I meant to write some posts relating to my CMALT and the LftM assignment as they came around earlier in the year, but work and life have been ridiculously hectic with the record breaking pace with which we are implementing the new VLE. The headline is that I aced both.

In 2012 I struggled with CMALT and had to submit twice, as my first submission didn’t contain enough reflection or detail relating to teaching. My revised submission scored ‘Adequates’ all round if memory serves. No such problems this time with my portfolio review – ‘Strong’ on every measure bar one ‘Adequate’. Furthermore, within a fortnight of receiving my feedback the lovely folks at ALT were asking me to become an assessor, to which I agreed, and have my first one due by the end of the week.

One piece of feedback I’ve noted was a comment that the page is very text heavy and it could have been improved with some relevant images to break it up. That is something I was conscious of, and not just in relation to the CMALT page, but to much of the content on the blog. I do try and insert images wherever possible, but it can be hard to source relevant images for much of what I write about. One can’t just go around inserting random images of bunny boos of dubious and uncertain copyright after all.

My assessment for the Leading from the Middle PG Cert was submitted on the 21st of April, and being the good responsible student that I am it was submitted well before the deadline. 7 minutes before to be exact. Those of you who follow my Twitter may have enjoyed the minor meltdown I had that evening as I hurried to get in finished off. In the end I wrote almost 7,000 words for the assignment which had a word limit of 5,000, so my Friday evening was spent editing and adding my references. All worth is though, as I got my provisional mark back last week and I nailed it – 75% – which on Sunderland’s grading scheme puts it well into the First territory had it been an undergraduate assessment.

Two down, two to go. Before the end of September I need to complete my second PG Cert, in Academic Practice. No big assessment for that one, just lots of little ones and a portfolio of evidence for the associated HEA Fellowship.

The Half Way Point


It’s the half way point in the Leading from the Middle course, and as part of a research project being conducted by two of the course tutors I was asked if I would create a visual depiction of what it means to be a middle manager now that I am half way in – a repeat of an exercise we were tasked with during the third session on context and culture. The first was a group exercise, but this time the artwork is all mine, for which I offer my humblest apologies.

I’m sure my artwork needs no interpretation, but I’ll give you one anyway. I have tried to call back to the scenes, images and ideas of the first image, so you can see the setting of rolling hills and wild countryside has been repeated, and on the far left is the palm tree and little island paradise from the first image, representing that we have now well and truly left it behind on our journey to success! There is, however, one person left alone floating in a pool of their own contentment, as there always seems to be someone who just doesn’t want to leave their comfort zone and join in the adventure.

That’s me in the middle, armed with a sword and shield of confidence, leading my team who are now on a coach as I’ve found the coaching sessions of the course to be particularly enlightening. The sun represents the course itself and the team who are teaching us, casting their rays of illuminating knowledge upon us. We venture forth to face the big scary dragon of external pressures on the university. If you’re reading something into this like the dragon being a metaphor for the horrid Tory government and their insane drive to marketisation, well… that’s just your interpretation!

Session 2: Knowing Yourself to Lead Others


The first full teaching day on the Leading from the Middle course was delivered by an external company, Insights, who used their Discovery tool, a kind of personality test, to create a profile for each of us before the session, and then used to session to explain the theory and how it can be applied to learn more about our own personalities and preferences, and how to quickly assess others and the best way to interact with them based on their profiles. The basic model is composed of four colour energies, cool blue, earth green, sunshine yellow and fiery red, a concept that can be traced back to Hippocrates’ four humours and developed by psychologists such as Carl Jung in the twentieth century. Insights have taken this further and developed their own model, a wheel with 72 types to give a more nuanced view of your personality. These are arranged under eight broad headings which are, going counter-clockwise from blue to red, Reformer, Observer (blue), Coordinator, Supporter (green), Helper, Inspirer (yellow), Motivator and Director (red).

I have to confess to being a little sceptical about this kind of thing. I enjoy studying the underlying psychology, and if it has been presented within that framework I think I would have gotten more out of it, but when they are corporatized and packaged up into small, discrete packages that can be easily sold to organisations by external consultants, and when something seems to be unnecessarily overcomplicated, then a little warning bell goes off in my head.

Nevertheless, you don’t get anything out if you don’t engage, and so I can reveal that based on the Insights Discovery Evaluator, a series of 25 preference statements which you rate to generate your profile, I am a blue, green, red, yellow kind of person. Not a huge surprise to me, and it accords with a self-assessment I made based on a ‘colour summary’ in one of Insights’ handouts in which I ticked mostly blue, quite a few on the cusp between blue and green, and a couple of red qualities, specifically ‘Fears: Losing control’ and ‘Decisions are: Pragmatic’. On Insights’ 72 point wheel, my conscious wheel position is 54, ‘Coordinating Observer (Accommodating)’, and my less conscious wheel position is 14, ‘Coordinating Observer (Focused)’. This is a bit of an interesting position; if I had to pick where I thought I fitted I would have went for either Reformer or Coordinator, though Observer is in the middle of these two so perhaps it’s right. The ‘Preference Flow’ shows that I skew towards red and yellow which, if I understand this right, means that I am making an effort to go in this direction, against my natural inclinations, which is a good thing. Most of my cohort were in broad agreement about where they came out in the evaluation, though a few reds noted that they feel that they are being forced into this category unnaturally due to pressures at work.

