Learning All The Time… My GM Moving journey (Sept 2018 – June 2020)

The first GM Moving Journey and Learning journey takes to September 2018.

During lockdown, I have been spending some time reflecting on the journey since then, to consider what I have noticed and learnt that can help us in the next phase.

Below is the GM Moving timeline for this period. It sets out some key national, GM and GM Moving events that took place. There are thousands of events, meetings and conversations between the dots along the timeline. These create small shifts and bigger turning points in our collective work to deliver the ambition of Greater Manchester and Greater Manchester Moving.

GM Moving Timeline June 2020 1GMMoving Timeline June 2020 2GM Moving Timeline JUne 2020 3GM Moving Timeline June 2020 4

In this blog, I am sharing my perspective of this journey. The key phases and events and the learning I have gleaned along the way. Others will have their own stories, experiences and perspective. We are about to conduct a series of interviews with leaders in GM, to collect stories, which will enable us to evaluate, triangulate and make sense of what has happened.

There are layers of purpose in doing this:

  • Capturing the journey, for us to look back on and for others who are interested.
  • Trying to understand what may be making change happen
  • Translating learning into actionable insights that can help us to work in ways that are more likely to make positive change happen
  • Helping me to notice what I have learnt, and remind myself what that means for how I need to work in the future to make a difference.

In writing it, my brain has been pulled in all sorts of directions. There is so much more I could say. There are things I will have missed. There are many individual people, events, moments and shifting points in my understanding and learning, that I could write a chapter on each day if I had time.

Of course, there are things I can’t write about too. That’s a question that I wrestle with. How do we make sure we learn from the things that we are too kind, polite or professional to speak publicly about?  I hope that at the very least, they become part of our own embedded learning and show up in different ways.

The process I have gone through (there may be others, less tedious!) is to go back through my calendar for that 19 month period. I made a list of the key events, meetings, conversations that the journey through my appointments triggered in me. They evoked memories of people and conversations, decisions and actions which felt significant to me.

I then zoomed back from the individual events and thought about what they were telling me about the ‘power of how’ change happens. Because that’s the primary purpose of writing this. To help me and others better understand how change happens, and how we can make more positive progress towards our shared purpose.

Power of How

I have kept in mind two lenses as I have written it up, so that I can draw out the wider relevance of what was going on, and to help me to understand.

First are the programme theories that our evaluation and learning team (Substance and Sheffield Hallam University) are using to look at GM Moving and the Local Pilot work. They have emerged from a year of data and evidence collection, theming and refining. They’re iterative. They will continue to evolve in response to the work. They are a useful lens for me to use for this piece of writing. They are the emerging enablers of change.

GM Moving Programme Theories

  1. Strategic leadership enabling collective leadership
  2. Involving local people and growing assets
  3. Effective work across and between sectors
  4. Transforming governance and processes
  5. Learning and adapting

The other helpful lens is from our first GM Moving Journey and Learning story. Our Pointers for Leadership Practice emerged from our work with the Revaluation Collective and have guided our ways of working and leadership behaviours since.

6 Pointers

  1. Strategic Leadership Enabling Collective Leadership

New forms of leadership are required to motivate the workforce and local population to take action to enable active lives. Leaders- at all levels- not only have to be seen to be supportive but need to have an authentic interest and belief in the importance of physical activity.

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GM Moving had been led and held by a relatively small number of people until this period. This phase was characterised by intentional efforts to share and distribute leadership, making ‘moving’ everyone’s business and ensuring that the leadership of different parts of GM Moving sat with the right part of the system.

It was also about continued work to ensure that the strategic leadership in Greater Manchester public service reform, health transformation and our unique relationship with the VCSE sector enabled us to make greater progress with GM Moving goals (and vice versa that GM Moving contributed to the learning about how Greater Manchester could ‘Do Things Differently’).

During this period, it felt like GM Moving went ‘up a level’ in terms of strategic leadership, commitment, engagement and action. There were small shifts, and significant turning points that led to greater strategic leadership engagement and drive on this agenda:

The concept of Movement building became more widely used and understood. There were light bulb moments that helped me to articulate and make sense of movement building. One was reading Lederach, which was a profound period of learning. The other was a direct challenge from a member of the team, when I wrote a piece about how everyone can play a part of the movement.. and I was asked ‘what about those who don’t feel part of it?’. I wrote a few articles [1] around this time which capture the learning from Lederach. I still go back to them often to remind me what I have already learnt, when I am losing my way.

