Leadership involves the creation of something new. It takes us through the pain of giving up things to which we have become accustomed and into the realm of change.
It causes us to face uncertainty and ambiguity and through that experience find different ways of doing the things we need to do.
Local authority budgets are seriously constrained. While most councils have a clear sense of what they must do over the next two years, as time goes on and demographic pressures increase, the change needed in the medium term is going to be much harder to achieve. The really difficult period is still to come.
The prevailing mindset we must deal with is one of: “What will we get?”
While many people are advocating models for councils of the future, in reality the capacity to design these and change from our current ways has already been curtailed by the cuts that have fallen on the ‘corporate centre’.
This means we need to find a new way of changing our councils that is less dependent on expensive ‘programmes’ rolled out from a corporate programme office.
At the heart of this mission is a change in thinking. It is when we consider problems differently that we make the creative breakthrough that leads to real change.
Local government is caught in a cultural trap. The prevailing mindset we must deal with is one of: “What will we get?” This is the mindset of residents wanting to know what services they can expect for their council tax. It is also the mindset of councils that look to the government and the financial settlement as framing their activity.
The shift we need is to the mindset of: “What can we make?” This mindset takes us into the realm of working with people and communities to help them find what is needed for growth. It shifts the unhealthy relationship with Whitehall to one where dependency is less prevalent.
Leaders are at their most effective in this environment when they seek to help things grow rather than to control them. The more we hold on, the more people will expect to receive.
John Atkinson, independent adviser on leadership, strategy and creativity