Creating a Great Culture – Part 2

In the last blog, reflecting on the book “Legacy”, by James Kerr, I started to explore how the All Blacks have managed to create such an excellent culture; reflecting on what we can learn from it in the health and social care system (or indeed any environment).

 

Of the 15 principles outlined, I looked at the first 8 (the pack) and now I will look at the back 7.

 

9) Stay Focussed under Pressure – The eighth principle is to practice under pressure and learn to keep a cool head. This ninth one is about individuals and the team keeping their focus and attention on the task in front of them when the pressure comes. There are times when the stress is on. We are hard pressed from every side. The powers are breathing down our necks, the crisis is in front of us, we feel under resourced, over stretched and at the end of ourselves. Keeping our heads, and not losing them at such times, is the mark of a team who know how to manage themselves and take care of each other. This is really about learning to be mindful, to be present in the moment and to centre ourselves well. At times of real pressure, psychologists recommend three key things: 1) Slow your breathing down and focus on the breath flowing in and out of your body – this calms the mind and brings you into the present. 2) Find a repetitive action, like tapping your foot, scrunching your toes or clicking your fingers to help your body connect to the moment you are in. 3) Rehearse some mantras, which you can repeat back to yourself, over and over, to remind you of the basic things you need to do. That is what we use ABCDEF for in resuscitation – it’s why we need the automatic pilot. It also makes us far less likely to snap at team players and hurt relationships when the proverbial hits the fan.

 

10) Authenticity – the best leaders stay true to their deepest values, no matter what situation they find themselves in. Honesty = Integrity = Authenticity = Resilience = Performance. Be taken at your word. Say what you mean and mean what you say. Be true to who you are, no matter where you are. To be lovely at work and a terrible person to your spouse or family lacks integrity and authenticity. Good people make good leaders.

 

11) Sacrifice – now, I would offer a word of caution here. We work in environments in which sometimes we sacrifice our own wellbeing or our own marriages/families due to the pressures and expectations that we put ourselves under, because we are good hearted people who often have the need to be needed or the need to be heroes. However, there is definitely a balance, because without some sacrifice and having the kind of love, which as Thomas Jay Oord puts it, is “self-emptying and others empowering” we will lack something vital in our culture.  Buckminster Fuller says we must wrestle with these questions: ‘What is my job on the planet? What needs doing, that I know something about, that probably won’t happen unless I take responsibility for it? What extra mile will make us extraordinary?’

 

12) Language – Sing your world into existence. I hosted a conversation  in Morecambe recently, in which I shared that I often sing to places as I drive or walk through the streets (weird, I know!). But I asked everyone there, that if they were to sing a song to Morecambe, what that song would be. There was nobody without a song! Leaders are storytellers. All great organisations are born from a compelling story. Words and values really matter. Organisations need their own vocabulary, mottos, mantras and metaphors. The food of a leader is knowledge and communication. In Morecambe Bay, we are beginning to develop a language and a narrative around ‘The Bay Way.’ We want our vocabulary and our dialect to reflect the vision, values, culture and behaviours here.

 

13) Ritual – now, it might be pretty awkward if we all started to try and do the Haka at the start of our meetings! Not only would be awkward but it would make little cultural sense! Even for the All Blacks, the Haka has had to change. The team is no longer predominantly Maori, but a mixture of many cultures. They have had to go on a journey together of how to keeep and adapt a ritual that really means something and connects the team together. Ritual makes the intangible real. It can take many different forms, but it really is vital. It might be a daily team check in, but my sense is that it takes some bravery to establish and continue. In the West, we are so much more detached from our sense of corporate history and identity. Perhaps we feel embarrassed about it or no longer know what it means for us now. What might ritual look like in our work places and teams now? There is a Maori phrase which says: “Tell me and I’ll forget. Show me and I may remember. Involve me and I’ll understand.” This is why I am so keen for our teams to experience things together, like the Art of Hosting. It is in the partaking, the encountering of the ‘other’, the immersion in the experience in which we find ourselves changed.

 

14) Whakapapa – this is the principle of being a good ancestor. What are you sowing into those around you. The All Blacks make it really clear that becoming an All Black is a privilege not to be taken lightly. When you receive the jersey, it comes with a weight of history and a responsibility that you take it to the next level. The challenge is not to aim for something nice to be written on your grave stone, but for your fingerprints to be left in the lives of those around you, so that the thread of your story is continued. Here are some good words: Care for the land, care for the people. Go forward. Grow and branch forth for the days of your world.

 

15) Legacy – This is your time. What will you do with it? What will your legacy be?

 

There is so much to reflect on in the chapters of this book. We are in danger of rearranging the systems in which we work, without dealing with the issues of the heart. I will keep on saying this: Culture is vital. If we do not get our values and our culture right, we build on very shaky foundations and our house will not stand. Taking the time to reflect and build our culture together will enable us to create a legacy for the future that will be beautiful and life giving.

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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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