Authentic, Loving Leadership

Over the last year, I’ve had the privilege of spending some time on a leadership programme with the NHS Leadership Academy. One of the things it has helped me to do is talk more openly and honestly about what is important to me, what shapes me, what makes me – me! I have spent a great deal of time thinking about the word ‘authenticity’ and how I can be true to my deeply held values, no matter where I find myself, or whose company I may be in.

 

I did most of my ‘growing up’ at University with an incredible set of friends, who have remained at the core of my life. One of our founding principles as a bunch of mates was that we would not do fear or shame, but that we would be honest and open with each other about whatever we were going through. I found myself being able to talk about stuff that had been bottled up for years and making me feel rubbish about myself and as I did so, I found I was loved, not for what I did or performed but for who I was – just me, as me.

 

This kind of open and honest vulnerability sits as one of my core values in leadership because I believe it keeps me humble and permissions others to open up also. For some, there is a fear that if you show weakness, others may turn it against you – but that is a voice of fear that I personally will not succumb to. The depth of relationship that we form in any team is determined by our own ability to open up and show our true colours. I believe that being honest about where we are failing or weak allows others to be honest too and it makes us more human, builds connection and allows us to build team with real integrity.

 

Personally, I am continually influenced and changed by that man, Jesus. In the Gospel of John, we are told that any time anyone questioned his identity, his legitimacy or his authority, his answer was simple: I am, who I am. For us to be authentic, we need to know who we are, so that whoever we are with, we remain true to our core values. Throughout our life’s journey we are continually challenged to decide which way we will walk. Will we walk the easy way of life, in which we allow our ‘ego’ to remain in tact and have people see a projection of ourselves? Or will we choose the more difficult but life-giving way, of letting our ego be stripped back, so that our true self can be seen?

 

What I have witnessed over the last few years, is that leadership can rob people of their humanity. The structures we work within can end up dehumanising us, as the ego becomes puffed up and we find ourselves protecting the image we have projected. As we climb the ladder of responsibility, we can begin to modify our behaviours and as we do so, we begin to subtly let go of our core values. Perhaps we forget where we came from, or we feel the need to protect our position. Perhaps, we’ve never dealt with our own sense of entitlement or the privilege of our background which helped to propel us into positions of influence in the first place. Perhaps we never really confronted our own shadow and have carried on building our own ego project, which somehow permissions us to act in very unhealed ways.  Perhaps we get proud and lose the humility to accept that we don’t know the answer to many of the questions thrown at us, but instead of opening up the conversation towards a collaborative process, we lock down the control and increase the demands on our teams. Whatever the reason, hierarchy so easily dehumanises us, unless we work really hard to subvert it.

 

There is a real art to leading in the midst of complexity, due to the interplay of mechanistic structures and the living systems of which we are a part. The ability to resist the the demanding expectations of the behavioural norms of the machine, whilst ensuring the job gets done and setting a culture of kindness, openness, trust, honour, joy and dare I say it, love, takes bravery, time and audacity. All too often, especially at a regional and national level, I am seeing that people seem to forget who they are and begin to behave in ways that lack authenticity, treating those who were their peers, only a few months previously with disdain. I tire of seeing people talk down their noses at others, or gather people into a room to shout at them, as if this is an effective means of communication. When we see it, we must call it out. We must subvert it before submitting to it. Only by doing so, will we expose it for the phony, imperial nonsense that it is and find a way through to a kinder, more human way of leading. As my great friend, Roger Mitchell says, “Love is the purpose of everything.” A great question for leaders is, “How much love am I loosing here?” If the answer is, “not a lot!”, then maybe think about why on earth you are leading and how you might do it a whole lot more authentically!

 

 

 

 

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Inconsistent and Incongruent Messages

The King’s Fund have just released an excellent video to help explain how the NHS works and some of the complex things going on in it at the moment. It doesn’t shy away from making it crystal clear who is in charge of the money, nor the difficulties we’re facing in staffing and resource allocation. Have a watch of it and then keep reading!

 

 

What is particularly important to understand, especially where we are learning to work in new ways together, like here in Morecambe Bay, is just how inconsistent and incongruent the messages are that we receive from the leadership structures of the NHS.

 

So, here in the Bay, we are forming an Accountable Care System, which brings together different health & social care commissioners and providers to work more effectively together. We are forming great relationships, breaking down walls and barriers to work together, whilst tackling significant budget issues as we try and ensure that we deliver care in the most excellent, safe and sustainable way for our population (whom we are trying to include fully in the co-design of the services we provide).

 

One might think, as we are being actively encouraged to reorganise ourselves in this way, that the Department of Health, NHS England, NHS Improvement and the CQC would all be pulling together to support these changes. One might presume that they would ensure the various contracts and ways of paying and assessing us would enable us to do this important work – the opposite is in fact the case!

 

On the one hand we are encouraged to ensure we work more efficiently and “cut the waste” out of our system, but when we do so, the contracts in place are working against us!! we literally being told to work one way and then penalised if we do! It is an entirely schizophrenic existence and creates an extraordinary amount of wasted time and energy.

 

I’m not exactly sure what it is that is causing the disconnect between the different regulatory bodies. However, as they require of us a new collaborative way of working that ensures greater efficiency and improved models of care…..perhaps it could be better modelled and enabled by those in the “centre”. This would give the entire reorganization a great deal more integrity. Cultural and behavioural change is talked about a great deal and we are enacting it despite the perverse drivers working against us. I wonder if the same is true at HQ, Elephant and Castle. This mixed messaging needs to stop and those of us leading systems, working with great complexity, need to be given the permission, support, and enablers to really flourish.

 

 

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