Friday, 29 May 2015
I started to work independently just over two years ago now. It was a big step but fuelled by my intention to focus my work on the potential for transformational change. Witnessing those transformations in both individuals and organisations is deeply satisfying work.
One such experience has been working with Argyll and Bute supporting the development of an integrated and person centred network called Caring Connections. A key success factor in the network is developing a group of person centred coaches aimed at supporting change and transformation of care. I have been commissioned to shape the eight week course based on learning from the Esther network in Sweden and other relevant work but also make it appropriate to the Scottish context. In particular the course is shaped to develop the conditions and skills which enable the right conditions for person centred care and the integration of health and social care services.
Consequently we recruit future coaches from across health and social care and third sector. Their backgrounds range from care assistants to nurse consultants and managers in all services. This development is not about hierarchy, it's about having passion and commitment to improving services and a willingness to build awareness of the self and others. And so the course builds knowledge of the context and need for change, working through change and transition, it develops an understanding of continuous improvement. It builds understanding of how to achieve the ambitions of the health and wellbeing outcomes including working with communities, developing yourself and others, understanding wellbeing and transformational change, alongside the core skills of coaching to enable them to enact their learning. But perhaps the main outcome is, as one of the coaches framed it, is the embedding of person-centredness into the DNA of the participants.
Mindfulness meditation is a core practice too, enabling resilience and building awareness. The group itself is a peer resource which shares learning and experience and builds a support network. From the first weeks people start to use their new skills and see the difference they are able to make just by bringing a fresh approach, a deeper listening, and a greater sense of empowerment. Each session starts with a check-in which in turn builds the group, sharing learning as well as any fears or challenges. Developing a peer approach to support like this is particularly valuable in times of change and transition.The cross sector working too deepens empathy with other sectors and builds interaction. There is a focus on honest feedback throughout using a "what works well and even better if" tool which builds an authentic culture which increases the ability to be sure footed and resilient in times of change.
The highlights for me are when I see the light bulbs come on for people. Of course this happens at different times for people but what consistently emerges is people who look more confident, less stressed, more engaged with the passion for their work and with a network to support them to continue. We use a combination of learning methods with a strong focus on practicing coaching skills and utilising the wisdom within the group and supporting them to share their learning with others. Throughout the course people develop, shape and implement change projects. These have ranged from introducing a new way to admit people into a ward to changing how a team work together. Our focus is on what's learned from that to apply it to other situations and also to embed a culture of improvement.
Of course I'm a learner too. I have learned that you don't need to be the most senior person to be an effective person centred coach and indeed change agent, in fact sometimes professional boundaries can get in the way of that. I have learned that it is key to have a plan for the expected outcomes but be flexible in how we achieve them, working with the live issues in the group too. It's has been reinforced for me that people not only need mindfulness to help them be resilient but also the connection to others. And also the chance to laugh and even to cry when we need to.
I have been so inspired by the willingness to learn and develop and especially by the commitment of all of the coaches to a person centred service. I have mostly learned that the people who need the services are in good hands and we need to give them the trust and support to deliver their best for others.
Thursday, 14 May 2015
My first quiet Sunday for sometime I found myself heading off to a Contact tea organised by Contact the Elderly. I wasn't sure what to expect as the invite came following a blog I had written on loneliness. Why not come along to one of our teas and see what we do, they asked and so I did.
The venue was at Aegon who were hosting this event and several staff members were there to act as hosts, as well as two children who greeted us all very cheerfully. There was a quiet hum of conversation as people arrived which got steadily louder as people took their seats. The room of round tables and beautiful white table cloths ( mm very posh was the comment) was bright with sun and looked over to trees in bloom; a lovely setting for a blustery Sunday in May. The tables were loaded with neatly cut sandwiches and beautiful cakes to enjoy. I can't eat wheat and hadn't made that known so it was my lot to admire and envy.
But really it wasn't about the food at all. The two men in the room were well outnumbered by the gathering of women, in their Sunday best. They came from all over Edinburgh and surrounding areas. Each came with a volunteer driver who stayed for tea as well;a door to door service with a promise of conversation and cakes but perhaps most of all connection.
All of them lived alone but came together once a month to fill the loneliness of a long Sunday afternoon. Indeed several of the guests mentioned how lonely a Sunday can be.
