Skip to content
Podcast Article February 7th, 2024
Innovation • Legitimacy • Justice

Reimagining Government season 2 episode 6: transcript

🎙️ Listen to the episode

In season 2 episode 6, we explore different ways of courageously approaching difficult conversations and hear examples of when they can help make a real difference to the people we serve.

Listen now

Listen to the full episode below or click here:

[00:00:00] Adrian: Before we start today, I wanted to let you know that this episode contains difficult subject matter that you may find upsetting, so please proceed with caution. 

[00:00:10] Jacinda Ardern: You can be anxious and wear your heart on your sleeve. You can lead. Just like me. 

[00:00:19] Adrian: Hello and welcome to the Reimagining Government. My name is Adrian Brown and I'm the Executive Director at the Centre for Public Impact and navigating difficult conversations and complex issues is a big part of the work to ensure that the government is serving its people correctly.

Ignoring difficult realities, only worsens their effects. So how can we learn to approach these subjects with care in order to find timely resolutions that are appropriate to the circumstances. Joining me today to talk about complexity and difficult conversations within governance are interim Co-directors of CPI Europe, Karen Lawson.

[00:00:54] Karen Lawson: Hi Adrian. It's great to be here. 

Adrian: And Harriet Hunter. 

[00:00:57] Harriet Hunter: Yeah, lovely to be here.[00:01:00] 

[00:01:01] Adrian: So when we're talking about difficult conversations, then we're talking about those conversations that are hard to have because they are uncomfortable, because we feel unsure, uncertain. We may feel vulnerable, guilty, all sorts of reasons why they are difficult conversations.

 But I think first of all, that's humanity, right? That is, as human beings, we have all of these emotions and we are full human beings in whatever role we're doing. We're not avatars. And so those feelings are there whether we surface them or not, but the systems within which we work often for a whole variety of reasons, push those conversations out of sight or away. We don't centre a difficult conversation probably because it's difficult. You know, from a system perspective, it's much more comfortable for people to focus on the process. The reason I think this is such an important conversation is it sort of gets to the [00:02:00] heart of the kind of transformation that we certainly seek at CPI, which is to say, you know, systems and processes only get you so far.

Basically, there's a whole load of other stuff, which can often be uncomfortable. That we need to, we need to explore, and that's what difficult conversations are about. 

Before we dive into the topics of today, are there any common mistakes or pitfalls that you've seen in your experience when, when approaching the topic of difficult conversations?

[00:02:25] Harriet Hunter: I think maybe something about framing them is difficult, actually for me. So if I think on a really personal level at work thinking, you know what? There's a conversation I need to have with that person so that we can do the work we're trying to do together better. I. And that conversation is for some reason making me feel uncomfortable.

You know, there's, I feel like there's two paths. There's a path of kind of ignoring it, and there's a path of noticing that I feel uncomfortable and thinking, well, what if I don't judge that? What's actually that about? I would often spend quite [00:03:00] a bit of time thinking, how can I approach a conversation with that person that's going to most likely result in us being able to both stay open to hearing each other and exploring where we go with something?

 Rather than, I need to show up and convince this person that what I want them to do or what I think is what needs to happen. Yeah. And just remembering that, God, we all feel it.

There's no, uh, there aren't many people I don't think in the world who don't find a conversation like that. A bit of a daunting prospect. 

[00:03:28] Karen Lawson: Yeah. uh, I think probably the avoidance of it for some, for some people. There's a tendency to just always want to be comfortable and it's better to put a process in than actually speak to people so that that sense of we could deal with this if we just put in another process or another route, and they don't, they avoid that.

So I think that there's something for me around being able to sit with your own discomfort. And just recognise that, which is what Harriet was saying, is just to be with that. And then how do you [00:04:00] enter into a conversation, and not assume it's gonna be difficult. We can freeze by making huge assumptions about what the other person's going to say.

I'm sure we've all had that, where we've gone through in your head, they're gonna say this and it's gonna be like this. And before you know it, you've created a scenario. Your, your, your thoughts of taking you somewhere else.