The Active Soles journey and the learning about movement building that came from it gave a tangible way to understand GM Moving as a movement rather than a programme or project. This had long been the aspiration, but a greater sense of collective understanding of what that means and what it would take to grow it emerged from something simple and tangible; what we wear on our feet.

The invitation to do the TEDX in Oldham was another example of collective leadership, as nudges from GM Moving Exec members that pushed me into applying, despite it being way out of my comfort zone.


Continued progress with Active Lives data and the closing of some key inequality gaps gave a bit of confidence.

Physical activity is a key population health indicator for Greater Manchester. Data was highlighting progress and we were developing a collective understanding at senior levels, of what makes change happen in a complex system.

Active Lives

There was a wider acceptance and comfort with the fact that there is no silver bullet programme or intervention to solve the inactivity problem and no person, organisation or part of the system can take the credit for progress.

This felt like a significant shift from when I joined GM Moving in 2017.  There was greater understanding of the need to capture value and measure what matters. More significantly, there was a growing articulation of this challenge and opportunity in our conversations with funders and investors nationally and locally.

There was a growing confidence that we were developing a way of working in GM Moving that might be helping to create the conditions for change. This also meant that senior leaders in other places and other agendas wanted to understand the approach and translate it into other agendas.

Every time we are asked to share what we were learning, there is an opportunity to reflect and articulate it, which in turn led to more learning. Triple loop learning became really important to me, and I notice many ways in which it happens (See section 5 on adapting and learning below).

The GM Public Service Reform (Further Faster) event in November 2018 was another lightbulb moment. It gave us absolute permission to use the reform principles in practice, hold the line and hold a mirror up to ourselves when we knew our actions didn’t feel aligned. We have used this as leverage with others too, encouraging honesty about the fact we are not there yet. None of us live out these principles in practice all the time, and this needs to keep changing. Hilary Cottam spoke at this event too, which gave us powerful evidence and stories of change to boost our confidence that we were pointing in a positive direction. A fair few people had a copy of her brilliant book Radical Help for Christmas that year.

Senior leaders started to talk about GM Moving in a different way. It was becoming more significant to the Greater Manchester learning journey. I noticed

  • how our most visible leaders talked about it differently.
  • how more and more diverse people knocked on the door to ask about the how, rather than the what.
  • how different people prioritised time to spend contributing to it, and their authentic belief in physical activity and the way of working.
  • how people translated learning from the approach and applied it to their work
  • how people engaged in conversations about how it mattered to them personally; their families and colleagues.

In Autumn 2019 we refreshed our Memorandum of Understanding with Sport England. This started in the summer with an honest look in the mirror at ourselves. To what extent had we been working to our agreed principles? Where was this strong? And where could it be better? We were also taking stock of our progress against the GM Moving Plan and challenging the system to prioritise the areas that would make the biggest different to inactivity.

We had to confront the brutal facts of what was getting in the way too. We have continued to do this.

These days when meeting with colleagues, I try to understand what is helping and what is getting in the way as they try to grow the movement. These are powerful questions because they give us permission to surface and make explicit, the structural, relational, systemic and practical barriers and blockers. I have been asked to write a piece on the frustrations, dead ends, conflicts and tensions, as part of this learning journey. This feels difficult for an eternal optimist and when the tough stuff is sensitive; often about people, ways of working and human relationships. I will endeavour to find a way. In the meantime, this crowdsourced one on Feeling Stuck is a good place to start.

In October 2019, leaders signed this refreshed MoU at the Health and Care Board in Salford. This was followed by tea and cake with Age UK in Swinton, as we heard from staff and listened to understand the enablers and barriers to change that they experience, and all the ways they support active ageing. The conversation that followed focused on the organisational culture change required to move further, faster together if we are to achieve our shared purpose.

In February 2020 we held a GM Moving Round Table event with our Mayor, Andy Burnham and colleagues from across the system. It was the last physical event we hosted before lockdown. It feels like a long time ago and a different world, so I’m glad I captured the essence of where we were at the time! The focus was on how we keep growing GM Moving, and it’s more relevant now than ever before.

I have been reminded again and again about art of leadership in complex system requiring adaptive approaches and an absolute of old power and new power:

Old Power New Power

The Old Power/New Power understanding is important in so many ways, in all our work. Some particular events and periods that come to mind where it has mattered include helping to inform, shape, respond to an influence national strategy and local strategy. It comes into play when dealing with tension, conflict and when we’re stuck. It’s tactical, but never underhand. It relies on good relationships and honesty. Jeremy Heimens is well worth  a read.

