We Have a Power Problem!

NHS – we have a problem! This blog forms a hiatus in the middle of a 4 blog mini-series about what I call the four rings of leadership (in the context of healthcare). I have been musing on some statements made at the IHI conference in London, Quality 2017, and before I go any further, I want to take a pause to reflect on the notion of power. Helen Bevan says that the number one issue facing our health care system is the issue of power. I would suggest that unless we seriously reflect on power and how it manifests itself in our systems and in us as individuals, then we will never be able to co-create health and well-being in our society.

 

In my last blog, I mentioned an excellent talk that I heard Derek Feeley of IHI and Jason Leitch, the CMO of Scotland, give together about our need to “cede” power, if we are to build safe, high quality, economically sustainable health systems. They contend that we need to move from keeping power, to sharing power and then ceding power. To cede power, means to transfer/surrender/concede/allow or yield power to others. I do believe this is correct. I believe that true leadership is absolutely about being able to ’empty out’ positions or seats of power, so that all are empowered to effect positive change and build a society of positive peace. However, my contention is this: ceding power is not helpful unless we first deal with the very nature of power. Once we have dealt with its very substance can we truly cede it through our organisations and systems to bring increased well-being for all.

 

I have talked many times over the dinner table with my great friends Roger and Sue Mitchell about the nature of sovereignty and power. Sovereignty is a dominant theme within our political discourse at the moment, at a national and international level. It is worth reflecting that sovereignty (the right to self-govern) is utterly intertwined with our understanding of power, and we need to pull the two apart if we are ever to cede the kind of power that can transform the future. If we do not recognise (have a full awareness/deeply know) this, we will continue to inadvertently create hierarchical dominance and systems that become the antithesis of what they are created to be.

 

 

We see the issue of sovereign power at work every day in the NHS. We see it in terms of power edicts from on high, without understanding the local context or issues worked through in a relational way. We see it in the way these edicts are then outworked through leadership and management styles, which are very top-down and hierarchical in nature, eating up people like bread in the process – what Foucault calls “Biopower”. We see it in the way wards are managed and in the way GP surgeries are run. Sovereign power says “I’m in charge around here” and “we’re going to do things my way”. We see it in individuals who choose to practice autonomously without thinking about the wider implications on the system, prescribing however they would like to, without thinking about the cost implications. We see it in the attitude of some patients, when it becomes about “my rights” with an unbearable or unaffordable pressure put onto the system. If we multiply sovereign power, we simply end up with lots of  kings and queens who defend their own castle, creating more barriers, walls and division in the process. Sovereign power is defunct and dangerous and it is this which is currently destroying our ecosystems and wider society. The “I did it my way” approach is rooted in self preservation and ambition and does nothing to help us build health and well-being in society. Sovereign power stands in the way the very social movements we need to see, because Sovereign power is based on fear.

 

Sovereign power has its roots in certain streams of theology and philosophy which have in turn laid the foundation for a way of doing politics and economics based on the supremacy of the state and within that the individual. However, the damaging effects of this are seen on our environment and on community, with utterly staggering levels of inequality, injustice and damage to the world in which we live.

 

If we are to truly cede a power that is effectual in changing the world, then it is not enough to simply reconfigure (rearrange) it, or reconstitute it ( i.e. give it a new structure/share it). First of all, we must revoke it! In other words, we must look ‘Sovereign power’ straight in the eyes and reject it, cancelling it’s toxic effects on our own selves and on that of others. We must change our minds about it and embrace instead a wholly different kind of power. Sovereign power has not changed the world for the better so far, and I hold no hope of it doing so in the future. No, we don’t need Sovereign power and we certainly don’t want to cede it. Instead, we need kenotic power. Kenotic power is based in self-giving, others empowering love (Thomas Jay Oord). It empowers others, not to live like mini-dictators, but to also dance to a very different beat.

 

I used to play the card game bridge, with my Grandpa (he was an amazing man, who invented Fairy Liquid!). In bridge, to revoke something is to fail to follow suit, despite being able to do so. Kenotic power refuses to play the game of Sovereign power. It embraces an entirely different approach. And as many through the ages have found, this kind of power is truly costly, and can even cost you your career or life; but it is the only kind of power that truly changes the world for good. Jesus, Rosa Parks, Emmeline Pankhurst, Gandhi, MLK, Malala Yousafzai, Nelson Mandela, Florence Nightingale and Mother Theresa are just some, who have embraced this ‘self-giving, others empowering love-based power.’ This is the kind of power we need now. We need it in healthcare and in every other part of our society.

 

Kenotic power is vulnerable but it is not about being a door mat. It is like a beautiful martial art, in which we can say “I won’t fight you and you can’t knock me down, unless I let you” In other words, we lay down our rights and power freely, they are not taken from us by force. So, even when energetic attacks are launched against us, this kind of power allows us to move out of the way, allow the attack to pass through and then to come along side the person and help them see another point of view. Switching to this kind of power is far more creative, less combative and far more fruitful in creating a way ahead full of possibilities without the need for making enemies in the process. We must challenge the deep structural belief that our political and economic systems must be built on and can only be held together by Sovereign power. What if we developed systems based on love, trust, joy and kindness, aiming for the peace and wellbeing of all (including the environment?) – what might such a health system be like? It will take a social movement for us to get this shift, and as I wrote in my previous blog: You might call this a re-humanisation of our systems based on love, trust and the hope of a positive peace for all. But this social movement is not aiming for some kind of hippy experience in which we are all sat round camp fires, singing kum-ba-yah! This social movement is looking to cause our communities to flourish with a sense of health and wellbeing, to have a health and social care movement that is safe, sustainable, socially just and truly excellent, serving the needs of the wider community to grow stronger with individuals learning, growing and developing in their capacity to live well.

