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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Healthy Schools

Last week, I had the privilege of being at Morecambe Bay Community Primary School. The school is a beacon of hope in this area. I found it extremely moving to walk round, with Siobhan Collingwood, the visionary and big-hearted headteacher and see the incredible love displayed by all staff towards the amazing children there. It made me realise again how centrally driven targets often make no sense for so many of our children and communities, especially when the base from which they start is so very different. Siobhan and her team are doing the most incredible job at caring holistically for the children here, dealing with complex behavioural issues with such kindness and brilliance that it brings tears to my eyes, even writing about it. Not only so, but the standard of teaching to then try and help these kids come up to the ‘required standards’, being creative with the resources available, is nothing short of miraculous. I would defy any school inspector to rate this school as anything else than ‘outstanding’.

 
Siobhan and I had a great discussion about the need for health, social care, the voluntary and faith sector, the police and education to work more closely together for the wellbeing of children and young people in our communities. This is already happening in part, through our health and wellbeing partnership and ‘better care together’, but there is far more we can do. We thought about what it might be like if we parachuted fresh into the community now and had to start from scratch, what we might do together…….

 

We would start with stories – we already have many, from the conversations we’ve had in the community, but we want to really listen and be changed by the responses that we hear. We’re so grateful for the work of the ‘poverty truth commission’, helping us to do just that. We would also definitely pool our resources and prioritise key services that would not be taken away once the community begins to thrive, such as parenting classes, cooking lessons, early support services, a radically caring housing sector, preventative policing strategies (now emerging powerfully in partnership with our town and city councils), social care, mental health champions (something Siobhan has already been part of recruiting 150 locally!), children’s centres and adult education centres as a starter for 10. We would overlay this with the things that are working now – there is so much goodness happening and we don’t negate this. We want to ensure that we could see the health inequality gaps close.

 

In order to build on this idea of ‘healthy schools’, we would see kids being active every day – despite, limited grounds space, this school, like many others locally are running a mile a day. There is a great scheme here in which all the kids are learning to cook healthy, nutritious food, building vital life skills needed now and in the future. The breakfast and after school clubs are providing many healthy meals each day for the kids and throughout the summer holidays the schools cook – another woman with an incredibly big heart, opens the hall to feed families, who cannot afford to eat during the long breaks. A huge amount of work is being done around gender equality (have you seen the amazing documentary series “No more boys and girls: can our kids go gender free?” On BBCiplayer?). Kids are also given a huge dose of self esteem and know that they are loved and belong. If only the same level of caring support could be afforded through the transition to high school…..

 

Over the coming months, we hope to co-host some conversations with the community, not on our terms but shaped together with them. Siobhan spent years trying to think of great ideas to get the parents to come into school and interact with her. It wasn’t until the parents set up their own coffee morning in the old garage of the school playground, that she went to meet with them on their terms and started to build some staggeringly life-changing relationships. We know we are changed every time these kind of conversations happen and it blows our world view up so that we can collaborate effectively and co-design services with them. We want to share data with them about health and educational outcomes in order to create a passion for change and do some appreciative enquiry about all the great stuff already embedded in the community. Through these conversations, we want to connect people together and see a social movement for positive change.

The future of Morecambe is bright and full of hope. The communities are strong, the place is beautiful and the people are amazing. Siobhan is just one of many incredible headteachers in this area, committed to one another and this geography through bonds of friendship. If a genuine partnership between health and education can develop here (and it’s part of my vision and ambition to see this done) then who knows what might be possible over the coming months and years?

 

It is time for Morecambe to find its joy again. It has been the joke for too long, but soon it will become the place where the joke is found and everyone will want to know what we’re laughing about.

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