Leadership- as a platform?

Over the past few years, two things have been prominent in my thinking and the subject of much of my internal monologue; government as a platform, and leadership.

I’ve forced more time into my schedule during the day and after work to think, to abstract the work we’re doing, what is means, why it matters and what is important that we’re not aware of. Government as a platform is an idea from a wonderful guy- Tim O’Reilly, who suggested that government truly should be a platform to enable society to function, grow, create.  Similar to software platforms that allow developers to create on top of them and produce amazing new things incredibly easily and cheaply, government is a base for our society that allows us all to live and create and prosper. As opposed to the common perception of government as a vending machine- taxes in, services out. The problem here is that vending machines are dumb and do not adapt.

I’ve had excellent opportunities these past few years to grow into a leadership role in my work place, in our community and in some networks I value greatly. I’ve not yet had any formal leadership training but I do read, quite a bit.

I grew up with strong, blunt bosses in most jobs. Aggressive, forceful and dominating men in most part. And the boomer generation seems to contain a lot of these people, people who have a style of management or “leadership” that is dominating, aggressive and controlling. The exceptions were two wonderful people in the WA Health Dept, Dr Jim Codde and Sally Brinkman. Reflecting on what I’ve started to understand about my own style of leadership with my team and my side projects has given me pause to reflect on what I’ve witnessed as leadership styles and characteristics that I value.

Funnily as I write this Alain De Botton is on in the background mentioning that the best way to get work our of people is by frightening them. Weird.

These two ideas have merged in my head now- the platform, and leadership to be exact.  I feel that to enable my team to do the best work possible, to grow professionally and to move our work to the next level I need to support them, to encourage them and to set examples I want them to follow of how to think, create and innovate and to maintain quality standards in all they do.  It feels like doing that type of support, being their cheerleader and inspiring is a much more effective way to do our work and create a space that people want to be attached to and to stay at. Rather than a eagle eyed micro manager drilling out work, it seems that being a leader is more like providing a platform for others to excel, to succeed and to learn and grow.  There is some conflict here, obviously a leader must be out cheer leading, promoting, fundraising and trumpeting the amazing work of their team, but that also must fit into the concept of a platform- to enable more great work, more exciting opportunities, one must support their team and marketing and bringing in new work is part of that support platform. 

It’s quite likely that these thoughts pertain more to the creative industries I’ve been privileged to be part of for some time. A factory setting or a construction boss perhaps is not a great place to suggest these approaches?  That caveat aside, this whole idea of leadership is something that has huge implications for our organizations, our longevity and our retention and achievements.  The longer I spend in the start-up and tech worlds the more I realize that the open, unstructured environments where software is created have a lot to teach us about better ways to run creative, thought heavy organizations and teams.

What I don’t know yet is how to translate the vision and goals we develop into formal action across the board. We need to be able to convert these into tangible plans and to make the case to people who may not think or function the same way. Just like making the case for the ROI for a new technology, we need to find ways to make the case for new leadership approaches, for pivots in organizations that do not pivot, to capture opportunities for funds and for new abilities, to take risks.

These are the same things that we are pushing for in the open government movement. It is imperative that we to consider everything we advocate for (from others) and apply those asks, values and challenges to ourselves. If we cannot adapt, cannot be open, cannot create a supporting platform in our own work, then we will have a hard time making that case for government. In this we need to lead by example. Take risks. Experiment. Be open. Innovate.

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