot too high and missed. They lost, and Corbyn became stronger than ever, as a parasite does by draining its host. Of course, drain too much and the host dies, and the parasite with it. Am I calling Corbyn a parasite? Yes, yes I am.

Ultimately though, Corbyn is responsible for the conduct of the MP’s. To quote Tywin Lannister, “When soldiers lack discipline, the fault lies with their commander.” The MP’s lack discipline, because Corbyn does not, and cannot, lead. Maybe he’s realised this, and hoping John McDonnell, equally inept, can manage to get the rules changed to get a better chance of nomination, and so resign then. Such a thing would be an even bigger disaster. Corbyn is disliked, but McDonnell is dispised nationally.

5. Extra members doesn’t equal extra campaigners. Labour is sitting somewhere around 500,000 members at the moment, quite remarkable. However, this isn’t turning into extra campaigners. In a seat like Copeland, there should have been a small army of Labour campaigners out there, getting the message out. Instead, numbers of volunteers were measured in the hundreds, not thousands. Where are all the Momentum lackies? Too busy fighting each other in an inevitable internal collapse of the far left? It’s easy to highlight Corbyn’s massed supporters, but in practical terms they have delivered nothing. 

So where does this all leave Labour? Even if they did get rid of Corbyn, I wonder if they have the means and the resolve to face up to the scale of the challenge. There needs to be a greater reflection within the party about what they actually want and how they intend to promote it. Challenging the economic wisdom of the time has to be done in such a way that people will feel that they will benefit from it. Nationalising services has to be the means to a particular end, not the end of every means. In other words, using nationalisation as a solution where appropriate, not for every issue. People need persuading of its validity before accepting it wholesale. 

The Labour Party needs something radical to shift perceptions, to show that it revolutionise without appearing to be randomly revolutionary. People are genuinely worried about the ramifications of Brexit, for or against, and the wider implications of a failing trust in the free market system. The scale of the challenge of climate change is immense, and the issue of immigration and globalisation reminds unresolved. What are Labour’s solutions and alternatives to these problems? And how can they be articulated in such a way that will deliver public support. The party may have many people in its ranks capable of meeting this challenge, but Jeremy Corbyn is most definitely not one of them. It’s time for him to go, and it’s time for Labour to start meeting the challenges the UK faces.

The Council of Elrond as solution focused approach: the danger of storytelling over prompt decision making

So today, being Friday, I felt in somewhat whimsical mood. In the midst of my organising work for next week, I realised I need to have a meeting about a complex situation next week. I need to tailor the purpose of the meeting carefully, to avoid a significant level of distracting story telling and to make sure the focus is on some key decisions moving forward.

As I considered this I thought, not for the first time, of the many occasions meetings are subject to ‘storytelling’ and become burdensome for relatively simple outcomes. This is a matter of narrative, providing an overall flow of information that imparts just enough detail without becoming overly expositional. To illustrate, I have decided to write a description of the Council of Elrond from Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings and apply it to the Signs of Safety Assessment Framework (a solution focused framework). This is not a reflection in any way of the LOTR (which I enjoy immensely) or the Signs of Safety framework (it is simply the medium for describing the council, since I use the SOS every day at work). This is purely a tongue in cheek look at overlong meetings and faulty decision making.

The Council of Elrond

Attendees: All the good guys doing zero fighting up until this point, including

Gandalf the Grey, Aragorn (in fairness he used a fire brand at one point), four Hobbits that are in. Over. Their. Heads.

Bilbo, Bilbo Baggins, he’s only three feet tall. 

Some dwarves, including a cameo.

Some Elves, including Elrond (acting as chair) who is a master at delegating hard work to other people.

Some random jobber who turned up unexpectedly this morning (how convenient) and will be brought to the meeting without shower, breakfast or anything. 

In the interests of equality we should point out that while no women are named as present, it doesn’t mean there weren’t any (we can’t make that stick – everyone here is a guy or a pseudo-child male Hobbit)

Purpose of meeting

To decide how to stop Sauron, who intends to conquer the world using some hand crafted jewellery. We have his Ring.

What are we worried about?

If Sauron gets the One Ring he wins, for no other reason than the Ring giving him all the power. But it will be bad, very bad.

Sauron has a bigger army and will probably defeat us in open combat (see Missing Information for more on this).

Danger Statement

The Council of Elrond is worried that if Sauron gets the One Ring he will use it to take over the world, infest everything with Orcs and force all races to be subjugated to his will for all time. The CoE is worried that the Orcs will eat everyone while engaging in an orgy of Sauron worship, even though Sauron is so obsessed with the Ring he’ll be more interested in engaging in some kind of mind sex with it.