 

 

I agree wholeheartedly that the most important role of leaders is to cede their power, so that all can truly flourish, where there is a far greater sense of cooperative and collaborative agency within our (health) systems. But if we do not examine the nature of this power, we will only perpetuate our problems.

 
Martin Luther-King said these famous words – they are seriously worthy of our reflection:

 

Power without love is reckless and abusive and love without power is sentimental and anaemic. Power at its best is love implementing justice, and justice at its best is power correcting everything that stands against love.”

 

 

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Time to Face the Music

UnknownWe have yet to really face up to the crisis we are in. We keep on pretending that by making a few alterations here and some adjustments there to how we deliver health and social care, we might be able to save the NHS. But this simply isn’t true. Last weekend saw a crisis conference for GPs nationally as 38% think they will be forced to leave the profession in the next 5 years due to severe under-resourcing and increased stress (that would be a loss of 10000 GPs throughout England, with government plans to recruit only 5000 by 2020). Yet again our Emergency Departments are at breaking point, Junior Doctors are staging further strikes, Public Health Services have been decimated and although new partnerships are being forged with social services and (to some extent) the education system, deep cuts in both those areas mean there is little time or energy left to find new ways of working for the future health of our population. Throw into the mix a need to save £22 billion through “efficiencies” and couple that with the crippling debt caused through programs like PFIs in our acute hospital trusts and we really do have a problem.

 

Complicating this picture is the stark reality that 1 in every 5 pounds spent in the NHS is as a direct result of our current lifestyle choices and we have images-2believed a lie that the NHS is “free” and therefore we can treat it however we like and live however we want and it will somehow magically sort us out. On top of this we have an ageing population with increasingly complex health needs and an ongoing under funding of the entire system (only 8.9% of GDP).

 

And we cannot we forget the financial crash of a few years ago which was a major warning sign to us that we are living in a broken system and the god that is
imagesthe Nation State is beginning to crumble all around us. Let me just repeat that difficult statement in another way. The grandfather that is the Nation State is now utterly riddled with a cancer and it is dying. The cancer, like all cancers needs ever increasing growth in order to sustain it’s life and our economy is set up to feed it, but even built on the pyramid of power, control and debt, it can no longer survive. Like any dying man, it is holding on for dear life and as it does so, it puts the squeeze ever tighter on to health, education and other public services, pretending it is still powerful, controlling public services through the slashing of budgets and ever tighter and undeliverable targets whilst not actually dealing with it’s debt issue at all, but telling us all a story that it is. And the mouth of Unknownthis dying beast, the media that has become utterly complicit with it all, spouts out tale upon tale of how mighty the State remains, “punching above it’s weight” on an International scale (using violence and threat where necessary to do so), but tightening it’s belt to ensure economic sustainability. Am I being dramatic? Listen, when 85 people now have more accumulative wealth than half the world and when the 50 richest global corporations are richer than the 50 richest Nation States (and are therefore powerful enough to tell them what to do), the facades must come down. The Emperor has no clothes on.

 

images-1And so it is time to face the music. Once we realize that the centre cannot hold, we can permission ourselves to find new ways of being. There really are alternatives to what we have now. there are other ways of being. Life will go on. We can learn to dance to a different tune, we can sing a new song and begin to reimagine a different kind of future. We can learn to live differently. There are some tough conversations to be had. But, as the old systems begin to pass away, what might emerge instead? What brave or holy experiments might we try without letting go of the wisdom we have learned? What might it be like if politics and economics were just part of a collaborative and cooperative world rather than assuming the role of dominant sovereignty over every other sphere of society? What if we can’t have everything we want right now, learning some new and more effective boundaries around the ways we live? What might we prioritise? How might we move towards a more peaceful world? How are we going to live in a way that is sustainable and leaves the environment as a gift rather than a burden for the generations to come? How might we develop an economics of equilibrium (the state of a healthy body) rather than one of continual growth which requires us to feed its ever hungry belly with our own lives? What might we recover in education? How could we shape regional wellness services? How might cities and regions gift their expertise to one another? How might we choose to protect the most vulnerable in society and provide for the most deprived, keeping love at our core over self-preservation, greed, fear or hate?

 

Unknown-1Truthfully, we can no longer afford to avoid these conversations or hide away in our business. If we want things to remain exactly as they are, then so be it, but what will we leave for our children’s children? In the NHS we spend our lives trying to preserve and prolong life at all costs. But we must learn to face death, because there is life the other side of it. There is life the other side of the Nation State as we have known it. There is still ethical, free, safe, sustainable and accessible healthcare for all the other side of the NHS in its current form. It might become a National Wellbeing Service. Or it might be more regional and cooperative. It will mean some different lifestyle choices and some more effective partnerships. It will mean changing our attitude towards how and where care is provided. But I’m sorry to say that unless we make some radical choices to either pay a lot more tax or not renew trident and spend all of that money on healthcare, there are some deep cuts to be made in the mean time. It is going to be a very painful few years ahead. We must not imbibe ideologies that protect the rich and punish the poor. But we have to be brave enough to let go of the good we have known in order to embrace a future that is better for everybody together.

 

Unknown-2And that calls for a different kind of kenarchic leadership. We need leaders who will serve and collaborate with communities in open and honest conversations, so that cuts do not happen in an isolated boardroom, but witUnknown-3h and among the communities most affected. Leaders must learn to ‘hold the space open’ for the new to emerge. It will mean understanding that we must make choices about which targets we do and don’t decide to meet, prioritising some services over others and taking better care of ourselves individually and in community. But it is not a time to lose hope! There is much goodness to come, much rediscovering to take place. Much creative reimagining to enjoy. Many songs to be sung. So, let’s face the music and dance.

 

 

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