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Name: Laurie Martin
Location (on Frontline): London Borough of Tower Hamlets
Current job title: Senior Adviser, Civil Service Strategy – The Cabinet Office

Leadership is not just about making the best of what we are presented with. It is about asking the question – what could different look like? I would like to think that I am always considering that question. Leadership does not stop with the question though – if you hurtle in trying to shake things up, you tend to get people riled up, your message gets lost, and despite your best intentions, nothing changes. Leadership is about judging the situation right and nudging people around you to act.

Leadership in social work has three elements – leading self, leading families and leading the sector as a whole. Leading self is about self-reflection, honesty, humility and resilience. Leading families is about understanding the systemic nature of the problems families face and harnessing their own motivations to change. Leading the sector involves identifying and sharing best practice, improving the offer to citizens and building a better system as a whole.

Frontline transformed my leadership journey. I learnt about how I reacted under pressure, how I dealt with complexity and ambiguity, and how best to act when the nature of the problem is contested, when there is resistance amongst key players, and when success is unclear. Those lessons are invaluable.

Individuals and families are really only smaller parts of a much bigger whole – organisations, communities, cultures, society. Once you know how the dynamics of one operate and how to intervene, the lessons are largely applicable across the whole system. So while I’m not in frontline social work any longer, I draw on the leadership lessons I learnt every day – whether that means leading the people I manage through personal challenges, or leading colleagues to bring about change.

Frontline taught me to lead through inquiry – to invite the views of others to build a network of people willing to help define a problem and try to solve it. Having a community of people thinking about how to make change in empathic and empowering ways can be transformative.

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