What is in a Name?

By Janet Whitley

It can sometimes be difficult to think of the most appropriate name to describe a piece of work which is cross-cutting and complex.  My experience of working in support of change in complex systems across public services has certainly confirmed this.

I first began my work on this when I came in to the Scottish Government on a secondment in 2010 and, when the Christie Commission published its report in 2011, I was asked to lead the support of our development of Collaboration and Participation, as expressed so strongly by Christie. 

This resulted in the formation of the Collaborative Leadership Development Board, spawning workstreams on Public Service Collaborative Learning, Skilled Workers: Skilled Citizens and Employee Engagement.  There was even a Colloquim! Thislater developed with the Scottish Leaders Forum Workforce Development Group and the overarching title Workforce Scotland to describe all of the strands of work, all committed to drawing collaborative capacity across public services and co-design and delivery of development support.

A little further down the line there was a move to form a larger Division within Scottish Government which would draw together several strands of activity around development, participation and collaboration.  We thought very carefully about what the most appropriate collective description for this work was, and alighted upon Ingage, and old Scots word which means to engage with clear purpose.

From Workforce Scotland to Collective Leadership

Over time our work has continued to evolve, learning all the time about how we need to work differently to support change in public services and help to bring about better outcomes for people and communities.

Change is part of life and a big part of our work, but changing our name quite so often is probably not helpful! 

With a significant growth in interest in our work on Collective Leadership and a strong recognition that this approach is one of the key components in addressing the complex challenges we all face, we have now confirmed our new name as Collective Leadership for Scotland.  This should now replace all of our previous names, and incorporates work on:

  • Building our Capacity for Collective Leadership
  • Growing our Ability to Work in Complex Systems
  • Sparking Creativity and Innovation
  • Connecting the System to More of Itself
  • Working out Loud and Sharing our Story.

We are a collaborative partnership which reaches right across public services, with a small core team based within Scottish Government, currently comprised of:

  • Janet Whitley, Collective Leadership Team Lead
  • Karen Lawson, Collaborative Learning Lead and Chief Fire-Starter
  • Keira Oliver, Collective Leadership Research and Evaluation Lead & u.lab Scotland
  • Dot McLaughlin, Collective Leadership Programme Manager
  • Verena Albrecht, Communications, Engagement and Events Manager
  • Silje Graffer, Communications and Fire Starter Development Officer
  • Conor James, Collective Leadership Administrator

We would love to hear from you if you are interested in finding out more about our work. 

Contact us at:

Twitter: @CollectiveScot

Email: collectiveleadership@gov.scot

What does it take to lead in times like ours?

Reflections on our Perseverance event with Margaret Wheatley

How do we persevere in times like ours, when nothing is clear and everything keeps changing? How do we stand our ground when the only constant is our values, beliefs and mindsets? Keep on reading to learn more about our two-day Perseverance learning event with Meg Wheatley in October 2019 as well as for information on our brand-new residential programme with Meg in March 2020.

Together with Margaret Wheatley, writer and practitioner in systems thinking and leadership, over 130 leaders from across public service and beyond explored what it takes to persevere in times like ours – and (likewise importantly) – what does not deserve our perseverance. Over the course of two days filled with insightful teachings, inspirational stories and collaborative group exercises we worked on the skills needed to stand our ground and keep leading with clarity.

Specialising in Organisational Behaviour, Meg’s approach includes Systems Thinking, Theories of Change, Leadership and the Learning Organisation and believes in the idea that “real social change comes from the ageless process of people thinking together in conversation.” Her expertise therefore perfectly complements Collective Leadership’s vision and mission of initiating positive system changes through collaboration across public services and the wider society. 

Meg teaching us about Perseverance and how it differs from Resilience

Meg opened the event by defining Perseverance. Perseverance is the persistence and effort required to do something and keep doing it till the end, even if it’s hard. It is to keep going with clarity about why you are doing what you are doing.  Perseverance is not giving up. Yet, Meg reminds us, that Perseverance differs from Resilience. Whilst resilient people can withstand pressure and bounce back over and over again, persevering people know what they stand for and who they serve.

“People who Persevere learn how to deal with Fear, Aggression, Failure, Criticism, Betrayal, Exhaustion & Despair” – Meg Wheatley

In order to retain the capacity to lead with clarity, persevering people apply skills to overcome obstacles and even emotions which prevent them from staying on course. Inspired by Meg’s illustrative teachings and inspiring quotes from her book, participants then got together to identify the skills needed to persevere. Rather than looking at textbook examples, Meg urges us to look at our ancestors and even ourselves, and explore how we have remained steadfast and capable in difficult times in the past.

