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60-second leadership interview: Debbie Cropanese, runner-up, Inspirational Leadership Award, HM Courts and Tribunals Service

Posted by: , Posted on: - Categories: Good management, Leadership Statement, Leading and managing change

Continuing the discussion around the Leadership Statement, we are featuring some of our most talented leaders and asking them to reflect on the attributes they feel define great leadership.

Debbie Cropanese, HMCTS
Debbie Cropanese, HMCTS

What was your first job?

I started as an admin officer in 1987 at Worthing County Court in the Lord Chancellor’s Department, which doesn’t exist now! I was responsible for all the admin duties for the judiciary and the public.

What's the skill you'd most like to have?

This one makes me think of something at home before work! For me, personally, I’d love to be able to play football. My son loves football. I’ve coached his football team for 7 years, even though I can’t play!

Professionally, I would say my IT skills leave a lot to be desired, though I am told I underestimate myself. I have to use leadership when it comes to IT. For example, I work in a diverse directorate and I had a great idea for pulling a lot of information together into a visual document. I knew exactly what I wanted, but I just didn’t have the know-how to do it. I asked my team to help. I am completely self-taught when it comes to IT.

What's the biggest lesson you have learned in your career to date?

The biggest lesson I’ve learnt is to engage with staff and stakeholders to resolve problems, continuously improve and create a vision for the future.

It’s amazing what you can achieve if you empower your staff and create a team that feels supported and able to challenge – you can literally achieve anything!

This really shows through in staff engagement survey results. I once managed an office of 100 staff that was closing in December, yet in April that year we were awarded ‘Beacon Office’ status. This was followed in the September by the best staff engagement levels ever achieved. I was delighted to see all of the core principles from the Beacon status awarded to my office reflected in the Leadership Statement – particularly an empowered culture and role-modelling behaviours.

Which point of the leadership statement do you think is most challenging and why?

I think it’s ‘Empowering’, the reason being that it’s about achieving an entire culture change. I’ve have been in the service for 27 years, and I have seen a massive culture shift in the last five years or so. I was trained to be a manager with ‘command and control’ behaviours, thinking that always delivered results. Sadly, some people don’t recognise that we’ve now moved to an empowering culture, and that people achieve the best results when they are supported and empowered.

There is an old saying in the Civil Service that knowledge is power.

In reality, you should trust your staff to have the knowledge – they’re the experts that know how to do it and how to improve it!

There has been a shift in this in HMCTS in the last 5 years and the senior management team are totally behind the concept.

How have you improved your leadership skills in the past year?

Interesting question! We don’t reflect on ourselves in terms of learning much.

Almost a year ago I took temporary promotion to a Band A. The role required me to engage and influence with people at peer level and at a higher level, and influencing them as a group of people has been most challenging. I deal with this by always reflecting on my own behaviour. I seek and give feedback in all sorts of ways. For my end-of-year review it’s more structured, but then for virtually every meeting or event I will provide feedback or seek feedback on my behaviours and performance from others.

A couple of weeks ago I went to Durham to run a Value Stream Mapping session on victims and witnesses. I asked for feedback from the people who attended the event and gave feedback to those facilitating.

This 360-degree feedback is an excellent way of learning, and I would advocate its use throughout the reporting year, not just at key intervals.

I also did an online learning session on strategic thinking. It had a really good session on influencing skills, which was really helpful.

What's the question you'd most like to have been asked (and why)?

I will always ask an un-asked question, but there’s actually nothing I can think of! In fact, I think that’s important – to make sure you never walk away thinking, ‘I wish I’d asked that!’

We had a new chief executive start in January, and I introduced myself by email, letting her know what we’d been doing in the past year and what I felt added value to our customers and service as a whole. She invited me for coffee and asked me, “What would you do if you were me?” That was really nice, to be able to have that opportunity to meet, give her my ideas and ask any questions.

Why was Debbie nominated?

Debbie was nominated by her colleagues for the regional HMCTS ‘Inspirational Leadership’ Award, and was a runner up in the National Awards. Debbie was nominated for her role in transforming the Small Claims Mediation Service, which involved leading several different activities, including pilot exercises and projects to improve service delivery.

Debbie was praised for showing leadership in the way she supported her peers – who were spread across the country – bringing the mediation community with her, while maintaining a focus on achieving significant results. Debbie was also recognised for the roles she played in the Future Leaders programme, and for taking a lead role in the HMCTS Learning Networks.

Debbie is currently on temporary promotion to Band A as Business Delivery Manager in the HQ Crime and Enforcement Directorate of HMCTS.

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