In typical style, I started a series and then got distracted!

Had some stuff to finish on the book (out soon) and then life happened… work was full on… but now I’m back!

The series I started was on the hallmarks of good leadership, comparing COCKS to CHICKENS!

As a reminder:

Chickens are values-led leaders who create the kind of cultures in which everyone gets to become their best self. Chickens create an environment where everyone keeps learning. I think these are the core values of CHICKEN leaders:

C – Curiosity

H – Humility

I – Inclusivity

C – Compassion

K – Kindness

E – Empowerment

N – Nourishment

We looked at Curiosity in the last blog, and so this time, we turn our attention to humility.

Humility is not insecurity. Humility is not weakness… Humility is a choice and one which I don’t make nearly often enough…

I often hear leaders described as having a ‘God Complex’ (a label given to megalomaniacal, narcissistic bosses – usually men). It means they are a bit of a Cock! But what if having a God-complex is not about wanting to rule over people but is instead about washing the feet of lepers and being the friend of the most ostracised in society? What does this mean for how we have historically understood and now understand leadership?

Humility is the recognition that who you are as a human being makes you no better and no worse than any other person. Rather, every other human being is your brother or your sister, never someone to be dehumanised, but rather innately valuable and worthy of love. You therefore do not view yourself more highly than you ought to, with haughty eyes which look down on others. You do not feel the need to constantly compare yourself with others or compete with those around you. You have no need to do or talk other people down to make yourself look or feel better. You have no need to use positional power to dominate others. You have no cause to puff yourself up to make others look and feel small.

To be humble is to listen deeply, to keep learning, to accept failure and see it as gift, to know you still have inner work to do, to be able to say sorry, to be able to forgive, to be willing to change, to keep growing. To be humble is to prefer others and make space for them to thrive, to keep serving, to be misunderstood and have no need to promote yourself.

Humility is, I believe, one of the most important but least celebrated qualities of good leadership. Why? Because humility provides the conditions in which we can take stock of where we are and be willing to unlearn and let go of what got us here in order to get to where we need to be.

In his excellent book, Theory U, Otto Scharmer explores how the most ‘successful’ companies in the world are good at recognising that when they reach a certain point, they cannot get to where they want to be without embracing humility and deep listening.

I believe we are at such a point in the NHS and wider public sector, here in the UK. We have reached something of a precipice. There are insufficient funds, staffing shortages (due to retention and recruitment issues), a widening health inequity gap, a lack of preventative services, low staff morale, high burnout rates, major infrastructure problems, growing patient waiting times, public dissatisfaction and huge gaps in social care provision. And so, we cannot simply build a bridge across the deep ravine before us.

No. Humility accepts the reality of where we are and is willing to do some deep listening. We must listen to the painful truths of how many people in our communities are living. We must recognise the dual challenges of climate change and social injustice. And we must sit in the pain of this reality long enough for us to embrace the truth that our ‘go to’ methods of how to fix things are no longer able to cut it. We can’t stick hundreds of improvement projects onto the cracks and hope that it will be enough. Slashing services and rearranging our current models into ever more lean and joyless ‘models of care’ will never create the kind of wellbeing we long for together.

Instead, we must listen to what actually matters to our communities. We must learn to recognise the power and potential they hold. And together with them, we must co-create a future which enables our communities to thrive and our ecology to regenerate. It is the only way to tackle our financial deficit whilst also changing the inequities in our society.

People of humility know that this is only possible through radical participative communities, in which everyone gets to contribute and play their part. Where radical relationships across lines of difference allow us to embrace new solutions together. What humility does is to allow the heroes to stop trying to lead people up the next mountain, and instead to recognise that the mountains and the valleys need levelling out into a fair playing field for everyone. Humility gives birth to hope that there really might be a future for us that is altogether more beautiful than our current divisive hell… but that requires the ability to become like little children… because they are the ones who know the way… but only the humble will listen to them and let them show us.

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Curiosity killed the Kat?

This is a blog mini series on leadership and culture.

In the introductory post, I explained why I think cocks make terrible leaders but CHICKENs make great leaders! To refresh your memory, CHICKENs are leaders who outwork the values of:








My wife, Kat, is hands down the best person I know. A total CHICKEN.

One of her best qualities and one of the reasons I love her, is her incredible and insatiable curiosity.

When she was training as a therapist, her mentor was always saying to her, ‘stay curious!’

And she does. She is. Curious. Not as in strange or unusual. But as in, she is genuinely interested to learn and know more about people. She has this incredible ability, to lock eyes with someone, let them know she deeply cares about them, tilt her head to the side and create a beautifully safe space in which her curiosity helps unlock healing for people. Amazing. And it’s never killed her – not even once.

