Leadership Lucky Draw: Tony Clements

March 7, 2024  

​Tony Clements is the chief executive of Ealing Council. He first started working at the council in 2017, joining Hammersmith and Fulham LBC for a stint before returning to a leadership role in Ealing.

He takes a chance on New Local’s Leadership Lucky Draw, exploring topics from how to get things done, to why Ealing is taking a positive slant on immigration, to how to turn around a negative workplace culture.

Hi, I’m Tony Clements and I’m chief executive of the London Borough of Ealing.

We’re one of London’s biggest boroughs. Some of our borough feels like inner London, some of it feels like the suburbs. Some of our real highlights are in Southall, which is a centre of British Asian culture, in terms of food and shopping. We’ve got great creative industries in Acton and Ealing and obviously a huge history of film in the borough.

I have my questions. Let’s see what the first one is.

Is leadership different in your sector? Why and how?

What I feel about local government, particularly compared to when I worked in the private sector, is our leadership needs to balance so many different things, from money to legal duties, environmental outcomes, social outcomes.

We don’t have that simplifying factor of, what drives the revenue. So, I think that’s really distinct about local government. And as more businesses go into ESG, you begin to see them struggling with the sort of debates that we deal with on a daily basis.

Tell us about the worst boss you’ve ever had.

The worst boss I’ve ever had was someone who was top down, micromanaging, directive, completely details and process focused, which really clashed with me. But also when I look back, I think, if I’d had more wisdom as an employee, there might have been some things I could have learned from his approaches as, as well.

Rather than thinking he was wrong, I could have thought to myself, this is a perspective that I myself would benefit from as well, alongside other things I do.

What’s the biggest opportunity your sector is facing right now?

I think there’s a huge opportunity for us to be the part of society, the part of the public sector that really focuses on strengthening community.

Bits of our public services do all sorts of good things. The health service helps us get well. There’s bits of government that help us get into jobs. But the only bit that really thinks about how life is lived in a place is local authorities. And I think there is more ability for us to really lean into that space, to own it and to fully elevate and promote that strength, resilience, connection and community is a huge part of what makes a good life worth living. So there’s still tons of space for us to operate and to do great things in that mission.

If you had just six months to help turn a negative workplace culture into a positive one, what would you do?

In any big organisation, there are always people who are working in the culture that you want to see. So find those people, promote their work, elevate their achievements, and use them as the role models for the new culture.

And that helps those that aren’t working in that way to bridge into different behaviours. They see it as not something new or top down, but something their colleagues, people they’ve known for a long time already do. So find the people that have those behaviours that fit with your new culture, and shine the spotlight on them for everyone.

Can you recommend a book, podcast, film, that inspires you in your work?

A film I saw recently that I thought was inspiring, was a film called The Swimmers, which is about some Syrian refugees that come to Germany. And that was a really helpful inspiration and reminder of for me that [despite] all the stresses and pressures that the asylum system puts on public services, many of these people that come to our country have huge strengths and can be huge assets in our community.

Increasingly in Ealing, we are thinking about the contribution that our new arrivals are making. Not just worrying about the public service impact and getting them involved in the ways they want to be welcomed in our community. So a really, a really powerful film. I strongly recommend it. It’s on Netflix.

Any secret tips to getting stuff done?

I think the best way to get stuff done is to do the tasks that match your mood and energy in the time. So if you’re feeling creative, do a creative task. If you’re feeling disciplined, open up your spreadsheets and get stuck into your budgets.

What gets you in a state of flow, a state of mind in which a person becomes fully immersed in an activity?

I think that would be working on a really difficult problem with some engaged and lively colleagues. I love a workshop. I love getting the Sharpies and post-it notes out. That kind of space where you’ve got to do something really difficult. But there’s loads of opportunity to be creative and think differently. I love that kind of work.

What’s the secret ingredient for good leadership that most people don’t know about?

Well, I don’t think there’s a secret ingredient, but I think the key to it is doing and remembering to do what you already know, consistently and well enough, and doing it and doing it all the time.

I think that’s the, that’s the toughest bit, I think. And then finally, if I wasn’t doing this, what would I be doing? I’d be at home looking after my two wonderful boys if I wasn’t doing this.

I hope you found those answers interesting.

It’s been really fun to do this with New Local. I think they’re doing really fascinating work at the moment. So check out the other things they do.

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