SFX: Those living in our poorest neighbourhoods are 15 times more likely to die from drugs. There has been a steep and sustained rise in the loss of life across Scotland since 2013. The rate of death is much bigger than other European neighbours. Finland, Ireland, Sweden, even the rest of Great Britain, a fraction of Scotland.

Karen: It may not be a surprise to people, but Scotland has the highest rate of drug deaths in in Europe, and the rate of people who die from a drug-related death is almost three times higher than anywhere else in the uk.[00:05:00] 

There's been lots of attempts to reduce, uh, drug use, either through punishment or support services. But what we've been really interested in is Inverclyde - it's taking a much more systemic approach and, uh, much more relational approach. They've learned that almost a third of the people who died had been in police custody in the last six months of their life.

So the Inverclyde Early Help in Custody service meets with people while they're in custody. And offer support with whatever they need most. We're gonna hear from Lara from the service to tell us a bit more about that. 

[00:05:37] Lara Colraine We’re outreach service, short term, um, for everybody that is in Greenock Police Station who have got drug and alcohol problems. We are an outreach service, so basically we bring the service to the person. We don't really work on an appointment system or like three appointments and you don't, you miss them, you're out. We will carry on trying to get people engaged so they can, we can support them to [00:06:00] access mainstream services. I think a lot of other services are very specific about what they can do, so you need to fit in that kinda box, you know. And we've got a lot of people who have maybe got drug and alcohol use problems, but also mental health problems as well.

A lot of that time it comes hand in hand. So when you're maybe supporting somebody to access a mental health service, some mental health services will say, well, no, we can't support them because they're still drinking or they're still taking drugs. And then sometimes if you go to your addiction services, they can't get access to mental health services.

So it's kinda all a bit like that, whereas we can kinda support them to access the services that that can look at different things. And plus as well, it stops people having 25 workers doing 25 different things. So you've got a worker that's helping you with benefits, you've got a worker that's helping with your substance use.

You've got a worker that's helping you with housing because see, when you've got so many different things that like you've got hundreds of debt. You've got gas and electricity. You've got no food. Your substance use has increased significantly. You're maybe shoplifting to try and fund it. You’ve fell out of treatment, your mental health's affected.

So if you think of that one person with all the different problems, of course it's going to overwhelming. So when we go in, we'll assess that person, assess what the support needs are, and identify with them what do we need to sort out first, you know, to being able to move on to the next thing.

[00:07:27] Harriet Hunter: So the factors that lead to people dying through drug use are really complex, which I think Lara beautifully describes, uh, in that clip.

And that siloing services into neat little boxes is not a way to tackle a complex problem. I think that's one of the reasons why Inverclyde's services have really tried to remain flexible so that they can really try and create conditions of change for people.

[00:07:55] Lara Colraine: I think one of the biggest things for our services, we support people where they're at at [00:08:00] that time.

What's the most important thing for them at that time? And that could be anything. It could be that they fell out of treatment. It could be something as simple as there's no electricity in their house. Or it could be that they're fleeing violence. It can be anything. Do you know what I mean? It can be anything.

And that's what I like about our services because we're so flexible in what we can do, and we've got scope for that. We don't have this very like small, you’re not fitting in this tiny wee box. Do you know what I mean? We can support people with doing all different things. It's not about the huge, or let's get the, let's get everybody off drugs and there's not gonna be a problem.

Their mental health's going to be great. They're going to have a nice bought house somewhere. And it's not about that. It's just these small differences that you can make to somebody's life. 

[00:08:46] Adrian: The approach that's outlined there certainly sounds compelling. And as you've, as you've already pointed out, Harriet, it's about, um, not putting people in boxes.

It's about meeting people where they are rather than perhaps where the [00:09:00] system would want them to be. It's about being persistent, I suppose, about, about not giving up, about not saying you've missed three appointments then you’re out. So there's a lot of factors associated with it. I know that you've both been quite closely involved.

