The Learning

As the video from the first challenge in Swale is launched and the second challenge approaches, I’ve been reflecting on what I’ve learned so far that I will take into the next challenge, and back to my everyday work:

  • Try to keep an open mind and don’t make assumptions – I had assumed that Swale was going to be an affluent and prosperous area and would be very different from Coventry, when in fact it faces many similar challenges. I also assumed that the first challenge would be about regeneration because of the landmarks that Kieren pointed out on our walk, which also turned out to be wildly wrong! If I had kept an open mind and approached things at face value in the first instance I would have been more open to opportunities and different perspectives.
  • Be a leader without being an expert – I became a manager for the first time at the age of 24, and found it a challenge. The people I was managing were older and more experienced than me, and they knew more than I did. I had a crisis of confidence. How could I manage them? What value could I add? I felt like an impostor and out of my depth. Over time, I’ve learnt that being a leader isn’t about knowing all the answers to all the questions, or about knowing someone else’s job better than they do. Being team captain in the first challenge was a good example of this – I didn’t know all the answers, but I could come up with an overall strategy, manage the time, keep people focused and make final decisions when needed. Everyone had an important role to play – not just the team captain. Being a good leader is about empowering others to do their jobs well, not doing their jobs for them, and so you don’t need to be an expert to be a leader.
  • Working fast is possible! – We had 24 hours to complete the first challenge. That included sleeping and eating time. And a large number of hours were used for meeting with stakeholders. We had to think fast and act fast. Sometimes it feels as though it takes a while to make progress in local government – processes and decisions take time – so it was liberating to find myself outside of those constraints with a very tight deadline and to discover that I was able to rise to the challenge. I’m not sure I can keep up that pace indefinitely – I would need a bit more sleep – but I am certainly going to remind myself that it is possible to accomplish a great deal in a short space of time, and to make sure I always use my time at work as effectively as I can.
  • Listen to people and their stories – One of the reasons we were successful as a team in the first challenge was because we did our presentation from Lucy’s perspective, and told her story. Focusing on Lucy helped me to come up with and articulate our proposal – what did Lucy need and when? What would help her most? – but it also helped us to bring our proposal to life, and to sell it to the judges. Engaging with people affected by the work that we do, and using their stories to explain what we are doing and why can help us to make a bigger difference.
  • There is no ‘I’ in team – Another reason we were successful as a team is that we worked together. Everyone focused on making our proposal a success, not just because they wanted to shine as individuals, but because they believed in our idea and because they wanted the team to win. This is where the Local Government Challenge felt the most different from the Apprentice – we challenged each other, we disagreed with each other at times, but ultimately we respected each other’s views and opinions, we harnessed everyone’s strengths, and we came together as a team.
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