GM Moving - An Unfinished Symphony

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Hayley Lever, GM Moving Strategic Lead
Added to All on 24 Jun 2019
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I am learning that when conversations are difficult, I need to go there. It’s where real change happens. Even better, it’s often where the magic happens.

Let me explain.

I see GM Moving as a social movement, where everyone is a leader. So, in a recent conversation with colleagues, I used the analogy of an orchestra in an attempt to describe how I see our work.

A voyage of learning. Discovery, adventure. Playful and curious, Travelling together.

An ensemble of players, voices and talent. Making music together, with one clear voice.

My colleague said;

“I don’t think some people feel like they’re in the orchestra.

Sometimes they feel like they’re watching it“

That made me stop and think. It was a fair challenge. I was tempted to brush it off, but when something feels challenging, it’s worth exploring further. So I had to go there…

Our shared ambition: Everyone in Greater Manchester more active. 75% of people active by 2025. That’s 2 million girls, boys, women and men of all ages.

There are a thousand influences on each and every person’s activity behaviours every day. None of us can influence all of that on our own. None of us can connect to it all or even be aware of everything that is happening to help align the forces.

We won’t succeed if leaders feel like they’re on the outside looking in. We need everyone to be part of this movement and contribute to leading it. There is a risk of people feeling outside of ‘it’. Especially if they see GM Moving as a team, or an organisation, or perhaps a brand that doesn’t belong to them or they don’t have ‘permission’ to use.

The power of GM Moving as a movement can only be realised with leadership shared as widely as possible. As individuals, we can’t lead it all, be involved with it all or even know about it all.

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Not knowing, or being in control is evidence that the movement is growing, which is what we need, if we are to achieve our shared ambitions for everyone in Greater Manchester to move more, every day, as part of normal life.

And none of us can take credit for it happening or try to capture or measure it. At least, not in traditional ways.

GM Moving is also a plan. It has aims and priorities. Direction and structure. The plan describes (some of) the things that need to happen if we are to achieve the goal. But it’s explicit in the plan, that everyoneneeds to play their full part in delivering that plan; as leaders and as citizens. It’s a shared responsibility for a vast array of people across the whole system in every place. And not everything that will contribute to the goal, is written down in the plan.

If we are striving for this model of leadership, then we need to communicate that more explicitly. We need to keep encouraging others to take a lead, in their place or in their role. We need them to. And leaders don’t need to report back, seek permission or wait for instructions in order to play their part.

Putting a Call to Action in the GM Moving Plan, and including ‘distributed leadership’ into the principles of how we work was a start. But it isn’t enough. It needs to be an ongoing part of our conversation and narrative, with an open invitation to join in. Are we really developing the leadership culture that we aimed to? It was time to step back.

It was time to ask, and understand it through the eyes and experiences of others. I realised that this is a conversation I needed to open up, not close down.

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The next time a group of us were together, I asked the question; to understand how others saw it. I felt vulnerable. Sharing my dreams and visions of what GM Moving could be, was opening myself to further challenge.

I asked people to talk to me about it. Share how it feels to them. So that I could understand and check my assumptions.

Over the next few days and weeks, I heard some great perspectives that challenged me even more.

I kept listening, reflecting, trying to understand, and asked more people in different places and parts of the system. These people all had very different roles.

But they all care passionately about the vision and ambition of people moving more and want to help.

One colleague said that they don’t feel like they are watching the orchestra…but sometimes they do feel like the ‘stage hand’.

I don’t see this as a lesser role than the conductor or composer. Nothingwould happen on time without the stage hand. So I let the analogy keep growing in my mind, and it became more and more useful to me.

I thought about the varied roles that I play in different parts of GM Moving at different times, on different days, or even in different parts of the same day.

So many. And I’m just one person out of thousands who play a part in this movement.

  • Stage hand- supporting in the wings
  • Composer- writing the music/narrative
  • Conductor- leading the performance
  • Musician- sometimes playing a lead role, sometimes playing quietly in the background
  • Door woman- opening the door for others to come in
  • Recruitment team- finding new players, growing the orchestra
  • Make up and costume artist – making it look good
  • Lighting – shining a light on great work
  • Sales and marketing- selling the show, inviting others to join it, fund it
  • Reviewer/critic- reflecting on what has happened, thinking about how to improve

We also have tickets sellers, those who pay the orchestra, and pay the bills, book the venues, and organise the events and keep the orchestra fed and watered… and so many more.

