Balls, bibs and cones


I was recently accused (in the nicest possible way) of being a ‘digital leader’. This is a kind of catch all senior role/position that has grown in currency in the last year or so, particularly in and around the civil service. Shortly before the GDS exodus Mike Bracken wrote a post about if you ‘Hire the head, the body will follow‘ which reinforced the importance of these leadership roles.

I don’t disagree with the importance of these ‘digital leaders’. I just know I am not one and have little, if any, ambition of becoming one.

In football there is a, often derogatory, term that is used to refer to training ground coaches rather than managers. The ‘BBC’ – balls, bibs and cones – because that is all they are really in charge of. Ray Wilkins was famously saddled with this at Chelsea before he was unceremoniously fired. The thing is that if I were to stretch a metaphor, and you know I’m going to, this is much more the role I see for myself in this little corner of the digital world we inhabit.

These coaches work closely with the team and act as a bridge between players and management. They are often responsible for translating the big picture into more actionable instructions and tactics. They get their knees dirty in the day to day on the pitch rather than fighting battles in the boardrooms. They think about the health and well-being of the players because they see them every day and frequently take a direct role in helping new players settle in. They are happier in the boot-room than the media briefing room.

This is really how I see my role these days – Laura provides the bigger picture for me (and David and Heather an even wider view) and wrangles budgets, politics and the powers that be. I take a tactical view and work with a team day in and day out to design and make stuff that supports all the strategic thinking.

Recently all the musing on the idea of what exactly does ‘Government as a Platform’ mean has provided me much to read but also reinforced my own thinking on the topic of digital leadership because, frankly, I have nothing to add to the debate. I like Tom’s vision for it (slides below) and got a kick out of reading what Dave had to say. I’ve listened to Mike explain it and read what Mark has to say. I even tried to understand something Simon wrote. I just need a consensus to be reached and then for someone to broadly outline what they think that means for ONS – we’ll take it from there. I’m quite happy being a cog in the great wheel and that is both where I think I add most value but also where I take most pleasure from the work.

2 responses to “Balls, bibs and cones”

  1. As the aforementioned accuser, I feel like I need to clarify. 😉

    Leadership can be defined as “the action of leading a group of people or an organization, or the ability to do this”.

    Just as there are many different types of leaders, I think there are different types of digital leaders.

    Yes, they might be at the head of the organisation crafting the grand vision for everyone to contribute towards. Or they might be helping their small team of six to work in a more transparent and connected manner through the use of blogging.

    I suppose what I’m trying to say is, I don’t see it as being confined to a specific job title or role. It’s a way of working and I think we need a lot more of it at all levels of our organisations.

  2. Haha 🙂 I totally agree but the term ‘digital leader’ has become such a loaded term in gov circles I was making a bit of a statement about that..

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