Careful who your heroes are (especially in leadership education)

A crossover moment for me this week between one of my favourite leisure time podcasts (Quickly Kevin – a 90s football podcast) and work related topics.

The issue here, specifically, is (Sir) Alex Ferguson’s management style.

On Quickly Kevin, Lee Sharpe (one of Ferguson’s players in the ’90s) recounts how Ferguson has blanked him at events since Sharpe called Sir Alex a “bully” in his book/biography. This immediately rang some alarm bells for me given Ferguson is often put on a pedestal within the (admittedly bizarre at times) business press and leadership education industries. For example:

The reality is that leadership/management preference is highly culturally and down to personal preference. Ferguson, Brian Clough (a personal hero of mine) and other greats of sports coaching would no doubt be seen as bullies today – not to mention the various cases of subterfuge over the years in cycling, athletics, gymnastics, etc. Indeed Clough, even at his near peak, was criticised for his treatment of Justin Fashanu.

I am currently watching the US version of the Office (very late to the party, I know). As silly as it is, Michael’s attempts at humour and “fun” in the office are very indicative of the problems of culture given that we are all different and will want different things. This is ultimately why we often have a dichotomy in workplaces between dull/quiet experiences where we revert to the mean of neutrality to avoid conflict over noise, “fun”, etc. and the opposite where teams are hired based on existing relationship, personality, etc. and thus we have “bro” cultures in tech and other uniform team building approaches that actively avoid diversity (even if the people hiring do not realise it). In the later the manager is likely to be empowered to act as they wish. In the former there may be perceptions of bullying as people are beaten down to the norm.

As we are all different we then need to be actively careful in picking our own heroes – personally I mute anyone on LinkedIn who shares positive posts related to Richard Branson. For me he is an example of many of the things wrong in the world (not least double standards over the environment). Let us be careful with our heroes and listen to dissenting voices. Personally I would rather celebrate those we have worked with who have had a positive influence on us than celebrating such big names.

Backlash to resilience?

In recent years “resilience” has been one of those buzz terms that HR has jumped onto (2014 being my first major exposure to it) yet, as Donald Clark puts it, “faffing around with [such] abstract words in L&D had become an ‘obstacle’ to progress” too. So where are with resilience – is it a “thing”? Is it something to be considering as we look to improve performance?

Personally I’ve quite liked resilience as a way to describe capacity to deal with the prospect of change and other knockbacks, essentially how “bouncebackable” someone is. However, more recently it has felt like resilience has been increasingly used as a criticism and, to me, tied in with a general approach to blaming workers (at least in the US and UK). See also the similar L&D focus on creativity and the criticisms, even made at the generational level, of a lack of entrepreneurialism. My feelings here have in part been triggered by Liz Truss claiming Brits need to work harder as well as criticisms of workers for “quiet quitting” (QQ). On QQ I agree with a lot of this article, it is both nothing new and also a sign of poor management IMO.

A recent Reasons to be Cheerful pod included a section from Bruce Daisley, who questioned our shared understanding of resilience. This was a little lost at the end of a pod nominally about education given Daisley did not stick to the school focus. Indeed they challenged the usual approach to resilience and instead argued that workplace resilience should not be seen as an individual competence. They, correctly in my opinion, argued that a lack of resilience has been used as a way to criticise individuals. I much prefer his suggestion that resilience comes from a shared capacity and it was interesting to hear Nigel Paine (over on the Learning Hack) similarly arguing for less focus on individual competencies and more focus on team/organisational levels. It didn’t initially click when listening to the Bruce Daisley pod appearance that he is behind one of my other subscriptions “Eat Sleep Work Repeat“.

Resilience is often closely discussed, or used interchangeably, with “positive mindset”. In this regard I often still struggle with the concept of encouraging people to be positive. However, as often mentioned on here, I do remain a fan of the Path of Possibility. That model being part of Strengthscope’s logic and, whilst I remain slightly sceptical on their view on resilience (not least due to the focus on the individual), I do like the concept that strengths (particularly at the team level) are a way to make more resilient organisations.