All these roles are leadership roles, and all are absolutely vital. I started asking more people. What roles do you play? What roles would you like to play? Are you using your unique talents?

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This has challenged me personally too. With a finite number of hours in the day, I have to ask myself. Am I playing my unique role enough of the time? How can I make my best contribution to this movement?

A couple of weeks later, I was reminded of the analogy by someone else, in a systems leadership workshop. Then another challenging question was posed:

Who is the conductor of GM Moving? Wow! Great question. I wondered who had popped into everyone else’s head at that moment.

This sounds like the most important job, doesn’t it? The one that might get paid the most. Get the most profile or kudos if we are successful.

I thought about the most visible people at ‘the top’… Andy Burnham. Steven Pleasant. Jon Rouse- the ‘big cheeses!’

Then I thought, does he mean me? Or is it one of the other leaders from the GM Moving Executive? But I quickly realised that all of these people play the conductor role at times. But I don’t see any of us as the lone conductor. That would be too fragile a state.

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There are many conductors. They take it in turns. And we all sit in the audience sometimes. Watching and learning.

We are also trying to turn things on their head, so that citizens and community leaders can take the baton.. because they will orchestrate a more beautiful and powerful symphony.

All leaders need to rest. Time to restore and reflect. None of us can be everywhere, all of the time.

So my conclusion to this question is that there is greater strength in many conductors.

The crucial thing is in deciding the right conductor to lead the right piece of music, in the right venue at the right time. And any conductor needs to lead a piece that is informed and composed by the people whose story can produce the most beautiful, powerful music to inspire a movement.

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There is no heroic leader who can command and control the people to ‘move more’. Certainly none of the people named above would claim to be in charge, or take the credit for GM Moving’s continued success.

2.8 million people will be inspired, enabled and nudged into an active life by ‘leaders’ and ‘influencers’ in all aspects of our lives.

Leadership happens in the conversations in our homes and workplaces and on social media. It happens during the conversations in our doctor’s surgeries, classrooms, playgrounds, the signposts and billboards, the adverts and the messages on the TV. In the way our roads, footpaths, parks and open spaces are designed and through the policies we write and adopt, that make it easier, cheaper and more attractive to walk, ride, scoot around our communities.

The leaders at ‘the top’ need thousands more leaders to join in. GM Moving is a leadership responsibility shared by everyone from parents, to friends, to guide and scout leaders, to doctors, to employers, to planners, to social workers, to the Mayor of Greater Manchester.

The more intentionally, purposefully and widely this leadership responsibility is shared, the stronger, more powerful, longer lasting this movement will become.

However…

We do need to be in harmony to produce beautiful, powerful music that stirs the soul and inspires people to sing with us. And a clear vision and purpose needs to be communicated, so that we all know where we are going. We have this, in clarity of purpose and vision. We know where we are going.

Now, we need more and more diverse voices who can connect with different people, from different communities, with different experiences and motivations.

Sorted. Crack on.

Or so I thought.

But then I was challenged again as I was drafting this.

Orchestras are very hierarchical and can be hugely competitive. They are ‘bounded’ entities. Not everyone can join in.

It’s the wrong analogy, I have been told. That’s not what we are aiming for. There is much to take from this analogy, but it is not true to our principles.

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So it’s back to the drawing board…

I’m no music expert. So I’m posing the question to the reader.

What musical (or other) analogy can help to describe this movement that we seek to grow?

Some have suggested jazz (which I can’t bear, so that’s not allowed!), or jamming, or a festival, where there are multiple voices and sounds. We need buskers all over Greater Manchester, said another.

Another colleague said it feels more like a Faithless gig. She’s never seen anything so diverse and connecting.

There is also a call for agitation to stir a movement or revolution. A sense of urgency is needed. An uprising against the inactivity crisis that we are facing. So maybe it’s something more rebellious? Punk, perhaps…

One thing is for sure. The message needs to be shared through different genres of music. Different instruments, different voices… with a clear narrative that wakes us up, inspires and creates individual and systemic change.

Move more. Every day.

For health, happiness, fun, family, success, peace, calm, space, laughter, cleaner air, stronger communities, hope, ambition, a better future. I can think of a hundred reasons, that need a hundred people to play and sing.

And what of the symphony?

It’s certainly an ‘unfinished symphony’… but I hope it will become ‘a rhapsody for you and me’… and everyone else too.

Because we know that life without everyday activity and movement can be ‘bittersweet’.