Group Work

 “In persevering, we need the unshakeable confidence that people can be generous, creative & kind” – Meg Wheatley

Vital skills we discovered are to face reality, remain faithful to our purpose, work ethically together, and restore sanity where we can by maintaining an “unshakeable confidence that people can be generous, creative and kind”.  We have to learn to take nothing personally, even though we experience the feelings associated with our work personally. As a leader we have to ask ourselves the question: “who do we choose to be – and who do we choose to be when things come undone?”

Some of the practices we then worked with individually, and together, centred around:

  • Paying exquisite attention to relationships: critique everything based on its impact on relationships and when things get harder, bring in more connections.
  • Looking at how we respond when things go wrong: if through blame, we can miss our contribution to the issue.  How can we hold each other to account ethically rather than blaming?
  • Restoring proper thinking time: how much time do we give to thinking, reflecting and learning from experiences?  We need to make and protect the time regularly which could mean saying no to taking on more at the expense of good work.

Linda Hunter’s beautiful drawing below perfectly illustrates how we as leaders have to act in order to keep our head over the water. Drawing on the theme of ‘water’, the illustration shows a person swimming against currents, representing ours and other people’s exhaustion, aggression, criticism, betrayal, failure and fear. We have to learn to work our way through them, keeping our head above water – all the while knowing that the currents will change again and accepting that we could fail. Check out Linda’s Blog here if you would like to see and learn more about Linda’s art for Collective Leadership.

Linda’s drawing showing a person (leader) swimming against the currents

After this inspiring morning and afternoon, Meg left us with three questions to contemplate on:

  1. What is the work I am currently doing that deserves my perseverance?
  2. What is the work that needs doing? This work might not necessarily be the work that I feel called to or passionate about.
  3. Am I the one to be doing it?  Do I have the skills and allies to meaningfully contribute to it? Is the timing and other conditions right in my life?

“Ethics is what we do when we decide to belong together”– Meg Wheatley

The next day, the groups came together once again to unravel what challenges they currently face in their leadership and which skills would give them the capacity to face them. Having been reminded of the importance of connections, emotions, other ways of knowing and the impact of relationships, which is often missed when measuring what matters in our activity, we rethought how deeply rooted our connections are and how we can collectively reignite our passions and work better together.

Topics in the group discussions included the ‘Dundee Think Global, Act Local initiative’ (for more information read up on Darryl’s blog here), how to have conversations that cross divides between polarised viewpoints, creating and embedding opportunities for Collective Leadership across our public services, supporting strategy and sustainability of an ethical business model, developing “kitchen table” conversations and many others.

“Kitchen table” conversation

Event attendee Manira Ahmad, Head of Local Intelligence at NHS NSS, says the “kitchen table” conversations released her “inner super power”:  

“#DwellingMind – little did I know when I started the short yet insightful journey in the company of Meg Wheatley and a group of 130 leaders from across the system, I would have ended having opened up heart, mind and soul to my own inter-connectedness and my hidden creativity. I had been harbouring an inner super power which flourished when connecting across generations around a “kitchen table”. How transferable was my ability to have open dialogue in my homely setting into other environments? Well, I found out through the passion of others that we are “one”, our existence does not stop and start at work or home, or indeed is not defined by a job title. Our humanity is what makes us US, what makes me ME and my relationships provide me with the much needed endorphins to focus on what truly matters.

The importance of focusing our minds in getting “back to basics”, it seems so simple yet we have collectively made ecosystems so complex that without this additionally we don’t feel a sense of belonging. Making the systemic more attractive than the simplicity. Though I do see around me a new wave, the rise of Courageous Leadership. Individuals that are keen to connect the system to more of itself thus allowing the growth of ethical behaviour.”

Manira Ahmad

“The time of the lone wolf is over”

Working together to progress on challenges exemplified Meg’s assumption that “Joy comes from working together as good human beings”, and is not dependent on external circumstances. This resonated especially well with participants as the feedback on Twitter illustrates.

Attendee’s tweet shows the poster of a poem from the Hopi Nation – a source of inspiration

Margaret shared with us, some of the commitment of being what she calls Life-affirming Leaders or “Warriors for the Human Spirit”:

  • We commit to not adding to fear and aggression
  • We create good human community with what we have with whoever is here
  • We rely on joy arising, coming from working together, not dependent on external circumstances, in selfless action
  • We require a good sense of humour!