Curiosity is such an important quality and for me now a core value, in life generally, but especially in leadership. Perhaps it is far too unusual as a quality valued in leadership.

Curiosity allows us to suspend our judgments. It stops us from thinking that we know it all. It allows us to be surprised, to ask better questions, to dig a little deeper. Curiosity prevents us from assuming we know the answer before we have really heard and seen what is emerging. It allows us to celebrate difference, recognise uniqueness and opens up new possibilities. It is open handed and tender hearted. It holds complexity and is not afraid to feel insecure in the ‘not-knowing’.

We all know what happens when we are not curious. We keep on trying to answer the questions in front of us with the same old mechanistic answers. And then we wonder why we don’t see the changes we need.

Curiosity allows you to look at data about a group of people and then go and sit with them to find out whether or not that is, in fact, their lived experience. Curiosity enables you to explore why things might not be working and to discover creative ways of engaging with the issue at hand. Curiosity is deeply joyful because it can open up new paths, fresh perspectives and exciting new potentials.

One of the best leaders I have met is Ellie McNeil, Chief Executive of YMCA Together. There’s a good reason why it is considered to be the best charity in the UK to work for!

Image from YMCA Together Website

One of the things Ellie has done so well as a leader is to instil curiosity in all of her team and volunteers.

She uses Cognitive Analytical Therapy (CAT) as a means to developing compassionate leadership throughout the organisation. In other words, she encourages everyone to be actively curious about why they might treat one person differently to another, or why they might have a particular reaction in a given situation. It allows people to be kind, to ask better questions of themselves and others and be honest about what is going on inside themselves in any interaction.

In my team, we’ve recently had some difficult conversations about finance. I found it so interesting that when we introduced the topic of conversation, every persons body language changed. Having learned from Ellie, I simply asked them to notice this, to reflect on it, to be curious about what changes in them when we start to talk about money. Then we postponed the conversation and brought it back next time with people being more self-aware about what was happening in them and for them.

If we’re going to develop truly caring organisations in the NHS and social care, we need to develop genuine curiosity. What’s going on in me? I wonder what’s going on in you? What’s really happening here?

In every consultation I have with a patient, I’m asking myself these questions: What’s your story? What matters to you? What do we know? What do we not know? What do we need to know? How can we find out? What are we going to do with the information when we make those discoveries? What choices will you make about your own care, once we know the options?

Curiosity never killed anyone in health and social care. On the contrary, it literally saves thousands of lives. It is a lack of it that is dangerous.

So…..Don’t be a cock. Be a CHICKEN – it starts with being curious.

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Previous 10 Posts

Don’t be a COCK! Be a CHICKEN!

I’ve not been blogging for a while…… because I’ve been writing my first book. Whoop! “Your first BOOK?!” you say. That’s right, people! – It’s called ‘Sick Society: Reimaging How we Live Well Together’ – it’ll be out in the Autumn and I’m pretty excited about it! I’ll let you know when you can pre-order, [Continue Reading …]


The NHS in a Mess – WHY?

It is dominating the headlines – the winter crisis in the NHS. Long waits for ambulances, huge pressures on the Emergency Departments, people dying in hospital corridors, difficulties getting in to see a GP, Nurses and Paramedics going on strike, low staff morale, a growing sense of anger in the public. Why is this happening? [Continue Reading …]


Apocalypse Now?

It’s a while since I last wrote a blog. That’s because I’ve been concentrating on finishing my first book and there are only so many hours in a day! It is called ‘Sick Society’ and will hopefully be out soon.   However, now that it’s done, I will hopefully have a bit more time for [Continue Reading …]


Mental Health Help – 7 Top Tips

Many of us are struggling with our Mental Health right now. Here are seven top tips to help you take care of yourself and those around you during these difficult times. Share This:


6 Tips in 2 Minutes to Help You Stay Healthy and Well This Winter!

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Let Them Eat Cake

Despite petitions and public protestations, The Prime Minister, Boris Johnson is sticking by his guns. The Health Secretary, Matt Hancock is insisting that the Government are already doing enough, with an array of other white men in suits telling us why he’s right, whilst ignoring the voices of over 2000 leading Paediatricians (what do they know, anyway?!).  Whilst [Continue Reading …]


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I love Marcus Rashford! His statement on child hunger is brilliant, but I don’t entirely agree with him. In his impassioned plea for us to take child hunger seriously (which I could not agree with more), especially through the school holidays, he says: “this is not politics, this is humanity.” The reality is that EVERYTHING [Continue Reading …]


We’re Not Ready for Winter – We Need to Be!

The winter hasn’t even hit us yet. But it will and it’s going to hit us hard. Harder than we know. Harder than we are prepared for. Do you remember January 2015, with queues of people lying in corridors in our Emergency Departments, and a high spike in winter deaths? One of the people I [Continue Reading …]