How else would you characterise it? What stands out for you and what's been our involvement with this actually as CPI? 

[00:09:18] Karen Lawson: Yeah. We've worked as a learning partner with Inverclyde, uh, partnership over a year. I think you really hear it and these voices there that, um, there's total commitment to the individual.

There's a real sense of valuing the humanity above everything else. What really struck us through the work was a lack of judgement. There was never a judgement about people about their drug use, and there was never a sense of waiting until they were better in order to intervene. And that's one of the things that's really unique about this service.

They work with people wherever they're at and where, whatever they want to work on. So that sense of really [00:10:00] being person centred or human centred. But it comes over, you can really hear it in the passion for being with people and commitment to them right from the start and never, ever giving up. People really had that sense of wanting to address this issue, but also they would recognise the, the difficulty of moving to working collaboratively like many people. This has been our experience across a system is how do you actually do that? The practicalities of that, that we're not really set up to do that. And so that was a constant learning and a constant, uh, sense of curiosity for us is - how do you work across the silos? And keep this very, very person-centred approach at the heart of what we do.

And that's a pattern that we see, uh, appearing, uh, across all the work that we do is this tension between really everybody wanting the best for people and how we [00:11:00] break out of the silos. 

SFX: The relentless war on drugs is accelerating Scotland hopes one day to shake off the badge of shame. 

[00:11:09] Harriet Hunter: To really change the way services work, to really meet people where they're at, what they need to be focused on, what people need, rather than what the service has kind of defined as a need does involve kind of collaboration and kind of working against the existing ways of connecting and working and practising together. So the difficult conversations are often in, how do you keep coming back to that lived experience and how do you keep making a connection from that back to what is it we're all trying to do together here while we're, while we're trying to help people change their lives. And I have so much empathy for people working in public services, I’ve done so myself for several years.

You very quickly find yourself in a position where you're being held to account for.key performance indicators or finances, resources [00:12:00] or the things that have then become quite disconnected from the point of things. Uh, and there's lots and lots of difficult conversations to be had and lots of being able to stay human in that, to being able to continue to bring your own humanity to the, the job and to, um kind of work to collaborate with people who are maybe finding it trickier to see what's needed at that point in time. 

[00:12:30] Adrian: Let me just raise an objection that some people might have who are listening to this, which is I understand that being very person centred and, and stepping out of our silos and our performance systems and our governments and accountability systems and focusing on their needs and, and meeting them where they are. That makes a lot of sense. It also makes me feel really nervous because how am I, how does accountability work? How [00:13:00] do budgets now work? Which organisation is responsible or accountable?

And isn't this a recipe for chaos and, and anarchy and, and, and, or a lack of, a lack of control or a lack of accountability somehow. So what, what's, what's the response to that? 

[00:13:17] Karen Lawson: We can't get rid of the sense of the measurements, but do we use the measurements for learning or to beat people up with? For example, in Inverclyde, we were creating these kind of circles in which the team were learning about what it took to really help people, uh, in custody and what were the successes? What were the barriers? And then feeding that up to the sort of partnership groups. So there is a system in place to say, what are we learning from this? How can we work more effectively? How might we share, uh, budgets? How might we actually start to think differently about our service in a, a place?

So I think that it lends itself very well to sort of place-based work. So what, what is it we're learning? What might need to change? [00:14:00] What might we experiment? But I think there's something about the difficult conversations are often around - how do I let go of what is, what I think I've been in control of and let's be honest, you're very often not in control of. So there's a bit of a sense of you think you could do this and this and it's going to change things. And so we do a lot of covering up. I don't think there's one answer to it, but I think there's something about trying to keep the greater good in your head.

But what are we trying to do here? And are we really improving people's lives or are we just caught up in a cycle of trying to meet our targets? Creating a space to talk openly and showing compassion can break down barriers and building the trusting relationships are really vital to create change. And we're really pleased that we've got another worker from the Early Help in Custody, Martin, uh, who's gonna talk a bit about that.

