Dare to lead

Kathryn Boulton
Friday, June 17, 2022

Thinking about the time we have ahead of us as a sector, I have been reflecting on what it means for the kind of leadership that will be required and what kind of leader I will need to be as we move forward?

Kathryn Boulton is corporate director of children and families for Redcar and Cleveland Borough Council. Picture: Redcar and Cleveland Borough Council
Kathryn Boulton is corporate director of children and families for Redcar and Cleveland Borough Council. Picture: Redcar and Cleveland Borough Council

As both Matt Dunkley‘s final blog the week before last, and Steve Crocker‘s recent email reference, there is a lot going on and lots to do and ‘we stand at a critical juncture in the future of children’s services.’ 

Alongside the Schools White Paper and SEND and AP Green Paper, we now have the Independent Review of Children's Social Care’s final report published, shortly followed by the National Child Safeguarding Practice Review Panel‘s report into the tragic deaths of Arthur Labinjo-Hughes and Star Hobson. There has also been the Competition and Markets Authority’s report. As has been said, ‘these reviews and the government’s response to them will define our policy landscape for the next five years.’

And, if that’s not enough, our work is set within the context of the Integrated Care System reforms and against the backdrop of a range of political and economic challenges such as the cost of living crisis, the terrible war in Ukraine, Brexit and not to mention the nation transitioning out of a global pandemic. Testing times indeed.

But then as leaders of children’s services (and by that I am referring to us all – not just the role of DCS!), we are well versed in navigating a volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous (VUCA) landscape and working effectively across system boundaries with a range of partners to effect change. It is positive, that as leaders of place, it has been recognised that we have a key and central role to play in making sense of the delivery and coordination of all the change for our local areas – as Matt said – ‘we will knit them all together for our children, young people and families’. So, I ask myself - is this a different or a bigger challenge than we have known before, and does it require anything more or differently from me as a leader?

The timing of this reflection is quite interesting for me having just been involved with our Children’s Services Extended Management Team in three days of a five-day intensive leadership programme delivered by Grit Breakthrough Programmes. The three days provided the rare opportunity and gift to reflect on our own operating systems and any limits and blind spots, so that new awareness and new possibilities can be explored when working with others to make a positive difference to children’s outcomes and life chances – both individually and collectively as a team. Although at times the experience was personally challenging (in a good way!), the insights and breakthroughs in thinking were powerful and have provided a real sense of collective optimism across the team for the future challenges and opportunities we face. My learning also reinforced the importance of communication and connection, and particularly noticing and listening so that we hear what is actually being said rather than listening for anything that confirms our own pre-existing views, opinions and assumptions.

In pondering my question about leadership and reflecting on my experience and learning from the GRIT sessions, I was reminded of the work of Brene Brown and her book and Ted Talk – Dare to Lead. She talks about the importance of vulnerability within leadership – having the courage to show up and be seen when we have no control over the outcome - or my words when we are operating in times of uncertainty – which is most of our professional lives as leaders isn’t it?? If we want to innovate, be creative in solving problems and lead change, then we need the courage to be imperfect, the compassion to be kind to ourselves and others, and to be truly connected to others through our authenticity.

We might not fully like or agree with all aspects of the new policy direction. But one thing we are definitely good at as an Association and a group of leaders is seeing the possibilities and seizing the opportunity to help shape the future and the work that needs to be done for the benefit of children and their families. As our President Steve Crocker reminded us, we have a unique contribution to make to help steer the work given our unparalleled experience of service delivery and an understanding of the pitfalls and opportunities. We have an appetite for change and together we can help to achieve our common objectives of delivering a better system for children and families.

We have got this – we can dare greatly…

Kathryn Boulton is elected president of the Association of Directors of Children’s Services (ADCS) and corporate director of children and families for Redcar and Cleveland Borough Council. This blog was first published on the ADCS website.

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