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.

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.

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.

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. 

Crisis Management 

Checked my work email this morning to find a number of crises developed overnight, so already I’m the fan of destiny prepped for the bowel discharge of fate.

Time is short on this morning’s bus ride, so this is a short blog entry about prepping for crisis.

1. Keep the routine as much as possible. I exercise in the morning before work. It would be tempting to forego this and head straight to the office, but the short term benefit of an extra hour would be extinguished by the long term break in routine. Better to exercise, be refreshed, and come into work all set.

2. Reprioritise, don’t panic. Crisis does not equal disaster. There may be a number of options available. I had planned on a number of things today, but clearly I’ll need to reorganise. This is different from ignoring what I plannned today – some of it will be quite important. If I need to move things to tomorrow or later it should be controlled and assessed, not simply dumped. That way I maintain control.

3. Communicate with the team. Not everyone will be needed to respond, but everyone should know what the situation is, and depending on the seriousness of the situation be able to reorganise and reprioritise their work. This means holding a quick briefing – I call these Scrums – of about 5 minutes to give everyone the details. This helps the team anticipate need and plan their own workload to help their colleagues.

So there are 3 quick nuggets for managing crisis. Incorporate it into your routine, not the other way round. Have an organised reorganisation of work priorities. Communicate with the team. All this will help develop a cohesive and disciplined response.

Mystery of the crop

It’s a mystery. Like I’m a farmer in a remote location. I harvest my crop, and then some guy comes along at a pre-appointed time and collects my yield. I get my pay, they drive off, and I have no sense what happens after that.

That’s what it felt like today. I completed a job application. As per usual last minute (though not my fault this time – I just got back from holiday and only saw it yesterday, and the due date was today). I’m sure it could be better, but that’s not what’s bugging me the most.

What’s bothering me is that the post I was applying for is a step above mine – senior leadership. I had the job description, policies, notes and brainstorming, but it occurred to me – I don’t really know what my line managers do. I mean, I understand they must do something, because they’re often in meetings. I dearly hope they’re not meeting about having meetings. Occasionally I need them to approve something- my god like powersof decision making only go so far. I read the job description and think ‘yeah, but what does that look like?’

It’s difficult, accepting I have this level of ignorance about senior leader figures, but I genuinely had to think hard about how I would apply my skills to that role. My current role is clear, specific, and comfortable. Theirs is vague, ambiguous, and alien.

I know in my heart that’s not good enough. I should know what they do. In fact I need to – why would I entrust such urgent responsibility in the hands of people whose powers are so enigmatic. I am a trusting person, but not naive.

So, returning to the farmer analogy, and what happens to the crop, I have different choices.

Firstly, I could remain with my crop, ruminate on the possibilities and naturally acquire the knowledge. This would leave me susceptible to assumptions.

Secondly, I could ask the driver. This would open the possibility of interpretation – I would be at the mercy of the driver’s interpretation.

Thirdly, I could walk down the same road as the driver, and hope to find the knowledge myself. This puts more power in my hands, but then the crop would be neglected. 

Fourth, I could ask to go with the driver, to see for myself. This would give me first hand experience, but with a frame of reference to compare (the driver’s). However, it would also risk the crop being neglected.

If the driver refuses to answer (antagonistic or ambivalent), or gives a confusing answer (jargon), I’m a little left on my own. It would be better if the driver were in agreement.

And of course, I am relying on the driver to be knowledgable themselves, trustworthy, and have anything to show me. Wouldn’t that be something, if everyone was part of this system but had no idea of their role?

I’ve noticed that the driver has never offered to show me. Maybe they are ambivalent, or maybe they don’t want to ruin a good crop. I reckon I’m going to have to force the issue, and press the driver, my line managers, to drive me down the road.

You see, I know what strategic thinking is, I know what achieving results means, and building relationships. It’s the context of the the thing I’m missing. I have to explore their world to understand it,and decide if it’s really something I want to do.