[00:14:54] Martin Begley: A compassionate approach to working with people as well is, is a massive thing because a [00:15:00] lot of the folk that we would work with on outreach who have kinda like a chaotic lifestyle and, and very high risk. You know, they're a place in society where they're kind of frowned upon, looked upon. Uh, and I think, you know, when you come with compassion and you don't judge them, I think people respond to that.

If you're doing this sort of work, if you say that you're going to do something, then you need to do it because people have been let down most of their life. And they've been failed by the system. Uh, and so I think it, it's like things like integrity for relationships, compassion, uh, these, these, these are massive and, and good people skills as well, and being able to speak to them where they're at.

I can only go from my own experience, do you know what I mean? Like being part of the system and being in addiction and that for years, you know, I'm not saying like the system completely failed me. But I think a lot of the, the approaches were quite clinical and that as [00:16:00] well, in a lot of ways. And it didn't, it didn't really work for me.

There wasn't really like relationship focus or compassion or it was a case of there's a script or there's that and, and going your way. And that's fine to a certain extent, but I think I was nearly heard, you know, I didn't really have a voice. I think when things changed, it was really when people started listening to me and, and I got to decide what my treatment should be and what I desired.

You know, that's a massive shift. It's a massive change through the way things used to be 12, 13 years ago, 

[00:16:36] Karen Lawson: I. I think we can really hear from Martin that repositioning the conversation from this is what you should do to, what would you like to do? What's really important to you? And that changes the power dynamic and means seeing the whole person, understanding the challenges that they face and working alongside them to navigate the system.

It is, without a doubt, a really tough job in a complex [00:17:00] system. So how do the workers approach it? Why do they do what they do? 

[00:17:06] Martin Begley: For me, like the motivation to do this sort of work is, change is possible. Uh, so like the motivation to, to kinda get up and do this sort of work, it's hard. It's not an easy job because if you care about people, you know, and you see 'em in a, a terrible state and that it's not easy just to switch off from that.

Having experience in being in addiction and being homeless and, and all these sort of things and, and changes came about in my life. It's like, you know, I almost feel like if I can change and, and get the treatment that, that I needed, then, then anybody else can do that. And so to be a small kind of part of somebody's life where they make changes in their life, positive changes and move forward, it's like that's what gets me up and out my bed in the morning just to, to kinda be part of that.

[00:17:51] Lara Colraine: Being able to make that small change and for that to make such a huge difference in somebody's life, you can't, you [00:18:00] can't buy that. Do you know what I mean? You really can’t. You feel as if you're not getting anywhere sometimes and just with all different things, whatever's going on for people. And then just to get that wee glimmer, that's somebody just even smiling at you or, or even just anything at all, just anything so small, just makes such a big difference in this job.

To make they big differences in people's lives just keeps me going every day. 

[00:18:28] Adrian: It's really inspiring to hear both Lara and Martin reflecting on why they do the work they do. And one thing that occurred to me as they were speaking was whilst of course this is a difficult challenging, complex set of issues, intertwined issues that, that there are no easy answers for s we've already discussed. A simple insight at the heart of this, which is to reorient the conversation, to shift the mindset from one way things happen to other people, to one where we ask whether [00:19:00] system asks of how can we help you in a, in a sense that's actually remarkably simple. Now how that happens is extremely difficult, but in a sense it's actually just a shift of perspective, almost a shift of mindset that then unlocks everything else and allows the kind of conversations that need to happen to happen and allows the kind of support to flow in the ways that make more sense. Am I, am I being overly simplistic there?

[00:19:27] Harriet Hunter: No, but what I’m really starting to realise with some of this work is how quickly you notice. You have to be able to leave your own idea of what is a good thing, your own values behind, if you're gonna be person centred to some extent. We all turn up our jobs with a set of, this is what I think, this is what I think about drug use.

This is what I think about what people who use drugs ought to be, should be given as support. What you know, do I find it too awful an idea that, [00:20:00] that we accept not giving up using drugs as part of the answer? Something that I heard, somebody I work in government talk a lot about is if you need, you need to come into relationship with the issue that you are working on.

