Part of Clare Moriarty’s personal legacy to the Civil Service was her outstanding work to define the attributes of effective leaders, set out in Leadership in Action. Clare’s goal was to describe excellence in leadership - in a way that everyone could understand and relate to. She identified eight key leadership attributes. At this time of crisis, I find I’m constantly returning to one of these in particular - Creating a Sense of Purpose and Focusing on Outcomes.
Leading through a crisis as all-embracing as this one, and doing it remotely, is an experience I could never have imagined. As a former diplomat, I’d had the excellent crisis leadership training the FCO provides for all Ambassadors. But this is a very different kind of crisis from a natural disaster or a terrorist attack. It is going to require sustained energy, collaboration, focus and clarity of purpose from all of us. We’ve come through the initial adrenaline-fuelled emergency response phase into what feels like a temporary but potentially long-lasting “New Normal” involving different priorities and very different ways of working. Resilience and a relentless focus on top priorities will be essential to get us through successfully – plus paying careful attention to our own wellbeing and the wellbeing of our staff.
In only a couple of months we have all adopted completely new ways of working. My diary is now full of meetings by Zoom, Skype and Teams. My IT skills have been on a vertiginous learning curve - sustained by the advice and support of my amazing Private Office team. I’ve already had a remote PAC session! Thanks to a brilliant new IT system rolled out, miraculously, at the end of 2019, the great majority of staff in the Welsh Government have their own high quality laptop. Over 90% of us are working successfully from home. We’re getting things done quickly, effectively and creatively - and joining up across different Departments in ways to which we’ve always aspired. This crisis has pushed us to achieve things we haven’t been able to do before.
Something that for me has been crucial to leading through this crisis has been the trust and openness between the members of the senior team – the four DGs as well as the Executive Committee. I know we have a sense of common purpose and commitment to doing the best for the people of Wales. We have honest conversations and a shared set of organisational values. It has been a bonus in normal times and now is a vital underpinning. Worth all the investment we put into team development.
But it’s not easy, leading an organisation or a team remotely, is it? Personally, I find remote working very effective but also very transactional. It can be hard to switch off without the traditional start and end to the day. So I think it’s important to give people “permission” to work differently, and recognise the fact that many people have legitimate competing priorities at the moment, including caring responsibilities.
Remote working makes me realise that my Myers Briggs E type is accurate - I definitely get my energy from interacting with other people. Like most of us, I miss informal, spontaneous contact at the tea point or in the corridor. Fortunately, I have a talented internal comms team who put a lot of thought into how to maintain effective communications across the organisation. I’m always surprised how many hits we get on the intranet films and podcasts they produce for me – it makes me realise how much we all want to have a sense of belonging and engagement.
I’ll end this blog by going back to the leadership quality of “Creating a Sense of Purpose and Focusing on Outcomes”. I had a really interesting conversation last week with some of our SCS staff. We talked about the challenges of leading remotely and how to make it work, and they had lots of great ideas about bringing fun into our remote meetings and creating our own “coffee rooms” for informal chats. As well as ideas for making sure we maintain our resilience and wellbeing (I tried the online dance class!). I was particularly struck by a comment that people wanted “hope, honest conversations and a sense of opportunity”. So my priority is to strengthen the sense of common purpose and excitement across the organisation in shaping the recovery in Wales. Which has to include keeping the best from our ways of working through a crisis which has thrown everything up into the air.