There has been a lot of positive feedback of the event. Please also have a look at some of our Twitter feedback below and read through Darryl’s blog post on LinkedIn here

This leads me to the question, in this time of disruption and confusion, what can we do? […] Tapping into our inherent kindness and compassion we put out every day, listening to each other with respect. That is in a little way what I hope to bring closer into reality with Emerging Dundee: Act Locally, Think Globally, and a Local Currency.

Darryl Gaffney du Plooy

Margaret is coming back to Scotland in early March 2020 to host a residential training programme for a small cohort on “Life Affirming Leadership: Developing the Skills of Insight and Compassion”.
If this sounds intriguing to you, take a look at the information and application form here (we expect there to be a lot of interest so apply soon if interested!).

Dialogic Core Concepts Training 2019/20

The Dialogue Community of Practice offers Core Concepts training, where we focus on Dialogic Principles. Dialogue is an effective way to hold discussions and approach difficult situations in the workplace. It can help to get to the root of complex issues and allow people with differing opinions to think and work more effectively together.

The Dialogue approach can create a better understanding of perspectives. It requires individuals to know and share their own views clearly and importantly, understand and work with other people’s points of view. The balance struck can lead to new and innovative solutions being co-created. Dialogue and emotion are inextricably linked. Dialogue helps you notice reactive patterns and impact these have in the workplace allowing you to work more effectively with emotion.

We are excited to announce that Donata Caira will be facilitating two sets of Dialogue Core Concepts workshops during 2019/2020.

  • Cohort 1: 17th December 2019 and 14th January 2020.
  • Cohort 2: 6th February 2020 and 19th March 2020.

Both sets of workshops will take place at the Scottish Health Services Centre, Crewe Road South, Edinburgh, EH4 2LF.

Unfortunately, both cohorts are now full. To register your interest in potential extra future dates, please click here.

For further information please e-mail Mark Johnston (mark.johnston@nes.scot.nhs.uk ) or visit our website here.

Deep Perseverance for Collective Leadership

What does it take to lead in times like ours? Deep Perseverance.

How do we respond to the global climate emergency? How do we create a more successful country with opportunities for all that increases the wellbeing of people living in Scotland? How do we recreate our public services so children grow up loved, safe and respected so that they realise their full potential?

Scotland’s ambition for its future, as set out in the National Outcomes https://nationalperformance.gov.scot/ is inspiring. We know that doing more of the same but quicker and smarter is no longer the solution going forward but how do we change our engrained patterns of behaviour? When the scale and complexity of the challenges can feel overwhelming, how do we look after ourselves and others in a way that allows us to take positive and perceptive actions?

Part of the answer is that we require a very different kind and quality of skills, experience and mind-set to persevere in our work without succumbing to exhaustion, overwhelm, cynicism and despair. Through the Collective Leadership for Scotland initiative https://collectiveleadershipscotland.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/03/how-can-we-build-capacity-for-collective-leadership-in-scotland.pdf we have recognised the need to take system change work to a deeper level to enable leaders to prepare themselves for the difficulties and challenges they face, particularly where those systems are failing and require transformation.

The ability to persevere in those most difficult of times requires intensive and deep personal work that can be difficult to attend to sufficiently. In particular, the need to cultivate the skills and practices to:

  • use systems thinking to explore relevant interconnections and potential consequences of policies and actions when working collectively on complex problems
  • maintain composure and stay present in difficult situations
  • maintain a stable mind that enables less reactivity and wiser responses
  • act with compassion and insight
  • deal with situations of high conflict, polarized positions and strong emotions.This will be the theme of this two-day event. It will be experiential, stretching and perhaps challenging at times but it is designed to help sustain you in your important system change work. Throughout the event, you will work on your own challenges and questions and also hear from colleagues and peers on how they have been making changes within their systems. More details will be released over the next few months. Spaces are limited so book yours now here: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/deep-perseverence-for-collective-leadership-tickets-63248743695

If you have any questions, please contact Keira at Keira.Oliver@gov.scot

Collective Mindfulness Network – Reflection from Gita Sharkey, Rights and Participation Team, Scottish Government

For anyone who is interested in exploring mindfulness there is a new collective mindfulness network initiated by Workforce Scotland. At our first meeting in May we started to discuss some big issues around what a mindful nation would look like (including national minimum income, connections with rights based approaches/equality, whether education was fit for the changing world – automation – and what the workforce might look like in the future, how to breach social divides – we didn’t come up with all the answers!!), a mindfulness charter, mindfulness in the context of self-preservation and in how we treat one another etc.

I found it really interesting and thought provoking.