You really need to understand your own perspective on the particular issue that you're working on if you work in public services, because if you don't understand that, you will not be aware of what you're bringing. I used to be a midwife many years ago. Uh, I don't think I ever had conversations with colleagues about, what's, what's, how do I show up in relation to the idea that the person I'm gonna work with child is gonna be taken into care on the delivery of this baby? And what does that mean to me? And, and what, how do I feel about that person before I go into the room to look after them? Or after I've come out of the room?What was that experience like?

 So sometimes I feel like. Not being able to have those conversations is really dehumanising, actually. Um, the fact we don't have them and then that just is one of the things that contributes to us not being able to do what you [00:21:00] just described. Adrian as actually both really simple and really complex, I think.

[00:21:05] Adrian: So we'll draw that conversation to a close there. And after the break, we'll be coming back with a different type of difficult conversation when we speak to Gamal “G” Turawa.

This is actually somebody I've known for, for quite a few years and have, have worked with. He's worked with us at at CPI, so this is Gamal Turawa who goes by G and he knows a thing or two about complexity.

[00:21:40] G Turawa: Um, the highlights, the highlights. Okay, lemme give you the highlights, first of all, and then if you wanna probe any of them, just feel free.

Fostered, child abuse, homeless in a third world country. Magician. Chicken farmer. Struggle with self-identity. I was gonna say suicide, but that wouldn't quite work. [00:22:00] Attempted suicide. Police officer. Formerly. Diversity inclusion facilitator, leadership facilitator, coach. Uh, BAFTA winner, national Diversity Award winner.

So that's the short version. 

[00:22:16] Karen Lawson: Wow. That that's quite a journey. Yeah. 

[00:22:19] Harriet Hunter: Karen and I were lucky enough to have a conversation with G, and we wanted to speak to him on the subject of complexity and difficult conversations and his life journey and what he'd encountered and overcome in terms of difficulty and complexity. And he now does, as he was describing, a lot of wonderful work consulting and leadership and high performing organisations.

He believes that one of the key points to tackling complexity in these settings is really understanding who we are and what we bring with us. 

[00:22:50] G Turawa: I think it's about thinking about what do we bring to that as well? Yeah. What do we bring, you know, how aware are we of what we're carrying when we go into those spaces and who we [00:23:00] are in those spaces because, you know, we're never just one person.

 Mm. Yeah. It's, um, I mean, it, it, it kind of reminds me of a Japanese, uh, I think it's a Japanese quote that says, um, we are all three people. I am who I think I am, I am who you think I am, and I am who I truly am. And it's about, um, finding ways to make all those three align as much as possible.

And for me to be aware of who you think I am. It depends on where I, who I'm with. Am I here as G or am I here as a consultant or am I here as an ex-police officer? What, what's, what space am I in when I'm with you? What I find is leaders are in spaces where they're more concerned about who they think they should be rather than who they are.

[00:23:54] Harriet Hunter: So who we are and what we bring to a conversation as a leader really sets the tone more than maybe we [00:24:00] think. G went on to share a great example with us that displays how the same difficult conversation can really change based on the place, the setting, and the position that you're in. 

[00:24:12] G Turawa: The one that immediately comes to mind, which kind of opened up a whole stream of work for me actually was during the George Floyd tragedy. In this organisation that I knew to somebody who was the Chief Exec in this organisation, and they said they had one of the directors who, uh, was very disparaging about Black Lives Matter. 

So she rang me up and said, um, would you be able to do some one-to-one work with him? And I met up with him and I said, this is the conditions. The conditions are: everything that’s said between us is just between us. I'm not going back to report back to the organisation about where you are or anything like that.

This is just a conversation between you and I and I will go wherever you want to go. And he said he wanted to start with this thing called white privilege. [00:25:00] And I said, okay. And he started to talk about his views around it, you know, it doesn't exist, all this sort of stuff. And I showed him a few exercises and he was like, oh, I've never seen it like that before.

