Golden silence


I learnt a lesson years ago about silence, you know, those empty space between words; I learnt that I didn’t need to fill them, that I could be comfortable in deep wells of silence. This week I reflected that I need to practice more.

cropped-northumberland.jpgWhen I did my leadership programme all those years ago we did a much hated exercise called ‘large group’. There was no structure, no agenda, no objective, just us and time. At first I was so uncomfortable I had to speak. I wasn’t the only one. Some of us shuffled and worried and spoke out filling the minutes and noiseless space. After the first couple of times I reflected on mine and others behaviours and decided I would experiment. I became a silent observer and spent my time listening and watching. I proved to myself that not only could I do it, it actually didn’t feel so bad. I know it improved my listening and observing too.

When I feel anxious or stressed I know I am more likely to dive in with words. I go really fast and have a reputation for being able to talk for England. This week a couple of things happened that made me think I perhaps need to practice silence more.

GoodMorningToAll_1893_songThe first was a great session by @heatherhenry. She talked about how to engage in communities and about giving people space and time, about not barging in with (probably the wrong) answers. She made me smile and gave me a tool for practice – she told us that if you want to be sure you have given someone time to answer, sing a whole chorus of Happy Birthday in your head – that’s just the right amount of time. I’m practicing and although it feels like a long time in my head it doesn’t seem to raise any eyebrows and actually people may well have told me things that they wouldn’t had I not given them time.

time to listenThe second is I spent a great day with a student nurse who is a self-confessed introvert. I reflected that I needed not to talk quite so fast, as, unlike some other colleagues, this conversation couldn’t be like a pacey game of tennis, where I serve the ball and they bounce it back. Perhaps it’s a bit more like golf with quiet walking time between hitting the ball.

Being mindful of silence has always been a positive thing for me but I do need to focus on doing it as my brain darts backwards and forwards and round about and it all tumbles out of my mouth. My son tells me all the time that I ask questions in 3s and it drives him mad – he just says – I can only answer one at a time and which one will it be? :0)

I know that for some people, like me, we are creative when we are bouncing ideas around verbally with others but I respect others right to time and silence. I promise I will continue to try as hard as I can to give people time, careful quiet listening and golden silence.

I had to post this! Silence is golden from the Tremeloes 1967

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Standing out or fitting in – matters of dress and heels.


I was rushing about this morning getting ready for work and I reflected that it was much easier when I wore uniform; choices were simpler and there was less need to think.

anne 1989 on wardPutting on my blue sister’s uniform was one of the proudest things I can remember; I never tired of it along with my silver buckle that my husband bought me. If I close my eyes I can put myself back there and feel myself sit up straighter, it really was very special. I liked wearing uniform. I enjoyed the feeling of identity it gave me.

All of this led me to think about the symbolism of dress and where I find myself as a middle aged, rounded sort of person. Clothes inevitably have played an important role in my life for lots of reasons.

heelsI recall in the 1990s progressing to a non-uniformed role for the first time. I was in my mid-twenties and it was after all the 90s, where power dressing was still very much de rigueur. I had shoulder pads, tight pencil skirts, frilly blouses and heels – lots of stiletto heels. When I walked through Leeds tonight on my way home the fashions of 2014 have some of those echoes – it made me smile. It’s interesting when life places you on the second time around – I just wish I had saved some of my best clothes from back then.

[An interesting note – when I looked for pictures of me in the 1990s I can find none. My son was born in 1990 and all I can find are dozens of pictures of him. I guess something changed in my priorities then!]

Interviews have always been a time for me where I almost get superstitious about what I wear; always new clothes and silly as it may sound best underwear. I had a friend who always wore red knickers for interviews. I guess in these types of situations we all want to stack as many of the cards in our favour as we can.

New jobs too, demand a close focus on the way I dress. Who do I want them to think I am? Feisty Annie in my slightly hippy tastes or a more serious moderate Annie? What I do know it this situation also demands some new clothes although in some ways this is just like the emperor’s new clothes – I’m just waiting for someone to find me out!

Today I am lucky that I get to visit many different areas of the healthcare system and find myself moving in and out of different organisational cultures but I notice patterns. In big acute trusts it still feels like there is a sort of power dressing going on, albeit the 2014 version. Contrast this with community and mental health services where the styles feel more relaxed and individualistic. I always think, now where am I off to, and which version of Annie do I need to wear today?

Annie at 50th Birthday Bash

Annie at 50th Birthday Bash

Being on platforms and speaking raises interesting issues – mainly those of heels. My lovely ex-boss and now friend tells me that I should always wear heels. I try, I really do, but I can no longer do it. I find myself choosing more moderate heels and go for colour and class rather than the stilettos of the past. It’s also part of the lot of someone with type 1 diabetes I think that a focus on removing the risk of sore feet somehow feels more important.