Spring 2020 has been dominated by the Covid-19 pandemic. There has been a great deal of learning in this for Greater Manchester, national partners and each of us as individuals. I’ve written a few articles about this, and there will be another one coming soon about the next phase and the role of GM Moving in Greater Manchester recovery journey as we all learn to live with Covid-19 and Build Back Better. Articles to date include Covid-19 and Culture ChangeA New Beginning, and one about how we redesign our working lives for a healthier, happier, more productive world (The Future of Work: Build Back Better?).


2. Involving [local] people and growing assets (Build a Team, Build a Web)

There is a need to engage and involve (local) people and organisations of all types and size, using asset based approaches and co-production, that might involve the voluntary, community, faith and social enterprise sector and others in a range of ways.

GMM_Process_Involving People_AW_OL_RGB

Build a Team

In a round of 360 feedback in Summer 2018, this was a strong theme. I needed people around me for whom this was their core work. I was drowning in the work, and needed to be able to ‘lead, not do’.  I remember feeling frustrated and stuck, but was reminded that we were perched on the edge of a cliff ready for this work to fly. I just needed to be patient.

From November 2018-April 2019, the focus of our work was to build a team who could lead the local pilot and walking city region work. We recruited some fantastic people, and it was a major breakthrough. Alongside the central team, we had others who were commissioned to support in various ways to ensure capacity and continuity with the work that had been done and the relationships that had been built during the planning and engagement phases. Gradually over the year to come, I was able to step back and enable others to lead.

We recruited a bigger evaluation team (Substance and Sheffield Hallam University), commissioned Britain Thinks to undertake primary research and engaged designers and agencies to develop our communications and campaigns informed by our insight. 10GM, our VCSE partners were engaged to provide expertise in community engagement and co-design.

All these people were asked to bring different perspectives, challenge and disrupt the thinking, which can easily become dominated by those from the physical activity ‘sector’, the public sector and quite honestly, those who love an active life, ‘get it’ , evangelise about it and possibly have some gaps in understanding and empathy with those who don’t. We were starting to talk about the concept of ‘the bubbles’ that we can be in, that need to either grow, or pop.. but of course, Covid-19 has given this language new meaning!

Diversity of people and thinking is something we are striving for and finding ways to get, in the governance and leadership of GM Moving, in the team and in the networks. Celebrating and valuing difference has become an explicit part of our ambitions, but we still have a long way to go. This links to the next section on web weaving.

The GM Moving network or ‘web’ was growing, with the Local Pilot Network, the Walking Voice network and the wider GM Moving leadership group growing in size and strength all the time.

The Local Pilot work and evaluation began to show the significance of how the ‘team’ is described and how it comes together. Similar learning came from the GM Walking work, where people came together as equals.

The Pointers for Leadership Practice were critical in shaping the approach as the team started to bring people together, work to their strengths and develop a sense of ‘one team’. We used them in workshops, seminars, conferences, blogs and meetings.

Evidence of the ways of working and how they align and live out reform principles began to show itself in conversations, in the way that leaders from other places, and those working on other agendas started to come to us to find out more about the principles, the approach and the ways of working in complex systems, whole system approaches, transformation and reform.

In early 2020 Greater Manchester senior leaders came together to consider which areas of GM work were most aligned to the ways of working we need more of. GM Moving was chosen as a work area to explore. This was because it ‘feels like it belongs to all of us’ and ‘it’s not GM telling localities what to do’. This is significant and is testament to the approach that the team have taken to live out the principles in practice.

GM Together: Build a Web


If I think back over the last 18 months, it does genuinely feel that it’s more GM Together, in GM Moving than it was. There are blurred lines between the teams across places and sectors in the system, between national and local partners, particularly with Sport England colleagues, and with consultants and commissioned  partners who support GM Moving. There are blended teams, stronger relationships, a greater sense of trust. People know each other, personally and professionally, in greater depth.


If I could draw a picture, it is starting to be more like a web of relationships than a set of hierarchies and lines.

It gets more complex, and it’s more difficult to know who to talk to about ideas and opportunities, and who to engage in which meetings and conversations. Small meetings turn into events because we are working more openly, the web is growing and diversifying which is what we need. It gets more difficult to draw boundaries around groups and networks. This is a good thing but it presents some logistical dilemmas. We could fill rooms ten times over.. thankfully that’s easier to do digitally than it was in real life (and cheaper!).