Complicating Factors

We could have destroyed the ring a long time ago, but didn’t because Elrond didn’t want to have an argument with his mate while standing next to a cavern of molton lava. Elrond is responsible for countless deaths.

The Elves are really, really bad at fighting battles. It’s bordering on sadomasochistic the way they keep serving themselves up for defeat 

We have allowed our enemies to spend centuries preparing to fight us, but we ourselves have done nothing.

Sauron has 9 bad dudes called the Nazgul.  

We will form a party of 9 men to match them, including GANDALF! Aragorn, random traitor/last minute redemption jobber, an Elf, a Dwarf and four children, even though their powers in no way match the Nazgul.

Aragorn is the heir to the throne of Gondor, and will for some time reject this notion, unless he needs to mention it to get respect or get into certain places. At some point he’ll just accept the notion, and this will constitute the whole of his character growth.

The rest of this meeting will be spent talking for hours, literally hours, about stuff going on in the world, but very little will be done to make a decision on anything.

What’s Working Well?

We have Gandalf!

We’ll get Gandalf the White later, which will also be the sum total of his character growth.

We’ll benefit from an insane level of friendly help, while our enemies will remain usefully anonymous (thus undermining their effectiveness and danger).

We have the Ring, but can’t actually use it. On the other hand, it means Sauron can’t use it or even see it, except at times it’s important to the plot.

Saruman is a bit useless as it turns out. 

The Nazgul are very powerful, yet throughout will be defeated by a sparkler (a flaming stick), some water (twice), a Hobbit with a magic penknife, a female warrior masquerading as a man and constituting one of the more interesting and detailed characters, Gandalf with a torch, and an exploding volcano. They will have very little actual impact.

We’ll be aided at various times by fortunate unexpected late arrivals of reinforcements.

Sam can carry an awful lot on his back.

The Elves have magic superglue for Aragorn to have his sword fixed.

Missing Information

Even though Sauron’s forces outnumber everyone else by many times, he’ll barely attack and will be defeated in every battle. He even has elephants. Elephants?! And he still loses.

It’s been asked many times over, but seriously you didn’t even consider the eagles to fly to Mount Doom?

In the past, when desperately outnumbered and close to defeat, the Elves sailed west and asked the Gods, the actual Gods, to come and help. They cut off Morgoth’s (Sauron’s former employer) hands and feet and chucked him into hell. Are we really saying that isn’t an option this time? I mean, they let Sauron go free originally so they do bear some responsibility here.

We don’t know where Gollum is, but really we think that will turn out good in the end.

Sauron created the One Ring by infusing a significant portion of himself to do it. Gandalf is actually the same kind of creature as Sauron (so is Saruman and Radagast). Are we really saying that it never occurred to three wizards to spend centuries working out how to make a good version? Or a super magic Ring finder and invincible flying creature?

What needs to happen?

After several hours talking about all sorts of things going on in the world, we’ll stop the Council and spend weeks collecting more, and somewhat superfluous, information before finally, finally, deciding to walk east for chuck the Ring in molten lava.
So you see, even in the realms of fantasy, people end up having long winded and ultimately inefficient meetings. Have a nice weekend.

Back to the frontline: getting a refresher on core skills

Today I’m doing something a little different. I’m spending a day working on caseworker duties.  

I’ve always been conscious that as I move beyond the frontline role I might become entrenched in a narrow skill set, and forget the key skills that support the workers I am meant to lead. Having empathy for their point of view and their specific roles is vital if I am to do my job, so that’s why I am refreshing some of those skills.

My main area of concern is client interaction in the context of assessment and investigation. My current role has a limited scale of involvement, usually based on safety planning meetings and dealing with telephone calls. It’s been some time since I interviewed a child, visited a home with the intention of assessing that environment, or speaking with parents to guage their capacity. In my role, I am reliant on my team telling me what they think, and so I need to trust their instincts and skills. Spending some time in their shoes will help remind me of their pressures and responsibilities. Given they often ask for my perspective based on my experience, I think it’s good to make sure I don’t get rusty.

I’ve opted to do the casework role with the other team. It’ll take pressure off my team, and widen my scope of learning. Since it’s only a day I’ve opted for the intake week, when there are new referrals being managed.

It’s a good opportunity to learn from colleagues, and show that as frontline workers they have a little to teach us. 

