Anthony May

AnthonyMay 2015

Currently Chief Executive of Nottinghamshire County Council, Anthony was formerly the Corporate Director for Children, Families and Cultural Services, and Deputy Chief Exec. He has substantial experience in delivering strategic improvements to meet national and local priorities. With overall responsibility for the Council's £1.2 billion budget and 18,000 employees, Anthony is ultimately responsible for the provision and performance of around 440 services to 796,000 people across Nottinghamshire including vital services for children, public protection, social care, highways and Public Health.

To someone going into leadership today I would say "Detail matters." Get to know your organisation from the bottom up. Ask people their views and use these to describe success and the future. Create a route map from the broad vision to implementation of concrete strategies and action. Do the detail, it matters. Understanding detail enables you to manage performance. There may be some people who are able to lead effectively without doing the detail, but I'm not one of them.

Bill Palmer, my boss in the late 80's early 90's, was inspirational. He looked at work in a totally different way to the managers I had met before. He had a clear vision, he was creative and innovative. He taught me a great deal and made me believe that I was someone who could lead and make change happen.

I spend a lot of time visiting services and talking to colleagues at all levels in the organisation. I ask them what they think, what they like about their jobs and what challenges they face. I reinforce our values of public service and explain what my role entails. Its fair to say most of the new ideas have come from these conversations.

We are currently promoting coaching as a culture in our Council. We have amended our supervision and appraisal processes so they are more about a reflective dialogue. We want to encourage more ideas from colleagues at the sharp end, and to reach co-produced solutions which are thought through from all angles.

I believe humility is the characteristic which most marks out a leader. Where we see leaders demonstrating lack of vision, a lack of courtesy or respect for colleagues or an over reliance on status to get things done, we generally see that leader derailed.


Aspirant leaders could do well to gain a high level leadership qualification, an MBA for example, and a coaching qualification together with direct experience of a front line service. That combination of reflective theoretical knowledge and real life experience is unbeatable in terms of gaining understanding of how the world works and what matters most in local communities.

The challenges presented by the complex nature of providing public services are significant for Public Sector leaders today. Increased demand at a time of diminishing resources, rising expectations, the complex web of partnerships and sectors and changes in the way people live in this digital and global age all serve to create very real challenges for leadership.

I think the biggest misperception people at work have of me is that I'm too serious and lack a sense of humour. Public service is a serious responsibility, but I try to take something positive out of every day. Some days are better than others, that's life, but if I were starting out again tomorrow I wouldn't change a thing. My only regret is that I took too long to stop trying to do everything myself.

The job that gave me most satisfaction over my career was when I was Area Youth and Community Services Manager. I felt in touch with young people, but able to influence change at a strategic level too.

The best advice I ever ignored was "Its a marathon not a sprint." sometimes it has to be both. Of all the talented people I've worked with Mick Burrows, the Chief Executive before me, taught me the most. I never saw him despondant or downhearted, he always made time for me and his support for me never waivered, despite sharing some tough times. Mick was the best boss I've ever had.

On reflection, I think I would tell my younger self to listen more and think before you speak.

My legacy? I'd like it to be "He made time for me."