Archive | July, 2011

Public Leadership – the transformational leader of GM Fire Service

25 Jul

Steve McGuirk chief executive of the GM Fire Service has shown transformational leadership over the past five years,
he has have managed to sustain front-line services, improve relationships and cuts the budget by 25%. This the service most people respect yet the service the press ridicule most. There has been a quiet revolution in the Fire Service on his ‘watch’.

He reports that the task wasn’t easy and he has received a far amount of venom thrown at him for reducing the number of senior managers from 20 to 6 and being straight with the trade unions about what is possible and how to protect the front-line and working with AGMA local authorities.

“The reality is that leadership takes hard-bark, perseverance and resilience – we have reduced sickness from 16 to 5 shifts and some people are to go – the focus is on the service and preventing fires not just putting them out’. ” what I have learnt is that you do need to think about things and then do them. ” Just doing is not enough leaders are paid to think about what to do not just carry on in the same old way.”

It is interesting that Fire and Ambulance Services are invisible within public sector reform stories- yet many across the country have done great work as developing services and staff – they are not protected services like the police or the Armed Forces and have been subject to savage cuts. Steve predicts they will have to find another 30% reductions over the next couple of years.

The fact that leaders from these services are not central to place-shaping is a mistake – in Yorkshire and Humber every year at the LGYH Innovation Awards the Fire Services often win prizes for community engagement and their apprentice schemes.

Transformational leaders are too often hidden in the public sector – and many like Steve McGuirk have a lot to say not just about transforming services when under financial pressure but also in designing new public governance systems.

I am working on the role of leadership in creating and designing new, local public systems and interested in examples of where tranformative leaders are working together to forge more innovative governance systems….


Raising Aspirations – good for some- bad for others

23 Jul

Too little aspiration is a problem among who have little hope in the future and fear being different. Boys in particular are undermined by bring told they will only succeed if they succeed at school, most are also very afraid of not getting on with their peers who reject and ridicule those who are different. People also aspire to different things. Girls are led to believe that their prince will be a celebrity who will rescue them from family, work and debt. A dream promoted on the highstreet by bling and pink dresses.

However, whereas in the past women were the ones who lacked aspiration. Women in the Northwest bucked this trend and have been career minded for years. Living in Manchester and someone with a nomadic background, I have noticed that successful women executives in the region went to Catholic Grammar Schools. I can think of at least five of my own friends who went such schools in St Helens, Bolton and Liverpool and still live in the region inspite of now having quite hihg-powered jobs. These were women who not only were personally aspirational but also very socially committed.

There are others such as Rebekah Brooks who comes from Warrington, who wer so ambitious that their ambition to get to the top overrules all other considerations – not that this makes her any different from her colleagues. What is the case that women pay a greater price for the prize, and changing the cultures in communities and at work is not a one generation journey.

Persuading kids that the only way to a fulfilling life is to be aspirational and disconnect yourself from your fmaily and friends is a big ask- and one which ultimately doesn’t have to happen but it feels like that to younger people. The significance of family and locality connection is an important anchor for most people and something perhaps we should acknowledge more. The Global society is local in its reality and local connections are part of personal identity.

We have emphasised choice and aspiration, sometimes at the expense of other considerations- we benefit as much from supportive environments and friends and do not need to be constantly choosing. Decision-making has been rarified. Sometimes the reason why the public, in spite of the media, are ahead of professionals and politicians in public debates is because their judgement is based on what matters and remains rooted in humanity, not choice. Sometimes too much choice befuddles the brain, a chat with a friend is more important than getting there on time.

Raising Aspiration in communities where there is none is essential, but for others it is becoming too much of a good thing. Public Policies cannot continue being tied to specific concepts, like choice, aspiration etc which are too general, we need to start talking in joined up sentences and stop lurching between extreme passivity on one hand and extreme instrumentalism on the other. One results in a return to ‘know your place’ and the other of well-organised, individuals little empathy for anyone else.

Lets improve adult education and nurture conversation and reflection as well as educational aspirations. In haste as off to a memorial service – and the garden.

Creating Connectivity Across Manchester

14 Jul

Thanks to all those who attended the Place Based Innovation Workshop on July 8th in Manchester Digital Development Agency – especially, those who had worked for Manchester Knowledge Capital who initiated many networks for social entrepreneurs and started the thinking about developing the capacities for a more innovative Manchester. The world has now moved on – but we will miss those intermediaties like M:KC that were forging a new architectire for conenctivity between innovators, companies and public bodies.

Those who came to the workshop had diverse views but most agreed that there was a need for more than projects and exchange networks, and this stemmed from as concern that we need a new innovation framework, and the narrative and connectivity across the city that would support this. The New Economy is carrying on this work, as are other agencies and the Sharpe Project which had had their Summit on creative and digital industries in Manchester earlier in the month. Danny Meaney from New Media Partners is writing this up as a strategy document (

One of the things that came out clearly from the meeting was the need for a stronger narrative for place-based innovation that persuaded leaders of the need for a systemic approach to innovation as a problem-solving tool that nurtures strategic thinking, as well as creative exchange between under-the radar innovators and business and public leaders. Manchester is a very creative place and has a history of innovation – but creating the conditions for innovators today is not only about support for individuals but also about fostering the mechanisms and connections that lift debates and generate solutions and the new relationships that will nurture future collaborative problem-solving. Those in Mad Lab do not need managing but a more open-system where their ideas and talent gain visibiliy from business and politicians and the public. As someone said, social media makes it possible for individual grapevines to become open and inclusive.

Some of us also believe that we need to allow ourselves more time to reflect on what a more innovative Manchester would look like, not just for business and creatives but for local people. The reason we need a more systemic approach to innovation is not to manage and control it but to share thinking and learning, and to lift the debate about where and when innovation is needed, and why. Most people think innovation is a matter of more technology and gimmicks and do not recognise social innovation as innovation at all.

In unpacking our ideas we started to come up with some ideas of what we could practically do:
The following were mentioned (in no particular order):

* keep the conversations going through events and on-line
* work with other other emerging networks, ie with Art’s (Cornerhouse and Creative Industries (Sharp)
* creative a neutral space for events and debate
* develop an Manchester Innovation narratives based on place rather on individual services or businesses
* Use open-source techniques to solve local problems in conjunction with community groups
* develop ideas for the Local Enterprise Partnership

I’m sure there were many more…. please comment

In terms of creating neutral spaces it is possible to host events in MBS and MDDA who also volunteered their ‘Living Labs’ as a way of anchoring collaborative problem-solving.

This was only an introductory conversation which I’m sure I haven’t done justice to – there is surely something about filling the spaces between so many projects and networks by creating a narrative for a systemic approach to place-based innovation.

Su and James
Comments please