Overall, resilience is likely to stick around as one of those areas where HR/L&D develop it as topic which will land better with some audiences than others. Indeed there will no doubt be ongoing debate, off-the-shelf learning, etc related to this. I suspect it will be one of these rather evidence-lacking areas that are used to get people to reflect rather than having a noticeable impact on performance. However, as part of a wider set of development including encouraging people to focus on what energises them at work it will likely remain part of our shared terminology and that is not necessarily a bad thing.

(Eye care) BenQ BL2780 monitor review/experience

Following on from my post about my eye problems, I have purchased a BenQ monitor – hoping their claims of eye care technology help me with working during my continued recovery.

This video was helpful in making the decision and goes into more detail than I will:

First impressions

A nice unpacking experience, I still love the new PC/tech smell – it sends me straight back to c.1996 and unboxing my first PC. However, once setup first impressions were not great. I had to deactivate the monitor’s automatic brightness adjustment and manually turn the brightness to the lowest setting. Unfortunately this still felt too bright in non dark mode apps for me. Therefore, it’s clear the eye care is for “normal” users. Not people with my kind of problem.

High Contrast Mode

Therefore, I have started using the “high contrast” mode in Windows to try and deal with the brightness. This is the mode that blows up some text, turns things to white/yellow/cyan on black and is probably something of a mystery to most Windows users. Indeed I have seen it for years without ever trying it (beyond a few experiments). Of course there are many accessibility features out there, both in Windows and in additional apps and plugins. Back when I worked in HE I was quite on top of accessibility issues and I will admit my knowledge in this area has dropped over time, whilst I still test my eLearning in a few ways actually now relying on some of these experiences is tricky. If the eye problems continue I will have to try some other accessibility features. In the meantime I have installed “Read Aloud” for reading web pages for the first time since I worked in HE.

A familiar screen for Moodle admins, but in High Contrast Mode.

Back to the monitor

This is more a personal situation/experience post than what you would get in a typical review but I wanted to put it out there in case others with eye problems are looking for how such a monitor might help. I am presuming the no flicker tech is definitely helping, my work laptop’s flicker was very noticeable when the brightness was turned down. Otherwise the BenQ monitor quality is good and the speakers are decent (certainly better than those built into my 2 laptops).

As in the above video, the monitor is clearly for coders and others who are trying to avoid eye problems from lots of screen time. The issue for what is best for people already with medical eye problems, like me, seems to be outstanding. Do get in touch if you know of better solutions.

Lessons from being ill for a while

First things first, this post will probably be even more of a mess than normal. 

Part of the reason for this is that the post is going to be a compilation of some voice notes I’ve left myself over the last couple of months but by the time I edit/publish it not all the dates/timeline will line up.

These notes are a reflection on an illness I’ve had in the last month (the voice notes being down to the fact I couldn’t type very easily).

Bit on the illness

Now it must be said up front, it has been a relatively minor illness thanks to modern medicine. Many articles online would suggest that there should be no (major) lasting effects, and it is certainly not been life threatening by any stretch of the imagination.

However, it is fair to say it has taken longer for me to recover than those articles suggest, and it is certainly the most ill I have ever been.

On reflection, it has really reinforced for me the nature of learning from experiences and experienced-based learning being so valuable compared to, say, learning theoretically through reading or activities. If I had simply read or even watched videos of some of the information around this illness there is simply no way I would feel like I now do about the illness compared to having the lived experience. See the NHS article, for example, on such eye infections

So, first things first, I did the classic thing of having some symptoms that I thought would just go away. In my case this was a badly bloodshot eye that was increasingly sore, and I did not do anything about it for three and a bit days. Here I can blame my mentality of not wanting to bother medical professionals as you know they are so busy. I have always had the mentality that unless you are really sick, you do not go to the hospital or doctors or anything else. Here I under appreciated the gravity of the situation.

This mentality will probably have to change now I have been through this experience, by far the worst illness I have ever had with certainly the longest I have ever had off work sick. Even as a child, I do not think there was ever any time I was ever off school or sick for any anything like a month or so, like I have been this time.

Lessons from this then? 

  1. If you know you are poorly, seek medical assistance, do not try and “ride it out”.  
  2. Try and pre-empt, in future situations, some of the problems. So, for example, the antiviral drugs making me very sick. I could have pre-empted that by perhaps asking if that was going to be likely as the 2nd doctor I saw did give me some medication to help with the vomiting. 