There are also webs within the web aligned to specific themes, workstreams or agendas. They aren’t defined and they aren’t fully captured on a CRM system anywhere. If we tried to do that we’d spend our whole lives filling in spreadsheets rather than growing the web. Some examples are in our work on Active Hospitals, Active Practices, Active Workplaces, Active Ageing, and many more.

Spark Plug People

People Power

This success of our work is about individuals– not just collective leadership. We need to pay more attention to the significance of these individuals and notice how they do what they do so it can spread. Some call them ‘Spark Plug People‘. We all have them at all layers of the system, in all our places, sectors, organisations and communities. The question is how do we create the conditions for them to make change happen?… and what do we do about those that stand in the way?  I wrote a little bit about his in the crowdsourced blog on what to do you do when you feel stuck.

Spark Plug People

3. Effective work across [the system/spatial layers/places] and between sectors

Joining work up across the system involves an interwoven process of change leading us through relationship building; connecting up the system; working together on common projects and productive partnership working around common goals.

GMM_Process_Effective Work_AW_OL_RGB

This programme theory is relevant to this period in so many ways. It describes the importance of relationship building within teams, between teams, between national and local, between different parts of the system at every spatial level.

There was much written in the first GM Moving journey about working to a shared purpose and common goals. During this period we learnt a lot more about what that takes, in every direction.

Living out the GM Moving Principles and Pointers for Leadership Practice day to day requires constant reflection and checking of ourselves and our actions on a very personal level aswell as organisationally. If we don’t hold a mirror up to ourselves, we can’t be honest about where it’s going wrong aswell as where it’s going well.

During the period Sept 2018 – June 2020, there has been a noticeable shift in the cross system relationships and shared work.

  • A greater sense of how things matter to each other (a shift away from physical activity/GM Moving needing to sell its importance to other agendas).
  • We have developed a clearer shared narrative about the interdependencies of clean air, sustainability, population health, attainment, productivity etc; see below.

What Matters

  • Connections have been made and relationships built on a wide range of agendas. A simple comparison between 2018 and 2019 of the invitations to speak at events, connect with people and work together is one example of how the web was growing and diversifying; mental health, suicide prevention, clean air, cancer, dementia and so on.

What have we learnt about how to do this?

The GM Moving Exec Group has whole system leadership embedded: Transport for Greater Manchester, Local Authority, CCG, Public Health, VCSE, GM Active (leisure trust), GreaterSport (Active Partnership), Sport England, NHS, etc. The leaders on this group have to go out and influence in their rooms as advocates and champions for the shared cause. GM Moving governance connects it in to the system through the GM Health and Care Partnership and the Reform Board.

We’ve learnt to work in ways that are true to the principles and ways of working. We’ve are becoming known for that. Often when people from other parts of the system or other agendas come to find out about how we work on GM Moving, and what we’ve learnt, they discover that ‘moving’ matters to them, their teams and their outcomes too. So we’re learning never to have one dimensional or linear conversations.

The personal is professional and a large proportion of the people who work in Greater Manchester live in another part of the city region too… and they care about their families and their communities wellbeing.

We aim to bring together people with diverse perspectives, from diverse sectors, places and layers of the system. Small things matter in how we do this; the wording of the invitation. Explicit invitation and a clear message that we are seeking diversity (not just ‘all welcome’).

We need to prioritise time to go to other people’s rooms and tables. We’re all busy and the danger is that we just engage with the people who come to our rooms or tables. This takes time, requires us to put aside our agenda and join in with someone else’s. We’re not always very good at making time to do this. Some stand out shifting points for me included attending the opening of the Alvanley allotment, going on their weekly walk. Listening not talking. Attending a network of adults with learning disabilities, a SEND engagement event and listen.

We need to make time to have coffee and walking meetings with people, even if we don’t know where it will take us. I can trace breakthrough moments, turning points, new relationships, new streams of work, new webs woven back to chance meetings, followed up connections made by others, cups of coffee and walking meetings with people I didn’t know and didn’t know if I needed to know! We need to arrive early and stay after the meeting. It’s where important conversations happen to build relationships and drive change.

