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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Social Movements and the Future of Healthcare


As the crisis in the Western World deepens, and the growing reality sets in that business as usual simply can no longer continue nor solve our problems, our systems must change the way they view, deal with and hold onto power. The NHS is no exception. If we want a health and social care system that is of the highest quality, safe, sustainable and economically viable for the future, we need to understand the power of social movements, both within our systems and through the wider society. This is something we are really committed to in Morecambe Bay and so it was with great delight that I listened to the excellent Helen Bevan, talk about just how vital social movements are for the NHS and healthcare, worldwide at the recent IHI conference in London, Quality 2017. This blog will be an amalgamation of what Helen shared and my own thoughts about our early experiences with social movements.

 

 

A social movement in health and social care involves us all learning to connect, collaborate, cooperate, cocreate and coproduce at a level we have never done so, until now. But our circumstances are forcing us to reconsider the ways in which we work. We need the creative substance that is within our teams to be heard and harnessed so that we cut our waste and work more effectively together. The issues we face, need facing by us all, together; not by some board in an isolated room, making decisions based on diktats from on high, on behalf of us all.  But even this will not be enough. Those of us stuck in the system have become too homogenized in our thinking for us to do this exclusively from within. We need our citizens to help us re-imagine what it means for us to be healthy and well. We must stop designing things for our communities or doing things to them, instead we must design and do things with them. We must analyse, create and enact together and to do this, we must learn to solve the issues of power.

 

Helen Bevan, with her background in social science, demonstrates the great debate about the interplay between our organisational structures (rules) and agency (freedom) when it comes to effecting change. Where does the “permission” come from to enact the change we need to see? Is it externally generated by those in positions of power, or is it internally generated by a personal motivation? Our experience in Carnforth and Morecambe in community conversations has been a bit of both. There are many people of incredible heart and goodness, waiting to do something new and good that will positively affect the health and wellbeing of society, but are perhaps waiting for that sense of community backing, support, encouragement or indeed permission. With a bit of coaching or spurring on, we have seen some amazing initiatives begin that are bringing transformational work into our area and causing us all think differently. We need both individual agency AND corporate agency. Helen describes individual agency as being when people get more power and control in their lives – we see this in patient activation, shared-decision making and self-care – a greater sense of autonomy and responsibility. Collective agency, on the other hand, is where we see people act together, united by a common cause, harnessing the power and influence of the group whilst building mutual trust.

 

 

We have seen this used powerfully, in just one example by our maternity liaison service committee, who together have challenged our system to think more carefully about how we communicate to women, especially at key or stressful moments of their obstetric care. These stories are now a compulsory part of training for all who work in our maternity service and have significantly improved both our skill mix and ability to provide excellent care.
What is absolutely vital to understand is that we do not become transformed alone. We are transformed when we are in relationship with others (Hahrie Han). The problem is that we don’t really encounter the “other” enough to be changed. However,  when we let go of the kind of power that is held by the few, pushes others down, uses command and control, that is closed and transactional, and instead embrace a power that is held by the many, shared, open and relational, then we can begin to see the change we need (Hirschman and Ganz).

David Holzmer says that we are witnessing the collapse of expertise and the rise of collaborative sense-making. I would suggest that this has been going on for some time, but our systems have been incredibly slow at catching onto the change around us.

 

Now, what is hugely encouraging is this: research by Kollectif shows that you only need 3% of people in an organisation/society to drive the conversations with 90% of other people. In other words, you don’t have to get everyone on board from the word go. You find your passionate people with a sense of agency, infect them with the virus and watch it spread. These people need to be a mixture of ‘lone wolves’, mobilisers and organisers. Lone wolves are people who have been trying to help change happen for a long time but can sometimes feel like an annoyance to the system, so they are given tokenistic positions, patted on the head and patronised into exhaustion. Mobilisers build power by calling large numbers of people to contribute, engage in change and take action. Organisers build power by growing leaders in a distributed network, building a community and protecting its strength. We need all of them, though mobilisers and organisers will be the most effective in creating agency and bringing about lasting change  (Hahrie Han).

Joe Simpson says that ” great social movements get their energy by growing a distributed leadership.” The cult of celebrity can be powerful, but is not effective. The beautiful thing about a social movement is that is depends not on money, materials and technology but on relationships, commitment and community, and as the movement grows, these resources increase, rather than diminish. The problem, as Don Berwick puts it, is that leaders in position of strategic influence, are simply not seeing the resources available to the biggest problems we are facing.

 

Jason Leitch and Derek Feeley have powerfully shown that performance management (keeping the power), based on targets, sanctions and inspections can only get us so far. Quality improvement (sharing the power) gets us a little further, but mobilising social action, or co-production (ceding power) has a far greater potential to bring lasting change and far better outcomes for all.

 

So, how do we catalyze a social movement and how would we know if the movement was being “successful”? Well, our experience in Morecambe Bay is that you start with the 3%. You start with those who are drawn to the conversation, who recognise the need for change and who want to be part of it. You start with transparency, with openness, honesty and vulnerability about the mess we find ourselves in and the truth that we no longer have what it takes to solve the problem. And you start with really good questions and then deeply listen to the conversation which is emerging so that we ourselves are changed and can therefore be part of the emergence of something new, which operates on an entirely different kind of power.

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. That is what we must measure!
And so we need disruptive co-creation, which breaks through the top-town/bottom-up approach and causes us to see and hear like we have never done before. It is hugely exciting and enables managers to stop feeling like they have to extract as much performance as possible from the system, flogging the workforce, blocking change and innovation and inadvertently driving down the quality of care in the process.

The invitation is instead to become part of the change that we all long for. If we’re going to have an NHS in the future, we have to give it back to the people and work with them. In order to do this, we have to deal with and change our relationship with the very notion of power – something I will turn my attention to on the next blog!

 

 

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