It’s not all about colours, and the profile which is created delves into quite a lot of detail about your personality and style, highlighting perceived strengths, weaknesses and communication strategies. I found myself agreeing with most of this analysis, even if the language was a bit over the top at times – “her original mind, fine insight and vision” (urgh) – but some of it was wrong and I would argue that some statements which were presented as positive things are really more problematic. For example, the statement that I am a “no-nonsense person who is not often attracted by the strange, exotic or unfamiliar” is patently untrue, certainly when it comes to my work and technology where I delight in being on the cutting edge. Another statement that stood out to me, as it goes to use of instinct which came up a few times, was “may be rather slow to make decisions as she wants to gather all essential information before acting.” This may be true in an ideal situation, but in reality, when there are deadlines and pressures, or no clear indication on the correct course of action, I am a great believer in going with instinct or in choosing the more positive option, something which I find usually works out well.

One of the most useful things I will take away from the evaluation and the session is the need to adapt communication strategies to match the preferences of the other party, so that you are not, for example, unnecessarily forcing a more red person to give you too much detail before starting work. Also, using the most appropriate colour response to a situation to get the best results, so in my case that could be being more open and sociable in less formal meetings for example. There were also some comments in a suggested development section which I found useful. “Accepting that perfection can be a rather obstructive standard to constantly aspire to” is something that I am aware of and I know that I can spend too much time on something when ‘good enough’ is enough. Also, “never attending a meeting without speaking out” stood out as, thinking about it, I can see many examples where I am very quiet in meetings, and I will be more conscious of this in the future. However, as a counterpoint to that I do feel the need to note that there are so many meetings I attend which are almost completely pointless and accomplish very little.

Session 1: Induction and Academic Skills


This first session of Leading from the Middle provided us with background and context of the course, including how the course has been designed and developed from what has gone before and the experience the CaPE team have gained in providing leadership and change courses for private enterprise over the last few years. Also covered were academic skills and writing conventions, resources available from the Library and HR, and what is expected from us as students, particularly around assessment.

The course has a single, two part assessment which comprises a 5,000 word narrative report which demonstrates personal transformation throughout the course, built around a work-based project, and a separate portfolio of evidence, around 1,000 words, which backs up the narrative report and is mapped to the learning outcomes.

Given the reflective nature of the assessment, a large part of the session was devoted to reflective practice and introduced us to concepts including Dweck’s growth and fixed mindsets, and Kolb’s learning cycle. The image above shows Snook and Nohria’s ‘Knowing, Doing, Being’ model where ‘Knowing’ is your education and experience, ‘Doing’ is your skills and competencies, and ‘Being’, a commonly neglected area which describes your beliefs and values. Also discussed were some common management styles – the seagull, the mushroom and the plate spinner – and the place of middle managers which we identified as both the most difficult position to be in, having to keep different layers happy, but also possibly the most influential.

The specified aims of the programme, as quoted from the module guide, are:

  1. Personal development of students;
  2. Develop transformational leadership;
  3. Lead and manage change;
  4. Transfer learning into the workplace.

There are detailed learning outcomes broken down into knowledge and skills, but there is also a more concise summary in the module guide which is it also worth quoting:

  1. Increased confidence in undertaking management responsibilities;
  2. Self awareness of preferred leadership style and preferences when communicating with, and influencing others;
  3. Understanding leadership theory and the principles of leadership, particularly within an HE environment;
  4. How to work with your staff to create a high performing team;
  5. Be equipped with skills and knowledge to hold conversations with a purpose such as providing feedback and communicating during times of change.

With regards to the work-based project, some initial thoughts I have are the implementation of a call logging system for the team, something I’ve wanted from day one but which could be difficult for political reasons, as the university does actually have a system in place but it is just not suited to our needs and so doesn’t get used; something around making improvements in accessibility of the VLE and learning materials, something I am already involved with but it could be firmed up to become a proper project with definitive outcomes; or developing some bespoke learning materials for our Oculus Rift, something I would like to do but it would need an academic partner and have some real pedagogic benefit to warrant the development time that would be required. HR will be approaching line managers during January to discuss possibilities and scope as it is a desirable aim of the project to get some concrete benefit for the university out of it, though from the perspective of the course the outcome of the project is secondary to how it is managed and how we change and use what we are learning in the delivery of the project.

A very positive session on the whole, and I hope that the more I learn the more I will be able to resolve the tension I have between being a developer and wanting to make things and help people, and being a manager with a duty to lead my team and take responsibility for all of our work collectively.

Finally, as a piece of ‘fun homework’, we were asked to think of a song that describes our management style. I think I have failed in this exercise, but I do think that Stealers Wheel’s ‘Stuck in the Middle with You’ does a great job of describing the position of middle managers in general!

Leading from the Middle

At my appraisal last year it was suggested that I attend the University’s second line manager’s development course. This was delayed by a year because the course was under redevelopment by HR in conjunction with our Business School’s Corporate and Professional Education (CaPE) team. The new course, now branded as ‘Leading from the Middle’, is a fully accredited post-graduate module resulting in a Postgraduate Certificate in Leadership and Change upon successful completion. I don’t have a lot of information at the moment but I suspect that assessment will involve a portfolio of evidence, and in any case I’ll want to blog about the course as it develops, so I have created a new page specifically to collect these posts together using the ‘LFTM’ tag. The taught sessions on the course are as follows:

  • Induction and Academic Skills
  • Knowing Yourself, To Lead Others
  • Strategic Leadership and Culture and Context (2 parts)
  • Emotional Intelligence
  • Coaching at Work (3 parts)
  • Understanding Finance
  • Collaborative Conversations
  • Creativity and Entrepreneurial Learning
  • Leading Change and Transition
  • Leading High Performing Teams
  • Leading Equality and Diversity