And we got to the end of the session, I said, here's what I would like you to do. And he said, what's that? I said, I'd like you to go away and talk to a few people about what you've learned about this today. 

So he comes back the following week and I said, how did it go? He goes, wow. Wow. Great week. I said, go on.

He goes, well, I spoke to Abdul. We had a fantastic conversation. I spoke to Ranjit, had a great conversation, and I spoke to Leroy. That was unbelievable. Great conversation with Leroy. And I said, sorry, can I just stop you for a second just outta curiosity. Were all the people you spoke to, people of colour?

And he said yes. I said, well, I'm not happy with that. Go and have a conversation with some white people. So he went away, come back the next week. I said, how did it [00:26:00] go? He said, well, we had a team meeting and I brought it up in the team meeting. I said, for two hours we were there talking about it. Said, can I just ask a question?

I said, um, who is in charge of that meeting? And he said, well, I was, I said, so you were in a position of power when you were holding that meeting? Yes. I said, I'm not happy with that. I said, what I'd like you to do is go and have this conversation with your friends down the pub, or your mates on the golf course or at a dinner party.

And he just froze. And I said, what is it? He goes. That's gonna be really hard. I said, here we are. This is where the courageous part comes into it. It took him about five weeks before he came back to me and he said, uh, he said a couple of times, he said, I've got some mates that we all hang out together. A couple of times I wanted to start the conversation.

You know, people, I could see people getting their heckles up and all this sort of stuff. And then he [00:27:00] says, so I stopped. He said, then something will come up and I'd start again. But then I couldn't really go through with it. He said, and then eventually, so I got to a point where I thought, no, I'm gonna go for it this time.

And he started to talk about it. He said, I was amazed how some of the people I've known for years suddenly changed. And he said, but the interesting thing he said, I found myself defending my position. And he goes, well something else happened. And I said, what? He goes, I have volunteered to be the head of diversity for the organisation.

And I said to him, there's no better person that could do it because you've gone on that journey. You are on that journey. You've opened that door, through those courageous conversations you know, now that you can have them. So that was a, that was a really powerful example where that change took place and that courage. Now you just have to walk with someone.You don't force 'em, you just walk with them and say, look, this is the challenge. Let me just point you in that direction and see what happens. 

[00:28:01] Adrian: Well, it's a fantastic story. Firstly, I, I like, I like the alternative language of courageous conversations rather than difficult conversations. I think that, that's perhaps helpful.

I also know G and I know the work he does, and it's, and it's enormously powerful, particularly with individuals and small groups. But what's the connection here for, for you with our broader work with governments and with public services? What's the, what's the connection between what G is saying about those courageous conversations and about the importance of power and positionality and public service?

[00:28:39] Karen Lawson: I think there's so much in what G says at every level. I, I think one of the things is about who we're talking to and do we have a, a groups that we talk to or individuals that we rely on. And, and so that consideration about who we're actually talking to, about who's got experience, but who are the people we need to have those courageous conversations with? Who might we be [00:29:00] avoiding? So I think there's, there's lots in there.

 But I think that whole thing about having individual time with people cannot be, uh, underestimated. While we might think government's huge, there's something about the power of an individual conversation, and there's something also about learning, being quite an emotive thing. That we, we are changed when we feel that connection. And I think that's sometimes what we really need to work on in terms of the work we do in terms of governments, it, it's all about how that's happening and thinking about how do we really bring that human experience back in and allow those spaces to really explore and to challenge. Because he's very challenging in that, and so how do we do that in a way that it feels empowering in the end, the person? 

[00:29:52] Adrian: Hmm. I really like that idea of difficult conversations or the, the sense of discomfort being [00:30:00] almost an indicator of power or an absence of, of power. We have our own internal sort of geiger counter for detecting where, you know, where, when are we close to source of power? When are we further away, when are we more influential? When are we less influential?