Illnesses and the nature of work

In the greater scheme of things this is a relatively minor illness, and I am very much at the bottom end of the age range of people that normally get troubled by this. How much I have struggled with it has reminded me how lucky I have been up to this point in my life, in terms of illnesses and injury.

The fact that we know so many people are not so lucky is another reason for, as I’ve written before, the need for HR to be focused on the humane side of work. That idea being taken from a CIPD event a few years back, which in hindsight I am increasingly appreciating. Even with the need for recognising people needs related to COVID, I wonder how many HR departments have really taken on this focus? Have we simply reverted to hire and fire HR models, especially with inflation and recessions putting pressure on organisations globally?

There are, of course, other health issues we could support better – sleep obviously is a key thing and I bang on about sleep a little bit on here and on Twitter

Back to my illness and light sensitivity in both eyes is now a major issue, for example even impacting how easy I can walk down the street. While before, when the virus was in my eye and face, it was obvious to people in the street that something was wrong with me now it is much more a hidden illness/condition as I (hopefully) continue to recover.

Yet again, how we can make our workplaces more inclusive – such as with points like the below? 

  1. Acknowledging that people are dealing with a lot of stuff, day-in, day-out.
  2. Catching up, even after only a month off, can be a big ask. And obviously there’s other situations with longer spells away, not least paternity and maternity leave. Dealing with e-mail inboxes and Teams notifications must have become much more time consuming and daunting issues for returning staff in recent years. 
  3. Operating at 100% all the time is not realistic for knowledge work (and not for many other fields either). Did Don Draper have the right idea with lots of rumination, drinking and disappearing from the office for days on end?

So, here’s hoping all organisations are considering this kind of thing – not least with Monkey Pox fears (and COVID continuing).

Conclusion

Sitting in dark rooms for days on end isn’t fun. Coming home early from holiday because my symptoms changed, not fun. I suppose this post is in part:

  1. the learning points I mentioned,
  2. just a wider call to action and
  3. just a bit of venting off my chest.

Also, just a huge shout out to everyone who has helped in the last few weeks – not least the medical professionals involved, colleagues/friends and family.

Also, much empathy with the amazing people who live with constant sight and other health issues. The experience has given me a much more realistic view on just how difficult life must be for some – from silly things such as me walking into the parking meter directly outside the eye hospital itself through to realising quite how screen-based my lifestyle is.

All in all, a very eye-opening experience [sorry not sorry for that bad joke!]. 

Certifications and completions

I’ve recently been having a look at Moodle HQ’s “Moodle 4.0 for Educators” course. Whilst the course itself is fine for introducing the new Moodle features (they also have plenty of videos on YouTube and a recent webinar covered most of what you would need as an experienced Moodle user) one section stood out: the “General discussion forum”.

Yes, you guessed it, an online course designed to help educators (basically just get up-to-speed on some relatively minor, if important, changes from Moodle 3.x) has a discussion board taken up with comments of two main types – “how do we complete the course” and “can I have a certificate”. Depressing. Neither of these things are important, especially in this experience, yet the expectation from these global educators is that this IS important.

Similarly, I recently had a piece of feedback on one of my designed online courses which was one of the lowest scores received to date (yes, I know, Level 1 feedback but it is kinda relevant here). Do you want to guess the reason for the poor score? The feedback was “how do you know people have learned anything” – in some ways a valid piece of feedback (i.e. we don’t) but it also jumps to the assumption that every online piece of learning content needs an exam. Particularly galling in this example as it is an introductory course and the content is assessed in later courses (the introduction branching to various follow-up courses depending on the user’s interest).

On a related note I’ve recently added a bunch of LinkedIn course completions to my profile, thanks to my employer paying for LinkedIn Learning. Some of these completions are a result of previous LL trials or LinkedIn premium use, others I have completed in the last few weeks to test content, learn something new, etc. I have not added all of what I have ‘completed’ onto my profile, instead opting to just include the (in my opinion) more useful items. However, the LinkedIn approach risks massively diluting the value of their own “certification” system/sections. There is a massive variety in quality between the LinkedIn ‘courses’ in terms of what value I would put on the “credential”. Ultimately these certificates, just like Moodle educators wanting a certificate, are just likely to be used to raise someone’s profile in search and/or add something to a CV – both examples of surface learning with no real judgment on knowledge or skill.