How Does Change Happen?

How does change happen? This has become an incredibly important question to me over the last few years, and I am still on a big learning journey in discovering some answers. There is so much that needs to change – so much that is currently going on in our communities that simply doesn’t work for people. So I keep asking – how does change happen?

 

I recently read a book called ‘The Moral Imagination’ by the great peace-builder and activist, John Paul Lederach. In it, he talks about the concept of ‘critical yeast’. Yeast is itself changed in a new environment (surrounded by flour) and then begins to bring about phenomenal change around it. You don’t continue to see the yeast, but you surely get to see it’s effect!

 

For me, change begins with listening, and by that I mean deep, generative listening to those who we could think of as ‘critical yeast’. The kind of listening in which you can no longer continue to see things the way you did previously. As you listen in this way and find your self changed, you can longer continue with things as they are – you realise that things around you need to change also.

 

It’s one of the reasons why I am absolutely committed to putting myself into uncomfortable surroundings or situations which challenge my neatly held world views and beliefs. I try and make sure I take the lanyard off my neck, step out of the clinical settings I know and the board rooms I sit in and spend time in and with the communities we serve. I really believe it is vital for all leaders, especially those in senior positions to regularly take time away from the boardroom and really sit with the communities they are paid to serve. If you don’t have your finger on the pulse of the pain people are experiencing, then it’s all too easy to make decisions on behalf of them which utterly lack compassion or kindness.

 

So, together with my good friend, Yak Patel, who is the CEO of the Lancaster CVFS (Community Voluntary Faith Sector) and a man of real humility who holds our communities in his heart, we went to be with some people doing amazing things across our district. Yak is great at holding me to account and ensuring that I put my money where my mouth is!

 

We started on The Ridge, the largest council estate in Lancaster. There we spent time with Lisa, who we know through ‘the art of connecting communities’. She runs the community centre, and we wanted to listen to the experiences of people living on The Ridge and understand some of what they are facing. Simple things, like a cut on their bus service (as timetables massively favour the University) is leaving people isolated and cut-off, especially elderly citizens at weekends.

 

I asked Lisa what she thought about the growing rhetoric that the problems communities like ‘The Ridge’ are facing are not to do with ‘resources’ – she rolled her eyes and retorted – “easy for people to say that, but over the summer, I couldn’t pay myself a salary for 2 months, so that I could ensure that the youth provision needed through the holidays could actually run – the funding for those kind of activities has been cut so much, it’s a joke….” Lisa, like so many other big-hearted and socially-conscious community workers, had to work 80-90 hours a week, holding down a second job, simply to be able to pay her own bills – similar to what happened at Christmas, when she worked long hours to make sure that 75 children on the estate actually had something to eat and a present to open on Christmas Day. People of good heart are feeling overwhelmed, unsupported and burnt out. I asked Lisa what she would love to happen – she wants to bring the community together, to talk about what’s strong, not what’s wrong, ask the community what it is they actually want and need, rather than assuming the providers of public services somehow magically know (!) and focus on what The Ridge could become – for the community, by the community.

 

On The Marsh, we met Debz. Debz also came to ‘the art of connecting communities’ last year. You might describe Debz as a ‘salt of the earth’ person. Down to earth, she has seen it all. I asked her what the biggest problem is for her community…..”drugs…..the place is overrun with drugs – and people are on the ropes”. The food club was happening, thanks to fareshare, when we arrived (although huge trays of strawberries were already completely mouldy)….and there were queues down the street….she shared with us some of the complexities involved for young people and the situations they find themselves in – multi-generational trauma….but what she struggles with most is that those who are supposed to care, don’t seem to want to understand. She told us of difficult encounters with the local GPs, the local hospital, social services (one family had had over 24 social workers – what’s the point in that, she asks?), police, schools and city council….although she has noticed some attitudes begin to change (perhaps because of the poverty truth commission).

 

She feels that people on ‘The Marsh’ are judged, looked down on and it’s reputation is very hard to break. But she also knows that people who live there want things to change and they want to be part of the change. That can be really tough, with the threat of violence and the very real involvement of gangs from Liverpool and Manchester, bringing intimidation. “Why would people not do drugs and get involved in selling them? It pays better than any work available”, she shrugs.  She believes the community can find some more hopeful dreams and she talks about the difference a new church in the community centre are making (a conglomeration of a few different congregations working together)….She wants to bring the community together to talk about what they want to see change, but especially how they can be part of that change….however, she doesn’t think it can happen through some kind of new found motivation alone – it’s going to take real investment. She tells me that if we want to stop seeing men dying in their 20s, from drugs, violence and suicide – we need to think altogether differently about how we work together with communities. Yak nods in agreement – he used to have Debz’s job, before he became CEO of the CVS. He tells me how many funerals of young men he has been to from this community. I feel deeply sad.

 

Then we’re on to Poulton (which has the worst health outcomes in North Lancashire), to meet our friend Joanne, who runs Home Start for Lancaster and Morecambe. What an amazing lady! And such a great charity! We sit with Joanne and one of her trustees, Sheila (who used to work in children’s services at Lancashire County Council, before she saw the decimation of her team and the unacceptable levels of stress she and her team were having to work under, which she deemed to be totally unsafe). The work they are doing for young families is extraordinary. Most of their referrals come from Health Visitors, but they are now full, and simply can’t take any more referrals unless more volunteers arrive. What I love about Joanne and her team is the collaborative-coaching approach they take. As they have worked alongside families, and discovered what they want and need, they have seen co-produced groups around issues like Domestic Violence and Autism support. What Joanne is most proud of is that they have created a culture in which you can walk into a room and no one knows who is a ‘client’, who is a volunteer and who is a member of staff – brilliant! “A community of mutuality” – she beams! Humility is the order of the day and it leads to real relationships that bring real change. As services have been cut and fragmented, increasing pressure has fallen onto the charity sector to hold things together – but resources have not followed. Despite great connections across the sector, the pressures are mounting, the cracks are showing and the risks are increasing.

 

I have no idea how much money Lisa, Debz and Joanne must be saving the public services every year, in terms of health and social care….but I do believe we could be making some far better and wiser investments with the ‘public purse’. We should be putting a whole lot more faith in community centres and workers, like them. If we do so, we will find it much easier to tackle deep-seated health and social ineqaulities right in the heart of our communities, taking an asset-based approach, being brave enough to redesign around relationships rather than transactions (as my good friend Hilary Cottam says in Radical Help) and find that communities really do want to be a part of transforming their own futures. Just like in Wigan, there needs to be a New Deal between communities and the public services to ensure that there is mutual vision and accountability for the resources that are available. What are we brave enough to stop doing, so that we can learn to do what is altogether better? Are we able to change? Not if we remain in our silos and ivory towers and continue to tell ourselves the same old stories. But might we dare to step outside the fortresses of what we know and learn to deeply listen? If we can do so, we cannot help but be changed….and as we begin to change….well…..then change begins to happen!

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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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Building a Culture of Kindness in the NHS

Tweet My morning surgery began today with a patient of mine, who works as  Health Care Assistant (or Band 3) in our local acute hospital trust. As we find across the board in the NHS right now, there are pressures in her department with under-staffing and a very high and demanding work load. She started [Continue Reading …]

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