 And if you are going to have a conversation and you are thinking, I'm feeling pretty nervous about this, or I'm feeling discomfort about this situation, it's actually quite an interesting question to ask yourself sort of why is that and how does it relate to your own positional power or relationship with, with the situation you find yourself in?

[00:30:36] G Turawa: For me, when you're training leaders, you have to not only talk about vulnerability, you have to show them, you have to allow them to experience it with you and see, see, see how powerful it can be. You have to model it in some ways. 

[00:30:51] Karen Lawson: And I guess that's about that sharing of not knowing. 

G Turawa: : Yeah. Yeah.

Karen Lawson: And um, that we, we don't always, uh, get it [00:31:00] right.

[00:31:01] G Turawa: Yeah. We are perfectly imperfect. 

Karen Lawson: Absolutely. 

G Turawa: Uh, it's okay not to have all the answers.

[00:31:07] Adrian: So this is an interesting conversation for us to be having because I'm the executive director of CPI, so I am in a leadership position. You are both the regional directors and an interim capacity of the European team.

So we're all leaders. One sort or another. I'm already feeling uncomfortable about this conversation now because I'm reflecting on my own leadership, but what are your thoughts on what G's saying there? 

[00:31:33] Karen Lawson: I think the more open you can be in some ways about your vulnerabilities or getting it wrong or saying to people you're not quite sure how this is gonna work out, but let's notice.

I think you have to model it. I totally agreeing with him that there's no point in speaking about each other people and saying it's okay to make mistakes, we are a learning organisation. We place failure. We really valu failing and not [00:32:00] actually model that, uh, and live that. 'cause it's what we do that will become the culture.

[00:32:06] Harriet Hunter: We've just been having a couple of conversations about this with the team actually and some of the work we've been doing. Point of vulnerability being connection. So I know when I've worked on leadership programs and talked about this with people often sometimes had the reaction of. You want me to be vulnerable?

You mean I have to collapse in a crying heap on the floor in front of everybody and share my deep, deepest, darkest problems? It's like, no, you just need to share enough that helps people connect to you and connect to your human experience. We all love stories because stories reflect our own sense of ourselves, I think.

So I think I often think about that's every remembering that everybody is, imperfectly imperfect. So showing that you are the same is just a way to, is a way to connect to people and helps them be more honest and open and take [00:33:00] risks. I think there's been some really interesting work I've been doing though about what that means if you have experienced, uh, systemic discrimination in your career.

I, I have just been really wondering about this and what that means around vulnerability. Because on sometimes you may have learned, well, I don't want to be, I'm not gonna be vulnerable with this group of people because that just adds to my chances of being really sidelined, discriminated. Um, and then other colleagues saying to me, yeah, but you must realise that actually maybe, as G talks, but I think I, I have this huge capacity to not need to belong as much as you, because I haven't been able to belong. I have, there been lots of situations where I haven't been able to belong, so I don't have an answer about it, but I just think it's a really a thing to be really aware of. What does, what does being vulnerable mean to you personally? It's worth thinking about as a leader and, and [00:34:00] what might it mean to people in your team and or whoever you're working with.

And then also if you work in a very hierarchical, paternalistic organisation and you start being vulnerable, it comes as quite a shock to people because they have got into quite a parent/ child pattern of working with you. So I think be prepared if you're really shifting that some people will find it really uncomfortable to be, to be invited into an adult relationship rather than looking to you to be the parent and to make sure everything's fine.

Um, so, so it's, it's a journey I think. 

[00:34:35] Karen Lawson: So finally we asked G what he thought were good first steps into changing traditional mindsets within leadership. 

[00:34:42] G Turawa: Start with writing down what questions are you looking for the answers to, and then start that, that, use that as the basis of your beginning. And the other thing is I would say, you know, if you can reach out to someone who can be a coach or a guide or someone you can bounce off of.

Yeah. I have a thing that I [00:35:00] call a build yourself, a campfire group. And a campfire group for me is that group of people that you can sit round a campfire with and just be yourself. And you know that whatever you bring to the campfire group is respected and held in trust by the campfire group. 