I had a sense of new and important friendships formed over time but also of difficult experiences shared, in a form of peer support too. One conversation I was part of was about the sense of loss experienced when they had moved from their old home. For one woman it was within the same town but for another it was relocating from a very different part of Scotland. Is it due to leaving behind a family home or adjusting to less space or more than that, I wondered if at its core it was about a loss of control over their live’s. They shared the fear of hurting their families who were being kind and so the losses were left unspoken. I ventured that I would want to know of my own Mum's feelings and encouraged them to open up the conversations at home. But perhaps they are wiser than me and know that some conversations just can't be had. That sometimes the truth needs a hiding place or a safer place to share, which is just what this Sunday afternoon offered.
At first those I spoke to seemed to be of a very similar hue. Comfortable, well dressed, with families to advocate but I noticed as I went round the room the diversity was wider. Miners wives, former nurses and mothers of doctors all represented and all linked in their need for the company of others. I noticed they recalled often their first response was to resist the invite.
"That’s no for me" the go to position. But gentle persuasion and offers just to give it a go convinced them differently in time. Recruitment was as varied as a phone call after reading a Daily Mail column and including family referrals as well as a dial-a-bus chat. Indeed dial-a-bus is clearly a recruiting ground for many things- with one lady attempting to recruit votes for her party at the recent election!
I wondered if I would find it poignant to be with this group as my concern for my own Mum grows. And I admit to deep sadness as I spoke to one woman with dementia whose condition was isolating her from others. But mostly I felt honoured to be with such a fine group of people ( the volunteers of course as well) and loved sharing some stories of older times. The ex-nurse and I recalled a time when our patients lived in tenements with shared toilets on each landing of a stair and not a bath in sight. They've gone now in the main and so have the times when poor mothers used ex sauce bottled as feeders for babies. Perhaps it does no harm to realise how far we have come and to value that. The NHS in particular was mentioned, this is a generation that knew what it was to need care and not be able afford it. A generation who know what it is to fight for values be it at war or in the picket line as one miners wife had. Mostly I didn't know ages of the guests but learned the oldest there that day was 101years old and another lady told me she was 99. How much we can learn from their resilience and wisdom.
You will hear through this blog that not only was their Sunday transformed but frankly so was mine. I loved speaking to them and know I will volunteer as a driver in the future as there is a waiting list and it seems a small way to be able to help. You can also host an afternoon tea which I admit I’m not sure my house could cope with, not least with a cake stealing lurcher on the loose.s not just the older people who benefit from contact, truly, we all do. And if you throw in egg sandwiches and chocolate brownies ( the declared favourites this Sunday) what’s not to like?
I'm already looking forward to going back again.....thanks for the invitation; it's a connection I will value.
For more details on how to get involved or to suggest someone who might benefit have a look at the Contact the Elderly website and remember you can transform a life….and your own.
Entire of itself,
Every man is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less.
As well as if a promontory were.
As well as if a manor of thy friend's
Or of thine own were:
Any man's death diminishes me,
Because I am involved in mankind,
And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls;
It tolls for thee.
Wednesday, 29 April 2015
I wrote this following a visit to an exhibition on in the Fruitmarket Gallery In Edinburgh. It was a visit with my creative writing group to an exhibition of Brazilian Art. The piece that impacted on me was 10 cut down black ballot boxes that held up the mirror to the lack of democracy in Brazil at that time; the artist as Antonio Dias and the date 1968.
I found myself drawn to them, me the political anorak, staring at the empty ballot boxes and living through a time of shifting political sands here in Scotland and across the UK. The reminder that democracy is precious and that those who do not vote, have no voice and remain unheard. My hope is these changing times will result in electoral reform to reduce our democratic deficit in the UK and also create a new cultural of more collaborative politics, more responsive to the people. But to do that first we have to vote......
The Ballot Box
They are ten
Their presence unsettling
Black, open mouthed
Look at me
Those voices unheard
Those votes uncast
Present in those
Ten black cubes
Of lost opportunity
But in that silence
There is power
A cold black anger
Are dared to listen
Tuesday, 28 April 2015
I always approach my annual trips to Windsor with great anticipation. An event to lift the grey of January, a time to have the space to think about how life is evolving and what that means for me as a leader who works with leaders too. As the taxi from the airport drops me off and I show my passport to the police at the gate the sense of something special about to happen engulfs me.