Personally, I have gained a lot from shadowing people doing the real work in other bits of the system. I have asked, listened, sought to understand, in doing this rather than going to tell them about me. I’ve learnt to listen harder. Have also tried to find out what matters to people and find the connection with their authentic interests. I also try to ask people specifically to tell me what gets in the way. I try to go with a genuine and authentic interest in them and their world. Then I try to work out what that means for us and our work.

4. Transforming governance and processes

Knowledge, effort and willingness needs to be in place to find ways to adopt a whole system approach which can also be accountable.

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In March 2019, the governance of GM Moving shifted. The GM Moving Steering Group which had been in place since 2016 was renamed GM Moving Executive Group. The people on it changed slightly, and there were some subtle shifts;

  • More consistent attendance and engagement from leaders across the system.
  • A more strategic, ambitious, purposeful conversation.
  • A greater level of importance being given to the agenda and how all the outcomes we are working towards in GM are aligned. They matter to each other and can be mutually reinforcing, creating virtuous circles when we work well together.

Back in early 2019, I remember making a decision to run these meetings differently. I started to insist on a high quality venue, with windows, decent coffee, space before, in the middle and after for people to talk and build relationships. We got into a good routine in agreeing the agenda and talking through how to get the most out of the people and the time.

These days the meeting feels much more like a strategic thinking space. We aim to hear the range of voices and perspectives in the room. We try not to get bogged down in paperwork. We assume that people have read the papers, then we create space for the conversations that matter. All of this has been intentional, and we are rewarded with more regular engagement, more interesting and purposeful conversation with a sense of momentum and shared commitment.

What I have also heard is that the meetings are also enjoyable thinking spaces.

There are changes in organisational and individual culture and leadership approaches  which is worthy of our collective attention. Some of this is referenced in section 6 on my new dual role as CEO of GreaterSport alongside the GM Moving leadership role. Another shift that was taking place throughout this whole period was to bring integrate the team that was hosted by GreaterSport (GM Walking and Local Pilot) and the core Active Partnership team, and steer through multiple transitions. There was a lot of learning in this, which was also relevant in the early weeks of the Covid-19 pandemic.

5. Learning and Adapting

Whilst learning environments which stimulate test and learn approaches are vital, stakeholders learn at variable pace and in different ways, with ‘penny drop’ moments emerging from many sources.

During this time I/we have continued to make efforts to step back, reflect, learn and adapt our work based on what we were learning. There are many ways that we collectively, and I individually learn and share learning:

Creating space to learn, engage, reflect..

In summer 2018 I received an email from a colleague in Calderdale. It was an invitation to join a session their team were convening on Framing and Public Narrative. I was busy at the time. I nearly deleted the email as I barely had time to read it, never mind work out what the opportunity was. But I didn’t. I came back to it a few days later, and it grabbed me. Without thinking too hard, I said yes please. It was a sliding doors moment that would change my perspective and understanding in profound ways.

“When a door opens you need to notice it and step through it”

I’ve written about the impact of the Frameworks Institute on my work and our collective work here.


Other great learning experience I’ve had during this period, which stick out as shifting points or turning points for me include;

Speak Up, Listen Up Masterclass organised by Rita Evans, Leaders in GM, on speaking truth to power, working through a particularly scary conversation that was just around the corner, and heard a fantastic example in the story of Helen Smith from Greater Manchester Police who has transformed approaches to menopause in the workplace, thanks to her courage in speaking up.

Since the beginning of 2020, we have focused on The Power of How; understanding the drivers of change in complex systems. We held a number of conversations and workshops, read books and talked about this with people with diverse perspectives; academics, practitioners, strategic leaders and so on.

I wrote a series of articles around this topic including The Power of ‘How’ (Feb 2020) and The Power of How: From Know How to Do How. This second article aimed to take the theory and put in into practice really simply. We are still on this journey of understanding, and are trying to work out loud as much as possible. There are a myriad of spin offs into different workstreams too.

Change and Stability

A colleague reading this in draft form observed just how much change there is. No two days, weeks or month the same. He’s right. We batted the conversation backwards and forwards for a while.

There must be some stability, tranquility and comfort in it somwhere! Not least for those who really need it. At first I thought not. The pace is fast, the conditions around us ever changing, and the purpose of the work is to make change happend.