The description of mindfulness on the NHS website can be found here:  https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/stress-anxiety-depression/mindfulness/

You may also be interested in the work of a Mindfulness All-Party Parliamentary Group. Two reports were published based on their work.

Mindful Nation UK (October 2015)

The Mindful UK Report, the first policy document of its kind, seeks to address mental health concerns in the areas of education, health, the workplace and the criminal justice system through the application of mindfulness interventions. The recommendations in this report are evidence-based, sourced directly from experienced implementers, who report notable success in their respective fields and urge policymakers to invest resources in further pilot studies and increase public access to qualified teacher trainers.


Building the Case for Mindfulness in the Workplace

This publication is primarily intended as a resource for those developing a business case for mindfulness training within their own organisation. It provides an updated summary of the research evidence, narrative rationales addressing different organisational needs, case studies and a range of toolkits to help with programme planning, implementation and evaluation.

The document has been developed by a volunteer working group convened by the Mindfulness Initiative and made up of champions from private sector companies including BT, EY, GE, GSK, HSBC and Jaguar Land Rover, supported by leading workplace mindfulness trainers and researchers. In response to the findings and recommendations of the Mindful Nation UK report, the group has tried to address the lack of publicly available information about implementing best-practice mindfulness training in the workplace, and encourages organisations to evaluate their programmes in order to develop the evidence base. It will be iteratively developed over time as capacity allows.

Current version: 1.1 (October 2016)


The next meeting is on 30th October, and open to anyone across public services who is interested in how we can become a more mindful nation:


Gita Sharkey Scottish Government

Play and procurement: reflections on Fire Starter 2019

This year’s Fire Starter Festival ran from 28th January – 8th February. It’s a Scotland-wide celebration of learning events hosted by organisations across the country, from large public services to smaller groups, such as social enterprises and community organisations. Why does the festival have a fire theme? Well, the festival celebrates that creative, innovative energy that transforms who you are, how you work and the changes you spark among your colleagues or communities to help our public services change for the better. It might be a spark, glowing embers that fade and light up again, or a roaring hearth.

Last year’s Fire Starter got us buzzing about Year of Young People 2018 and soon after, our thinking cogs were whirring about how we could contribute in 2019 for the festival’s focus on Scotland’s National Performance Framework. This year we created a workshop using our tabletop Higher or Lower game to build a conversation around the framework’s strands about poverty and inequalities, communities and education. Read on for our thoughts and reflections on how it all went.

                                                         Fire Starter Festival

The event took place on 7 February, with colleagues at Bridgeton Library. Festival goers and local citizens were invited to play our Higher or Lower game, the aim being to test their knowledge and build a conversation about how we really understand what’s happening in our communities to achieve positive changes and reduce inequalities.

Fire Starter Festival Image 2

What we got was a fantastic, intergenerational audience of local children and adult festival participants. The conversation was captured by a team member using graphic facilitation skills, who noticed that young people in the audience clearly knew a lot about Bridgeton, and when it came to their local knowledge, they often knew more than the adults. Children seemed to get a confidence boost that their knowledge about Bridgeton often matched official statistics and they went beyond the numbers to discuss examples of how and why their daily lives mirrored or contrasted with trends. It was an eye-opener for the whole group and highlighted the importance of intergenerational learning for understanding communities.

It was a surprise for us to discover that the game works so well with a mix of ages. We think that the reason it works is because the game encouraged young people and adults to have a conversation about their neighbourhood that they might not otherwise create. We are using this learning to think about how the game can be played with other intergenerational audiences as part of our work.

Fire Starter Festival image 3

During the festival, Janet Robison, our Office Manager also attended Kindness – The Human Aspect of Procurement. Here are her thoughts:

“There are many ways organisations can put kindness into practice throughout their procurement stages. Many smaller/medium-sized organisations experience frustrations which include a lack of understanding of processes, with little or no human interaction – more often, communication is done via email and online systems. This approach places unnecessary barriers for small/medium organisations who don’t understand the functions of a larger organisations. My take-away messages were that the GCPH can contribute to kindness within procurement interactions by ensuring that all organisations we work with are aware of each stage of the process. Also, we need to be mindful when using words and terms that may not be widely understood outside our organisation.”

So, wherever you are in Scotland and whether you are a first-time festival goer or a seasoned participant, we’d encourage you to apply to host an event next year and support your colleagues to attend. We found hosting an event surprised and challenged us to think about how we develop our resources, like the Higher or Lower game. Whatever you get up to, in the spirit of Janet’s reflections, let’s be kind and speak to our colleagues in person where possible.