[00:35:18] Adrian: So that's a actually quite a, a practical idea of actually to finish with here, of, of joining the conversation back up to the, to the earlier discussion in the podcast where we were talking about the challenging settings of working with people who are from a whole range of different issues in their lives and the complexities around that. Could the people working in those services make use of a campfire setting?

How would that work? 

[00:35:40] Karen Lawson: I, I definitely think that's a, a really good idea, and we've experimented with similar things before and it's always been, uh, well received. I think that sense of having a way to express whatever's happening, your vulnerabilities, your courage. I think that the [00:36:00] more we have that kind of setting for people, the, the more authentic, uh, and back to your sense of self, I think sometimes it's not a case of that you become a different person. I think you become who you are. I think these, um, this idea of nurturing that kind of space is, is really important and certainly one that I think a lot of people would really appreciate.

[00:36:27] Harriet Hunter: I, I was smiling all the way through that, Karen, because you and I are probably part of a campfire group that we have been part of for a good number of years. Uh, of people that we've met through work and all, all the.

All the, the time's been part, something like that. It's been informal. And so I wasn't put in one by anybody and given a time to have it. And I'm just really thoughtful about, how do you create spaces for people to legitimately find their group and create that group together and do whatever that [00:37:00] group wants to do.

Uh, because if you, if you try and formalise it, I think you remove the agency in it and the, and the joy in it and the,yeah, the chance that it'll work. Um, so the worst thing, Adrian will be kind of mandated campfire groups where somebody else decided who I needed to be in a group with and… but the best would be that I didn't have to create my own and do it out of work time.

Although, of course there's something about that that's kind of, it's a blurry line between maybe friendship and, and support. But actually for me it's been people who I've met through work who know my work, me and my friend me and that it's great when that, that's a very, that's a real overlapping person.

[00:37:48] Karen Lawson: There's loads of ways to do it, but I think so that, I think he's tapped into something 'cause I think everybody understands that sense of what a campfire is almost without being told what it is. But I think it's [00:38:00] something you go to freely. And I would totally agree with you. I think it loses, uh, any kind of meaning if you're told, and that's probably the same for any kind of group work and sense of this kind of deeper work is it has to be something that you, you want to come to.

And so we make the conditions something that people want to come to, uh, rather than forcing them.

[00:38:31] Adrian: I mean this, this feels like a really nice place to draw our conversation to a close. I suppose my parting thought is that the difficult conversations we've been talking about are, they, they're difficult because we feel uncomfortable about them. But also you can't force them as we've just been talking about.

But maybe there are some things you can do to encourage them. Uh, but it's subtle and it's often happening in the [00:39:00] space around the visible bits of the organisation or the system that we're working. So it's sort of invisible or not noticeable on first glance, but perhaps happening everywhere all the time as well.

I dunno if that's really helped in, in a summation, but it, it's been a fascinating conversation. And, and thank you both for joining us for today's episode.

Harriet Hunter: Thank you. It's been great. Yeah. 

Adrian: So this concludes our episode of Reimagining Government today. Thank you so much to our co-hosts for this episode, Karen Lawson and Harriet Hunter.

 If you're a public servant or a policymaker, we want to hear from you what good examples of tackling, complexity and governance have you seen. You can call into the show through our answer machine, head over to and leave us a message and please be aware that we may play out, uh, any messages that we receive on the show.

If you'd prefer to write to us, you can email to let us know what topics we should cover in future episodes. Also, please remember to leave us a review on your favourite podcast platform and let us know your thoughts on the series. Until next time, I've been Adrian Brown.


🎙️ Reimagining Government

This podcast explores radical new approaches to addressing global issues such as the climate crisis, equitable healthcare provision, and rebuilding trust with marginalised communities.

By speaking with public servants and politicians at the heart of government, we’ll shine a light on how to reimagine government so it works for everyone.

Listen to season 2 episode 6

Written by:

Share this article: