Begin with the end in mind
I recently was given the opportunity to work in an other health board area in a senior leadership role. It was easy to understand this role as a leadership one as the post directly managed only a handful of staff, and yet it’s impact should be felt on the greatest number of staff working in the Board. What was less easy was to understand what impact I could have in only three months (the length of my secondment); for me the important aspect of this dovetails with my last blog and my re acquaintance with Covey – Begin with the end in mind.
What was the end I had in mind, what did the Chief Executive have in mind and what would the individuals within the teams I would be working with have in mind.
Week one was hectic, there were people keen to meet me (which was nice), meetings that had to be attended, papers that had to be read. The Chief Executive drafted my objectives for the three months secondment (based on our conversations), and I was all set. However, my role as a leader demands more than what can be captured in a set of objectives.
If you don’t know where you are ..
In some ways the opportunity I’ve been given is to support others as they travel towards their destination – that’s a privilege and a responsibility. That said however, this involves individuals and teams knowing where they want to be, the destination, the shared vision. It involves ‘starting with the end in mind’ – what is the passion of the individual clinicians (as its mainly with clinicians I’ll be working), what do they truly want to deliver every day they come to work? Are each one of us focussed on the individual in front of us, the next person who will walk through the door. For each of us, it’s important to have a vision, to understand our personal/professional values, to understand our impact.
While I am a great believer in having a vision, an understanding of where you want to be, it is also important to know where you are. If you don’t know where you are, how do you know which way to go? Think of it as a road map. You might know the destination but without a starting point you are unable to determine the direction you need to head, where should that first step fall. Once we have accept where we are, good and bad, we can determine the steps needed to achieve our goal.
Pushing down or pulling up
Booker Washington said “There are two ways of exerting one’s strength: one is pushing down, the other is pulling up”. Leadership isn’t about pushing others down, it’s about pulling them up.
I recently read a blog by Todd Neilson about Leaders in ‘beta’ being a mixture of ambition with humility (beta refers to the IT term of things being in testing stage). He noted that it was ok for leaders not to know everything, this reminded me of Hawkins and Smith four stages of leadership – experimentation, the leader needs to understanding that it is ok not to know everything. Stage two starts with accepting that as a leader you are always in beta mode, always learning always testing. As you put that testing, learning and self reflection into action the next stage is evidenced by experience accumulation, you start to gain confidence in putting into actions the things you have learnt. Full leadership is more difficult to achieve, but people who have moved into this phase are obvious by their actions, they focus less on what they can get out of a situation and more on what they can put in, the outputs are more important than their person accolades. Their motivation is ‘what is the difference I want to make’, Covey described this as one of his four basic needs- To Live, To Love, To Learn, to Leave a Legacy: not the legacy of self serving obsession of fame, but rather the difference that the leader supports others to achieve, even when they are no longer there. Hawkins and Smith describe Eldership as the final stage in the development of a leader, many do not get there. The feature of this leadership stage is a detachment from the difference the leader can make and a focus on what has to be done, creating an environment for others to achieve. In this respect it follows a similar theme to Greenleaf’s concept of Servant Leadership. The perspective of:
- - caring for others
- - being mentor minded
- - having the passion to develop others
- - being the compassionate collaborator
There have been few times in my personal leadership journey when I can reflect with any certainty where I am in relation to the stages described. However I am confident that my role, over the next three months, is not about me, it’s about creating the environment for others, it absolutely isn’t about pushing others down, it’s about pulling them up.
This role I’m in is about Eldership, it about supporting others to ‘be all they can be’, to help set their path for the future.
It’s about finding leaders, but it’s also about finding followers - concepts that are not mutually exclusive, although the wisdom to know when, to be which at what point, can in many circumstances be elusive.
Whatever else, I’m looking forward to working with many new colleagues.
Sharpen the saw
A couple of unrelated (in space and time) but interesting things happened last week, firstly my daughter took a feng-shui approach to one of the rooms in her flat – to be honest, I’m sure this was more accurately described as picking things off the floor: however let’s not be unkind. For the purposes of this blog the relevance lies in her discovery. As she tidied her academic books and related resources she came across a manual she had been given and used on a course she attended – Covey’s Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.
The opportunity to ‘sharpen the saw’ had presented itself to me and I wasn’t about to pass on it. Over the next two days I read the handbook, alongside my own copy of Covey’s book, which provided a more in depth explanation.
There was an unmistakable relevance and challenge for me in Covey’s work as I reflected on my impact and influence as a leader :
- was I always ‘proactive? (habit 1),
- did I always ‘start with the end in mind’? (habit 2),
- did I ‘always put first things first’? (habit 3).
After some self review I think I’m pretty good with habit 2, I use this as a guide in my day to day work, it has a synergy with my belief in having a vision and working diligently and enthusiastically towards it. As a leader having a vision is critical, without it how can you expect anyone to follow you? Perhaps more accurately how can you truly expect high calibre followers to follow you – people who will challenge you, who will rise to your challenges, who have as their driving principle ‘excellence’? A leader without followers …..?
Quadrants of activity
On the whiteboard in my office I have Covey’s four quadrants of activity as a frequent and ongoing reminder to engage with habits 3 – put first things first. The diagram has been there for some time, and, rather like the habit itself it would benefit from being rewritten and refreshed – an early task I set myself for Monday (yesterday) morning.
When considering my activities I aim to keep them above the line, when I don’t manage to achieve that I know I’m not always putting first things first and that pro-activity is perhaps slipping a little.
Post Interview feedback
However this blog isn’t simply about a refreshed encounter with Covey, it’s also about the second ‘event’ I referred to in the opening paragraph. It’s relates to a meeting with a new and emerging leader and one specific aspect of the conversation. The meeting was focused on post interview feedback – an activity I highly commend to everyone, whether successful or unsuccessful in a job interview. Indeed those that are successful at job interview quite possibly have as much to gain from this feedback as those that were not, it’s an area we would do well to consider in terms of staff development and supporting people into new posts. However, I digress.
During the conversation I was asked about one of the questions that I had posed at interview “what would you do on day one, if you were successful today?”. What was I looking for with that question, what answer was I expecting?
Seek first to understand
The simple answer is I wasn’t looking for a specific answer, it was a people question, I was trying to understand if the candidates had considered a future where they would be in that position, did they have a vision to share. If a candidate hasn’t consider what success might look and feel like, are they really in a strong position to influence an interview panel that they are right for the job? I know people will grow into a job, that people take time to develop and mature, but day one is also an important day, it can set your path for the future.
The second thing I was perhaps expecting (but also hoping to avoid) from that question was the rather clichéd ‘I’ll listen to people, hear what they have to say etc etc’. Of course listening is extremely important, we all need to practice it more, however I expect successful candidates to have an understanding of the role they are about to take on, as well as an understanding of what they are going to contribute to the role and, importantly, to be able to share that with their new team. This brings me to the dichotomy inherent in Covey’s fifth habit ‘seek first to understand, then to be understood”
As a new leader people will be looking for an indication of what impact the change is going to have on them, what will this mean for the services they provide. A new leader simply saying ‘Im going to listen’ is a disappointment for teams.
Day one is an opportunity to share the vision, Sinek in his Tedtalk (and his book) talks about the Golden Circle – Why, How, What – day one is a day to involve teams in the ‘why’, it’s an opportunity for the new leader to share their ‘why’, it’s an opportunity to inspire.
The ‘how’ is where listening comes in, we all need to listen to team members, we all need to feel we’ve been listened to.
As a new leader, or a leader of a new team, Covey isn’t encouraging us to inaction, he’s encouraging us to recognise the value in understanding your team, to get underneath their ‘why’, only then can the team move forward together with ‘how’ to address the ‘what’ that is needing done: remember however they also need to understand your ‘why’.
Last week I had the privilege to attend the Principles into Practice Network Awards and Conference - to be honest I get to attend a fair number of conferences, the question really is why blog about this one. Followers of my blog will notice of course that I blogged last week about a conference, however my purpose in that blog was to highlight the power and reach of Twitter, this is different.
The Mental Welfare Commission for Scotland, through their Principles into Practice Network hold this bi-annual event. It is there to celebrate innovative and good practice from services and projects across Scotland in exemplifying the principles that underpin the Mental Health (Care and Treatment) (Scotland) Act 2003. For ease these principles are noted in the table below:
- Respect for diversity
- Informal care
- Respect for carers
- Least restrictive alternative
- Child welfare
The conference opened with Lorraine telling us of her journey with mental illness, through the dark days of depression which she described as a Sunami sweeping over her, an overwhelming darkness where she lost hope. For me one of the powerful messages from her was her explanation of others hold her ‘hope’ for her, as she had lost it. One of the critical aspects of this is the ‘temporary’ loss of hope and of others holding it for her was the need to enable her to take back that hope as she progressed through her recovery.
In her discourse with the audience Lorraine (Renaissance woman) allowed us insights into how she “gained strength though vulnerability”
In her pictorial presentation she vividly described the fragile road she travelled, how creativity had given her a path of hope and a way to self reflect on her recovery. For absolute clarity, Lorraine was not saying recovery was the absence of mental illness, it was the ability to live well in the presence or absence of it. See http://www.hope4recovery.co.uk for details of Lorraine’s story.
“People outwith ‘art circles’ may not recognise or appreciate the immense value of art and creativity in recovery” – it seemed that lots of people agreed with that! Underpinning this statement from Lorraine is her explanation that creativity is one of the first ‘gifts’ we develop as children, is it therefore any wonder that if nurtured and encouraged that it should not be one of the first keys in the process of recovery – it’s not “just a nice hobby”. For those of us in health or social care services please take a few minutes to reflect on how (if) your service supports this aspect of a persons wellbeing.
At lunchtime I was near to tears, I went into the lunchtime film showing of ‘My Life’ a film made by Peter McMahon. Peter’s film explores the many way that he was bullied and ridiculed simply for because he had a learning disability. The film was a wonderful portrayal of how Peter rose above the bullies and engaged with a wide group of individuals and organisations. I was also immensely saddened as some of Peter’s contemporaries described how remained a feature of their lives.
Chilling aspect of the film were when Peter’s friends aid “most people have experienced being bullied because they had a learning disability’. The film has also some poignant moments of triumph – when Peter speaks on the local radio station, when he influences the local bus company to taking seriously what happens on their buses. Making the film meant that Peter. for the first time was really able to speak to his own family about it and thereby tap into the natural support that was there for him. A powerful film, made by a larger than life character.
The film is available for use for education purposes – if you are in education or work with groups of people where you think the message of respect, of embracing of ‘different’ could be enhanced this film can support your work.
Finally, it wouldn’t be me if I didn’t give you a few Twitter facts from the conference:
I think I’m becoming rather sophisticated in my dotage – yet again I found myself listening to BBC Radio 4 (while traveling to a meeting) an activity I must confess I’ve never really indulged in prior to the past few months (other radios stations are available, but some are rather tedious). I say sophisticated as I presume erudite people listen to Radio 4, some of the stuff though is decidedly clever and often understanding passes me by.
It was rather like that this week as I listened to Melvin Bragg discussing philosophy with his guests – the discussion centred on Epicurus. Initially this confused me a little, surely an Epicurist is someone who purveys gourmet food or drink, or one who enjoys such delights from the perspective of having a palate that appreciates the finery of food and drink? Apparently this doesn’t mean the deli counter at Asda!
The Epicurus being discussed was a philosopher who founded his system of beliefs (Epicureanism) around 307 BC. His teachings were about the pursuit of pleasure, believing that pleasure itself is the only intrinsic good. As the programme developed it became clear that this ‘pleasure’ was a state of being, less physical, more a state of mental tranquility, a freedom from fear and the absence of pain.
Initially I was only half listening as my mind was considering my PhD supervision session that was hurtling round the corner towards me; what had I achieved, was I any clearer since the last time I had met with my programme director and supervisors? If you have read my last blog you will understand that, in relation to my PhD, I haven’t yet reached a state of ‘tranquility’. My literature search wasn’t revealing the ‘ta-da’ moment.
It was in relation to my PhD that I started to consider what I could learn or adapt from Epicurus. His philosophy considered that the way to reach tranquility (pleasure) included the gaining of knowledge related to the workings of the world around us and the limits of one’s desires. The state of tranquility was only possible in the absence of fear and pain. In this context PhD mental fear – what if what I have done isn’t good enough, or I’ve headed down a blind alley? – it all seemed rather self imposed doubt and rather self defeating.
Keep it simple
What struck me about Epicurus was that he considered simplicity as the path to the tranquility he sought, it made me reflect on my current PhD journey thus far, perhaps I wasn’t keeping it simple enough, perhaps I was over complicating things – as I said in a previous blog, I was too intent on getting it right from the start, rather than allowing myself to grow into it . Perhaps the ‘pain’ and ‘fear’ about progress and clarity were of my own making – the way to achieve a level of tranquility was to ‘keep it simple‘.
At my supervision the following day I had a clearer map to explore, I felt I understood the aspects of my search that sparked my interest – the ‘pleasure’ in Epicurus’ speak.
This mindmap is less cluttered than my previous mind dump, this one narrows my focus onto two main areas of interest – impact on staff and impact on the individual. Neither area exists in isolation, however in pursuit of tranquility, at this point, it was agreed to keep it simply. Infection, as a topic has been sidelined, although it may return later. Ethnography is ‘parked’ while I read more about it and other methods of enquiry.
Overall it’s too soon to claim tranquility has been captured, however simplicity has brought a decided reduction in the fear factor, a more tangible sense of ‘the possible’. Perhaps pleasure will be the next step.