That said, he observed the things that do offer stability;

  • Being around people with common purpose and shared vision. There is a great deal of comfort in that.
  • A bedrock of principles, approaches and ways of working that underpin reform in Greater Manchester. GM Moving principles and pointers for leadership practice. GreaterSport values that guide our decision making and behaviours within the organisation

Tim said:

Perhaps this is the relationships but I think I see it as being wider than that. I think the relationships, the work, the principles, the mission, the movement do offer comfort in the sense of a space to be physically and emotionally, a reference point and almost a set of beliefs that are themselves becoming more stable, shareable and recognizable“.

Perhaps this might enable momentum and further growth…

Also my sense is that in any social dynamic there are always continuities as well as change given that change is itself a process that, as you have highlighted, involves developing shared perspectives and journeys that evolve. Perhaps these are just nuances but I find this detail interesting, particularly in the context of the GM Moving work and movement building”.

There have been significant lightbulb moments, learning shifts and turning points that have taken place thanks to things that I have read during this time. I have tried to share the learning in real time, by translating what I’ve learnt and applying it to this work. There would appear to be a degree of serendipity where I have picked up the right book at just the right time! More sliding doors moments. Reading isn’t enough however, there often has to be discussion, debate, crowdsourcing and posing questions to get the rich learning that we need.

A big turning point in understanding and sense making was prompted by two books, took place in numerous conversations and debates over a six month period, which culminated in a train journey to Nottingham and a light bulb moment. This shifted the conversation significantly over recent months, and it feels like we have taken things up another level again to focus on Culture Change, aswell as System Change and Behaviour Change. I wrote about this here. The two books were Sapiens and The Patterning Instinct.

hayley ideology


Asking, Listening, Understanding (less talking!)

I have realised that I learn in many different ways; through observing, questioning, listening, noticing, reading, talking, debating and writing…. And also through doing nothing and just letting learning settle and sink in. 360 reviews, PDR’s, seeking feedback individual and group coaching have all helped me to grow and develop over this period.

My learning comes from all angles in thousands of moments. Personal 360 feedback during this time gave me a clear message; people recognised that I am able to observe, make sense, translate, reflect, learn and share in ways that others find more difficult. And they wanted me to do more of it. And they wanted me to share it more openly, in real time, without seeking ‘permission’ or invitation from others.

Sense Making and Sharing Learning

Presentations to conferences and events in other parts of the country: this serves a dual purpose of forcing us to take stock, capture the journey and consider what it is telling us about what matters.

Experimenting with learning approaches such as the GM Moving Cafes that we started running monthly in June 2019. These were organised in a café, with food, soft drinks, space for people to connect and chat. They were opened up far and wide and explored topics that emerged in the interim, so they weren’t set in stone too far in advance. Content and topics were crowdsourced or suggested by someone who was wrestling with something in particular.

 Developing Understanding and Sharing It Freely

Twitter continues as an important tool that helps me to connect, follow up, remember people, listen, ask, collaborate and crowdsource ideas and challenge to my writing. It is quite striking, even as I write this, just how many of my relationships in the ‘web’ have either started or have developed and grown on twitter. Twitter is also a fantastic way to invitation diverse people to to be part of the overall movement or specific conversations on particular workstreams.

Meetings with and visits with people from other places are always learning moments. People visiting Greater Manchester to learn from us, or inviting us to share learning with their teams and boards always present two way learning opportunities. During this period I began to realise that some of our pointers for leadership practice were key to making the most of these opportunities, such as ego-less leadership, humility,

Shadowing other Leaders. As I mentioned above. During this period, I made time to shadow some leaders I wanted to learn from. I wrote about this at the time. The shadowing was an invaluable learning opportunity, and also enabled some shifts to take place in the direction of the work as a result. Aswell as the learning for the work, I learnt a lot personally and have thought since about the leadership styles and characteristics that I value in them. I also recognise their weaknesses and flaws, which gives me permission to have weaknesses and flaws of my own!


Blogs became an invaluable way of me making sense of what was going on. Up to summer 2018, writing blogs was something I did in my spare time, as a hobby. I didn’t count it as work. I didn’t make time for it as work. Articles and poems bubbled up in me and burst out, rather than being scheduled or planned. I was challenged though by leaders, colleagues and those outside of GM Moving to do more of it and make time for it because it was valuable to their learning too. I’ve written about blogging here, for those who are tempted but nervous to share my thinking openly, like I was.

