Personal and Professional Capability

I came into this course looking for inspiration and motivation to inspire me to keep pushing in my current role. I am fortunate to have a vocation and this makes me incredibly resilient. I also have a huge capacity for work- once I am “in”, I’m all in and I like to finish what I start.  This is a very useful skillset,  but it comes at a cost.

I have been managing a remote team of 11 people for the last 4 years and have been dancing burnout for the last 2 years. Clearly, I have personal and professional capability to perform my role, but I am not actually enjoying it anymore. 

It’s not in me to take short-cuts or pass the buck, so I keep pressing on but it is depleting me. I want to be doing something that makes me want to get out of bed in the morning. It’s no longer enough to be motivated by supporting others. I have untapped capabilities but I am not sure I even know what they are or how to access them.

Leading Change for Good caught my eye because I see myself currently leading for good in that I get alongside my team and we ‘fly the flag’ for our learning and assessment model. Is that producing overall social good? I think so because we are helping to provide environments where learners are not constrained by a fixed curriculum or damaged by comparison to their peers. This is very good and allows me to live my values every day. 

In my current role, I also have distinct ‘change leader’ responsibilities and am part of a team that are responsible for preparing our people for eventual transition to a new entity in the next 1-2 years. Is this producing overall social good? It will in terms of providing assurance and pathways that will support people to step into new roles, continuing to provide economic security for their families and, hopefully, taking forward best practices in workplace learning that will apply and stick in the new frameworks. 

And so we have been working with various consultants who are there to support us do this work- developing our own personal and professional capability to manage change.  But I don’t think it’s working. The models and frameworks appear pedestrian and are delivered to us by people who do not know our context. There isn’t enough shared vision amongst the people leaders to establish trust- we all show up at these events, learn yet another variety of a change model, then everybody marches back to their desk and defaults to what they have been doing for the last few years.

I’m no angel- I’ve tried calling it out but found HR was not receptive to my black hat and I was asked if I needed some 1-1 PD instead to help me “cope”. So in the end I repress my anger and collude with the cynics and wind myself up rather than shouting out ‘Hey people, what’s stopping us from giving this a go?’.

  • What concepts and/or theories have you come across that have really challenged your thinking about your own leadership style?

I am not sure I have learned a lot more about myself- rather, I have been confronted again with certain truths that I am have been working on integrating for the last couple of decades.

Servant Leadership is a phrase I have heard here and there but I never explored it in depth. It is the concept that I most identify with. Paradoxically, it has challenged me to consider deeply my motivations for serving others, and what sort of working environment I need to be in to be a servant leader without burning myself out.

Or, I wonder if I need to actively try on a few other styles that do not come so easy to me. Servant Leadership comes naturally but it could be that it also keeps me stuck and I might have to stop serving others before I can learn to serve myself better?

  • How are you implementing some of the new concepts and what challenges do you see with that?

As documented throughout this portfolio it is a challenge to implement these concepts and ideas in my current work environment due to competing discourses. One of the biggest challenges is making a decision to find another job as I don’t seem to be able to give myself permission to do that yet. And of course, the ongoing life’s work of integrating and becoming is a challenge that will always be with me.

(Although I was never physically harmed when I was a child, the repetitive isolation and constant worry that made up my truanting years were traumatic. It took several sessions with a psychotherapist to take that on board- I just thought I should have coped better!. So I  still find myself stymied by old hurts that creep in and silence me).

However, I am learning to use my own story as a driver for influencing change. Twice in the last 2 months, I have deliberately started staff training workshops by telling people about why I work there. This is something I have been too shy to do in the past.  Maybe because I was worried that people would think I was victim-claiming and looking for sympathy and that I should not manipulate my story to get attention. Lo and behold, it’s been really effective and people have emailed and called me days later to say how much it affected them to hear someone speak so openly about why our work really matters.

  • What are some gaps in your personal and professional capability to lead positive change in complex and changing environments?

I have been pondering for months his quote from the Authentic Leader reading back in week 3:

“As the novelist John Barth once wrote, ‘The story of your life is not your life. It is your story.’ In other words, it is your personal narrative that matters, not the mere facts of your life. Your life narrative is like a permanent recording playing in your head”

(George, Sims, McLean & Mayer, 2007).

As is the theme of my portfolio, my dedication to pursuing change for good in education stems from my own negative experiences when I was at school. It’s hard to unravel now my life from my story.  To leading change for good I need to integrate past narrative with a more empowering present narrative that does not coerce me into silence/victimhood.

I have to find a balance between self-preservation and serving others but I am torn, as I have been deeply conditioned to always put others first.  I have always loved this quote by Toni Morrison, something I discovered when I was teaching in classrooms and which inspired me then to hang on to the bigger purpose:

“I tell my students, ’When you get these jobs that you have been so brilliantly trained for, just remember that your real job is that if you are free, you need to free somebody else. If you have some power, then your job is to empower somebody else. This is not just a grab-bag candy game.”

Toni Morrison (1931-2019) ― O, The Oprah Magazine, 2003

I am free and I now have access to some power. It’s my job to empower others. How I continue to do this is part of my ongoing leadership journey.