Taking a thought and running with it

In the first stages of my blog writing I used to write the everyday things I saw on my journey to work. Over time the blog has involved into something more focused. This morning though, fighting off the remnants of a cold, I’m feeling a little unfocused. So today I’m going with observation, an initial thought, and running with it.

As I approached the bus stop, I could hear the voice of a man behind me. He seemed to be talking at length to someone and it was one sided. As he passed I saw he had a handfree mic and ‘phones. As I heard a little more of his conversation, and realised he wasn’t waiting for acknowledgement from the person he was talking to, I began to get a little suspicious. 

He started to wander the bus stop area (Canning Bridge, so a few stops and the train station). He walked past me, walked back, went down the lift to the train platform to catch the Perth. Moments later he reappeared on the other side of the road, coming up the steps from the same platform. He then went over to the other lift to go diwn to the other platform for the Mandurah train. This whole time he still seemed engaged in conversation.

When he came back up onto my side again I was not surprised. I watched him walk all the way down bus port past a waiting bus, realised he could walk no further and then boarded the waiting bus. My bus arrived at that point.

Was he really talking to someone? I know some people prone to auditory hallucinations use mobile phones to disguise the fact, so that it looks less unusual. If he was experiencing such an episode maybe it works for him. On the other hand, maybe he was just an over zealous talker who got too distracted to pay much attention to where was going. 

Which would be more compelling? Sure, auditory hallucinations sound more interesting on face value, but consider the whole picture. If he was talking to imaginary person then it is simply a manifestation of his own mind. On the other hand, if he was having a conversation with a ‘real’ person then what about the person on the other line?

Who might they be, that would be willing to listen to a rambling monologue? Is it a friend? A family member? A social worker? Maybe some kind of helpline and the operator at the other end wondering ‘why am I doing this job?’ 

Now I could think that person’s response, their motivations. What if it’s a distant relative, who feels sorry for this guy having no immediate family? That would be an interesting relationship. 

I wish I could write more, but my bus stop beckons.

Rewriting Dialogue in a short story

I am tantalisingly close to finishing a short story. After going a year without finishing one, it feels good to start getting some completion. 

So the story is about a woman being chased by a mob of men. She flees down a haunted path to escape, but then becomes ensnared by the evil spirit residing there.

I’m happy with the structure of the story, and the general flow. Some of the description needs tidying up, but this is minor polishing now. 

The big thing is the dialogue. The interplay between the two main characters (indeed the only two characters) is a crucial part. It opens up the protagonist (and thus the reader) to the realisation of her situation. 

Unfortunately the dialogue thus far is a little stilted, as I still need to adapt the story to meet the antagonist’s point of view. I’m definitely proceeding from the perspective that the antagonist’s actions fuel the protagonist’s actions. The difficulty is representing that in dialogue.

I’m going to focus on developing the antagonist’s motivations a lot more, so that this will enhance the dialogue and so propel the story. There are three sections of dialogue, so I need to work on tying those together. Separate moments of the same narrative.

I’m confident it will all be done by the weekend, along with some final polishing. Then it’s time to submit it, somewhere, and move onto the next project.

No Crisis? What to do about a lull in work

I know I’m tempting fate but it was a quiet weekend – no new referrals. I may find that by the time I get in a whole host of chaotic events may have occurred, but I doubt it beyond the usual casework issues that arise.

So to explain, I lead a team of child protection workers and we are one of two initial assessment teams for a district in Perth. The two teams take turns with new referrals and this week is our week.

The week can range from “holy shit, they’re coming right for us” to Jeff Lebowski-like calm.

Do we do nothing? Nope, there is plenty of work to be done I’m sure, for me and my team. This isn’t an army like situation of asking them to clean coal. 

What I can do is help prioritise some other smaller pieces of work that have been lingering. Maybe some recent allocations that haven’t got off the ground yet. Maybe sight a child or family that have been elusive.

So getting into work my first job is to confirm whether it’s as quiet as it looks. All being good, I can then review existing cases and make a decision about tasks to prioritise.

I communicate this to the response workers for today, with some broad suggestions for tasks to be undertaken. Generally though, I prefer the workers to plan the case, as an exercise in assessment.

I can review the situation over the course of the day, in case urgent issues arise.

The point of all this is simply that a lull in work does mean a lull in prioritising. I want to keep the response workers active in case something does come up. If they are too heavily focused on their own cases then they might become unavailable, even though they are still doing their job. It allows for responsiveness in case crisis does develop, and in child protection that’s critical.