Poems have become another way to share learning, what matters to me, to inspire, provoke thinking in others. I started writing poems a couple of years ago, but never used them at work. Thanks to twitter, I suppose, people started to react and use them themselves, and even ask me to use them in conference speeches, which was way outside my comfort zone at the time. These days I often write a poem during a meeting as just another way of articulating what I am thinking and is just a different way of communicating. Here are a selection of poems that have made a difference in my work:

Leadership Is…Work is…, ‘Colleagues’  Courage Is…  Something Shifts (written for Suicide Prevention Week 2019), After that Day (written for Suicide Prevention Week 2019), Wild Swim, Wonderful World`

What have I learnt about leadership during this time?

I need to think about this some more, and my leadership learning is peppered throughout most of my blogs. As I’ve been writing this piece though, some specific learning have come to mind. Most of all this, which you may benefit from too.

Perfect Better

  • Being very clear and comfortable with not knowing everything or being an expert.
  • Genuinely seeing the value in different perspectives, personalities, approaches.. even the ones I find most difficult and where there is dissonance.
  • Getting comfortable with difficult conversations, in service of the work: When the Conversation Feels Difficult? Go There..
  • Recognising the conflict and tension can be opportunities for transformation. Again, helped by Lederach, I have written about this here.
  • I am more aware of my background, biases and how this can help and hinder my understanding and impact. This is something I am trying to keep in full view and share more openly with others. I wrote specifically about my working class background here, which was something I’d never really considered before.
  • Recognising the need for air cover and safe spaces to work through the tough stuff.
  • Keeping a sense of humour, lightness, fun  and joy in the work.

How does it need to change?

I recently gathered feedback and have heard some powerful messages about the things people value in leadership in this work. Here are some of them:

  • Honesty, integrity, openness, inclusiveness, empathy, being human and real, especially in tougher times. Drive, determination, tenacity and commitment. Not being complacent.
  • Developing a culture where people can speak freely and are genuinely heard.
  • Valuing different perspectives, positive disruption to norms and ways of seeing.
  • Ability to constructively challenge at the same time as building stronger relationships.
  • Developing teams– internally and externally- supporting people to develop as individual leaders.
  • Being able to quickly make sense of what is going on, articulate it and share it to make more change happen.
  • Being ambitious to widen our collective influence/impact and our ability to influence across the system.
  • Being open to challenge and thinking about what our blind spots are and how we develop and improve.
  • Being open to collaborative approaches and seeing this through in practice
  • Having trust and confidence in people to play their part in their way, with support.
  • Being appreciative, encouraging and supportive, yet challenging and demanding.
  • Having an ability to balance ‘big picture’ and ‘detail’

I have also heard some ‘asks’ which are a challenge to us all. We are still working out the balance in some of these;

  • Not everyone knows what we know. Don’t assume that people do, and don’t shy away from being ‘experts’ sometimes. Acknowledge the scale of what we’re doing and what we have learnt so far (with humility). This is a tough one for us because it doesn’t sit so easily with the things that people also value – humility, ego-less leadership, collective wisdom and experience and a genuine belief that we are all learning from each other all the time. One for us to work on together.
  • Some people can’t keep up with the pace, some want us to go further faster…
  • We can’t please all of the people all of the time. If we do, we’re probably not making enough change happen.
  • Keep working hard to get out of the bubble of people who already get it and are on board. Find more diverse views and perspectives and grow the web. Address the inequalities in engagement with the work, and in activity.
  • Be bolder. Tell it like it is.
  • Seek forgiveness, not always permission.


6: What does all this learning mean for GreaterSport as an organisation

In February 2020 I took on the role of GreaterSport CEO in addition to my GM Moving leadership role. This has presented new opportunities, challenges and learning for me and for the work.

This section offers some initial reflections (4 months in, and during a pandemic) on my experiences in the CEO role of an Active Partnership as the organisation keeps evolving and growing to play its best part in the mission of GM Moving and the wider Greater Manchester Strategy. As Sport England engages on its new strategy framework, it could help with our collective journey to ensure our workforces are ready to lead it’s implementation.