As an old timer it's also time with friends to deepen connection, to laugh, to reflect. The ancient setting of course creates a connection through time to something beyond ourselves and adds to the stimulus of thinking and expression. A trip to Evensong enhances that sense of long standing traditions and rhythms of a world so different to my own. As a Scot perhaps I feel it stronger-it doesn't feel like my history-and that in turn stimulates a different understanding, an exotic twist on a remarkable opportunity to learn.
What I have noticed over the years that I learn as much from the discussions I don't agree with as the ones I do. Perhaps I spend too much time with people who think similarly, it's easy to collude in our beliefs and seek out those who confirm them after all. But Windsor brings a much wider experience to my norm and I suspect that's the other part I value.
The exchanges that leave me irritated, even annoyed if I'm honest with myself, are often the most valuable. Perhaps they challenge a fixed belief that needs to be prodded from time to time or its maybe that irritation helps me articulate my counter position better. It also challenges my authenticity. I look at how I might express my response constructively and how that leaves me open to learning. It is all so valuable and why so often I leave Windsor unable to describe exactly what I have learned in that moment. But that changes as my learning slowly simmers and my insights deepen.
A strong theme for me and others this year was how we enable others ( and ourselves?) to move from a concept of hierarchical leadership models to ones of shared leadership. It's one I have studied of late through research into the Workplace of Tomorrow where People and Planet Really Matter. So it wasn't a new concept to me maybe but the discussion helped to affirm and give power to my belief in the need for this paradigm shift in leadership. My year ahead I know will be focused on how to to enable myself and others to achieve this in reality.
I know why I prioritise this trip to Windsor every year, it's a rare gift and a special place to learn and grow. each time I think how much I would love to replicate this opportunity in Scotland too...who knows maybe this year I will.
Friday, 17 April 2015
The run up to an election is an exquisitely painful time for a political anorak like me. I'm hooked too often to debates and debates on debates for it be healthy I suspect. I analyse body language, I analyse policy and savour commentary. I occasionally rage at the TV or radio, I read sections out of articles to anyone who wants to listen ( soon that may only be the dog...) and agonise over polls.
But my day job is largely about enabling leadership in individuals and organisations and I find myself this election being fascinated by what we see happening in UK politics what that says about the leaders we are watching so closely. Do we look for the same qualities in our politicians as we do in other leaders? These are changing times and in an ever more connected world, where collaboration and the ability to connect with people are becoming key skills for all leaders, what does that mean for our political leaders? Has the tendency to elect heroic leaders begun to change as it has in other sectors now too? Can we tolerate the leader who hasn't all the answers, but is willing to listen, to work with others, to put people before set in stone policy, to be willing to say I got it wrong?
Because there's a paradox in choosing political leaders I suspect. Our tendency to think those who lead the country need to be all knowing, to lead with a loud, strong voice, who are never wrong, to set out a direction of travel and never waver reflects the current paradigm of leadership.
And yet what people most often seek in a leader of any variety is someone who is willing to be themselves, to show their humanity in an open and authentic way, to show,their values not just through words but through actions, who can relate to us with empathy and show compassion for all through their policies and plans; the kind of leader who knows that having a shared vision then enabling and motivating their people to work towards it is what gets the best outcomes.
My own experience of writing this blog has helped me accept that it's authenticity we are drawn to in others, not perfection. We of course need competence, communication skills and commitment; there is no short cut to working hard on doing a good job, but without authenticity, honesty and integrity that is visible not just in public but behind doors too, our belief will flounder, our votes will remain un-cast.
The recent leaders debate that closed with the three women of the progressive alliance in a hug perhaps was the most potent symbol of our changing times. The polls afterwards suggested Nicola Sturgeon the clear winner for her leadership style. The studio audience clearly felt the same. Do they all believe in an Independent Scotland? No. Do they all want to vote SNP? I doubt it. But they know a women in the prime of her career, well prepared and able for her role, a skilled communicator and they get her humanity and her genuineness. And those close to her will always testify to that too. The growth in SNP membership has so much to do with her style and how she reflects the kind of Scotland many want to see; smart, modern and compassionate and walking tall in stilettos too!
Even if my stilettos days are gone and my answer more likely to be- the words of the song...in those shoes, I don't think so!-I'm glad I'm not alone in welcoming the women's influence in this election and my real hope is that our future lies with authentic leaders not just in our parliaments but our organisations too.