Service Heads, You Don’t Have to Put on the Red Light
Before anyone accuses me, this isn’t random name-dropping, it’s relevant.
Many moons ago, I somehow gate-crashed the aftershow party for the re-launch of the Old Vic theatre in London. A friend of mine was a desperate star spotter and dragged me down to see them all coming out after the show, and I got bored so ended up finding out details of the party, found myself speaking to Craig David of all people on the red carpet and blagged some spare tickets from him.
Inside were all manner of celebrities from the whole alphabet: real Z-listers who my friend drooled over along with the higher-in-the-food-chain type that I appreciated more. I chatted with Kevin Spacey, drank with Richard Branson and danced with Tara Palmer Tompkinson. Okay, maybe she’s not exactly A-list, but I still danced with her!
What relevance has this to Local Government I hear you ask. Well, half way through the end of the evening I found myself in the urinals (damn, I’ve given away the fact that I’m male!), peeing next to Sting. That’s right, the bass-playing, Police fronting, tantric legend that is Sting.
In that situation there are many thoughts that flash through your mind. Should I congratulate him on writing some of the seminal songs of my youth? Ask him about his future acting plans? See if he can impart some pearls of wisdom for me and the missus to enjoy in the privacy of our own home?
All this and more flashed through my mind before I decided to do the right thing. I waited for him to finish and wash his hands (Sting is a washer, not a dasher by the way) and leave the toilet before thanking him for throwing such a great party (he was in on the planning apparently) and wishing him the best for the future.
The reason I impart this fraction of the tale (it was a long and eventful night in the end, but that’s another story) is that I get struck by a similar position occasionally in the office.
Corporate Directors and Service Heads seem to like to present the aura of perfection they no-doubt see themselves as epitomising. They walk – no stride – from meeting to meeting with intent and purpose, usually leaving a trail of minions and flunkies in their wake who are hoping to get a mere moment of their attention to agree some revision to an agenda or get some direction for a policy. They don’t eat lunch, answer e-mails at midnight and never use the toilet, as peeing is for wimps.
Okay, so maybe that last one at least is an exaggeration, and that’s where the situation arises. I have a decent relationship with most of the Service Heads in our directorate, and my face and name is known by Directors and even the Chief Exec of the Council. That being said, I am still a relative nobody, albeit one who ends up doing a lot of presenting and faces up a lot of public programmes and internal engagement type activities.
I am a tad ambitious as a person, and as such want to make the most of each time I get to speak with these bastions of local government. Relationships take a long time to build, so combining presenting to them, working occasionally with or beneath them and those random conversations outside of the meeting room can do wonders for one’s profile, and through that future career opportunities. In fact, often it’s the non-work related conversations that give you the most insight into the way these people think, and also get you something that money simply can’t buy – their attention.
So what do you do when you find yourself standing at a urinal next to one of them? Do you stone-wall them, abiding by the usual man rules of eyes straight forward with no more than a grunt to show you acknowledge the existence of any other being within a five metre radius? Or do you take the chance to chat a little, continue to build that easy camaraderie which might just pay off the next time they are looking to hire an up-and-coming officer for a more senior position?
At the end of the day, no matter how strange their hairstyle or how incomprehensible are some of the things they write, no senior member of staff can truly be compared to a rock star. I will never thank them for shaping my early musical tastes, will never enquire as to their thespian ambitions and will certain never ask for advice between the sheets.
They inhabit this strange grey area between being friendly and supportive and being less trustworthy than your average politician – when things are going well they will certainly have your back, but should things go wrong then they already have the target painted on your back.
This doesn’t make them evil at all – I’m sure most of us would and will behave the same in similar circumstances – but does at least prove that they are no better or worse than their equivalents in the private sector. What they lack in catchy lyrics and pumping basslines they make up for in responsibility to the masses and ability to create jargon at an incredible rate.
But Sting, they aint.