What we are currently exploring and working on…

  • What we are currently exploring and working on…
    • Defining a vision for our organisational role within the mission.
    • Defining the organisational role in movement building.
    • Working out the right blend of programme management to system leadership approaches.
    • Supporting our Board and Team to play their part in the work as the approach changes.
    • Challenging ourselves on the make-up of our Board and Team to best play our part in the mission; diversity and different lived experiences.
    • Developing our leaders as agents and catalysts for change: engaging, influencing, weaving webs, enabling, facilitating, leading, convening, connecting, inspiring action, collaborating, learning and sharing, delivering, inspiring, illuminating.
    • Considering our tone of voice and our role in wider societal change, particularly around inequalities.
    • Balance between internal focus and heads up, looking out and ahead.
    • Developing a learning organisation that supports a learning system.
    • Moving from the language of relationship managers to relationship builders.
    • Recruitment to different roles and descriptions that are fit for the future.
    • Organisational culture change: collective decision making, shared leadership, values, behaviours, ways of working.
    • Operating in ways that are open, transparent, seeking feedback, responding, sensing approaches.
    • Ensuring that the whole team are aligned to ways of working that are most conducive to making change happen.


So this is where I have got to with my story.

There is a section to come, on where I am right now, what we and I need to work on next, and what our current conundrums are. Here’s a pointer towards some of them, system challenges and organisational ones. But I’m off for a run now… I’ll come back to it later!

  1. GM Moving’s role in the Greater Manchester Covid-19 recovery.
  2. Diverse thinking, diversity in governance and leadership, and in our webs.
  3. Addressing inequalities in activity levels and closing the gaps.
  4. Strategic engagement in a whole system approach in localities and nationally.
  5. Influencing and shaping national and local approaches and direction of travel.
  6. Coinvestment into the future of the work.
  7. System and organisational culture change.
  8. Greater understanding of the ‘Power of How’
  9. Translating learning into action.
  10. A long term approach to wellbeing of future generations in GM and beyond.



[1] Movement Building Articles

GM Moving: An Unfinished Symphony

The Art and Soul of Building a Movement

Life in the Web (The Art and Soul of Building a Movement)

The Critical Yeast (The Art and Soul of Building a Movement)

The Gift of Pessimism (The Art and Soul of Building a Movement)

Leading with Ease (The Art and Soul of Building a Movement)

Footnotes: Relevant Events 

Section 1: Active Design Conference, Active Soles, GM Further Faster Conference and Launch (Nov 2018)

Section 2: Recruitment and development of GM Moving team, GM Moving whole team away day Dec 2018, recruitment of pilot and walking teams and enablers.

Section 3: Bring People Together: Jo Cox Foundation Great Get Together (Jan 2019), meeting with Sport England to reflect on leadership behaviours and culture (March 2019 with Tim Hollingsworth, July 2019 with Natalie Ceney, October 2019 with Tim Hollingsworth and GM Leaders), GM Moving Conference, Team Away Day, British Muslim Heritage Centre, Active Design/Urban Design session, GM Moving Strategic Leaders’ Lunch (Feb 2020), GM Moving Round Table (Feb 2020), Salford City Mayor’s Lunch- whole system conversation in Salford.

Make time to go to others’ parties: Leaders in GM programme, Marmot City Region event GP Advisory Group Meeting.

Join other’s key networks, learn from them and contribute to them: LCO Network, Communities of Practice on person and community centred approaches, weekly calls with GM Active Board during Covid-19 pandemic, VCSE leadership group, 10GM regular calls. LCO Network session on value with Chris Ham and Andrew Harrison.

Creating the opportunities to meet, engage and learn in other networks: If you don’t ask, you don’t get! eg- Adult Care, Health and Justice, Mental Health, LCO Network.

Speeches, presentations and shared learning opportunities with others working on whole system approaches to physical activity and population health: Leicestershire, Derbyshire, Nottinghamshire, Newcastle, Wales, Ireland, National Active Partnerships Convention, Gloucestershire. Different agendas; Prehab for Cancer, Dementia Conference, Greater Manchester Police Wellbeing Conference, PHE North West Staff Away Day,

Section 4: MoU Refresh, Renaming of GM Moving Steering Group to GM Moving Exec and Governance Review.

Section 5: Relevant events/examples: Singapore Sport delegation visit (Oct 2018), Tim Hollingsworth visit to GM (March 2019), Sport England Leadership and Governance Group.London Sport Conference (wore trainers for first time!), LGA Culture/Sport Conference, Greater Manchester Dementia Conference (Jan 2019), Good Employment Charter Active Workplaces event, iNetwork Transformation Conference (share feedback), GM Moving Webinar,

Other Reading:

GM Moving Journey and Learning

GM Moving Pointers for Leadership Practice

GM Moving Local Pilot learning (1)

GM Moving Local Pilot learning (2)

GM Walking: Connecting and Growing the Ecosystem

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