civic

The title of this post is taken from a TV series that ran for nearly 20 years. Called Stars In Their Eyes, it involved members of the public, sometimes celebrities, impersonating famous people from the music industry. At the beginning of each impersonation you got to see the person going about their own life and giving clues about who they were going to be. Just before their transformation into the pop star, they would introduce themselves by saying the words, “Tonight Matthew, I’m going to be [insert pop star’s name].”

I’ve no desires to be a pop star or impersonate others but this week has been helpful in better understanding the need to define the difference between me as Phil from Moortown and as Phil from the council.

As a comms chap, my work involves explaining things that are sometimes complicated, complex even. Part of what I do is to encourage others doing particular jobs to consider telling their own stories about what they are doing. I find people generally relate to people far more than a corporate viewpoint. It also helps in humanising where we work and perhaps makes it easier to do business with. There’s a gradual uptake of using social media and blogs helping with this but it’s still early days. Some are naturals but not everyone is comfortable explaining what they do or using social media and therefore rely on traditional methods and me and my colleagues.

Out of work, I contribute to various discussions and attend various events in which my employer may be involved. Sometimes it’s a tricky road I find myself on. My personal blog and non work contributions to discussions about what is going on where I live and my attendance at events has no doubt helped with what I am now able to do at work.

Sometimes though I can’t shake off the perception I’m mostly seen as Phil from the council when I’m contributing as Phil from Moortown. On occasions I’ve considered not sharing my thoughts but concluded that would be a cop out as I’ve a right as Phil from Moortown to contribute to life in my city.

I think it would be fair to say that sometimes those that do face up as being a representative figure take the grief on behalf of those that don’t. That perhaps comes with the territory of being the comms chap.

So recently, for the first time ever, and which happened to be part of the #cityseriesleeds discussions but could have been other discussions, I felt the need to clarify me contributing as Phil the local resident as otherwise it had the potential to confuse if I’d been perceived as a voice of the council.

Sometimes I look at discussions and debate and see various frustrations about what my employer is involved in. These frustrations can sometimes be aimed at some of the people I’m trying to encourage to provide the added context that’s sometimes missing but which might make all the difference to how things might be better understood. I suppose these folk are up against it both ways. Either they don’t have the confidence or they feel they’d be shot down in flames if they did make themselves more accessible. Damned if they do and similarly if they don’t. And that’s not a good thing for making progress in encouraging open discussions. Some of those folk look to me for help or look to see at how I’m getting on in managing my personal professional dealings. People from across the country take an interest in what is going on in Leeds too, in our city discussions.

Nothing really worth doing is ever easy, but sometimes it feels like inertia to get things moving actually stifles the potential for real open dialogue. There is potential to scare folk off from crossing organisational boundaries and enriching the cultural conversations on how things could be. It is good for organisations to hear alternative views. Alternative doesn’t necessarily mean wrong and can lead to compromise!

I hope that me sharing my understanding of trying to balance me as resident and me as an employee encourages some middle ground that allows various city conversations to build and others to join in and be welcomed.

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