Informatics is a really interesting place to work; male dominated and lots of suits and yes, mainly grey ones. We do have the occasional GP floating around who has a slightly more relaxed mode of dress. What is a girl to do in this space? I go for ‘middle of the road’ and then, sometimes, in the evenings or for events, dress up in colours and sparkles, like a peacock. I think it disconcerts them occasionally and I like that!

peapodSo what does all of this mean? Conversations of late have been making me reflect on why I always seem to choose roles that are a bit unusual. I do it because I like it. But then why do I seek to conform with my dress and shoes? I think it’s probably part of what can be referred to as cultural capital – assets that lead to social mobility. I need to fit in to be taken seriously and dress may be part of how I do this. Do I give up my identity as a result? I’m not sure. I think I express my identity in different ways – a business like suit with my tiny pea-pod necklace or a beautiful scarf.

My reflections are leading me to take a look again at how I present myself – am I expressing myself in the way I want to? Are you?

belt and badges

Storytelling, tacit knowledge and a leadership Indaba


“If history were taught in the form of stories, it would never be forgotten.”

Rudyard Kipling

Stories matter; everyone seems to be taking on board storytelling – is it a fashion, a fad?

Storytelling bookHuman beings have been telling stories, transferring knowledge, values and history through hundreds of years and generations of tribes. Attention seems to be turning back to our delight in oral histories and stories. Even in electronic forms we see videos and read wonderful blogs that continue the ancient tradition of storytelling through generations, transferring some of our oral traditions to new digital media. It makes me glad – I enjoy stories and they make me laugh and sometimes cry – and I have learnt so much from these stories – they expand my mind.

My personal experiences tell me that stories are a powerful way for me to share my stories, find meaning and knowledge in what I know, that they have a power that charts and sterile traditional business words sometimes miss. My blog has become a place where I try to share stories and in doing so try to unearth some of my tacit knowledge that I wonder if has any value in the world. My stories and reflections are part of my endeavour to share and to move from ‘stuff that is in my head’ to sense making, making it social, transferring and transforming thoughts to a deeper understanding.

Tacit knowledge is deeply personal and hard to extract and measure. It flies in the face of much scientific study and is known to be hard to draw out and share. The spoken and written word, gestures and emotions are in my view part of its transfer and the recipient of it needs to be able to listen, watch and actively participate in the story to sense-make, participate and share.

It is also my view that it is a social activity for many, but perhaps not all; marrying together story tellers and listeners in networks creates a more fertile space for the development of concepts, ideas and taps into our imagination to assess possibilities and create new ‘castles in the air’. I understand that scientific enquiry is vital in our world but I believe that stories allow us to share and interpret experiences in a way that complements our more logical and scientific understanding.

This week I attended a Leadership Indaba.

Indaba is a South African word, with its origins meaning ‘gathering’ or ‘meeting’. More recently they are styled as conferences where there is space for creative thinking and where story telling is likely to have a strong role.

So this week a group of people with an interest in leadership gathered in Leeds as part of an Indaba organised by Centre for Innovation in Health Management in Leeds. The Indaba has an international flavour with colleagues from South Africa and the Netherlands – a great opportunity for story-telling across different cultures and experiences, a chance to collide our experiences and stories together in a way that creates new meaning informed by the people in the groups.

Everyone has a storySo, I went to the day thinking I knew nothing, I knew no theories, and that I may not be able to participate – that I might not be up to the task (Imposter syndrome at its most active). But Indabas are not styled that way…. Story-telling is what I think they are about. I came away bursting with stories and new ideas taken and processed alongside stories from others. It was a social activity, sharing stories, processing meaning and this was just the very first day we had met. I know not everyone was comfortable with the unstructured social nature of the day but I found it liberating. Telling stories links us to emotions that create new ways of thinking and behaving; maybe a creative way to find new and different solutions to complex problems?

So what happened at the Indaba? Storytelling started the process of weaving us together and started us on a new journey. For me it was, and remains, exciting; the chance to hear others talk about their experiences and to weave those stories through mine to create new understanding and meaning. Its early days, we are still building trust and confidence and we also need to work out how we share this learning more widely – I will blog more as our journey unfolds.

Finally, I think that there is a risk in having a single internal story. In this wonderful Tedtalk by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie she explains about the danger of a single story. If you don’t think that storytelling and sharing is important watch the video – it may just change your mind.

On being a ‘hard done to’ bottom


Learning is a funny thing isn’t it? – The things you remember and then those things you don’t. I’ve had my learning muscles tested recently as part of my Organisational Development Practitioner Programme which I chose to do as part of my Florence Nightingale Foundation Burdett Leadership Scholarship. My instinct was right, by the way, there is much useful learning in OD for people interested in leadership. I know that some of the theories passed me by and weren’t retained in my pooh bear sized brain but some things have stuck and some of the systems thinking from this week has definitely stuck; it’s all about tops, bottoms and middles.

organisationsThe theory is quite simple; people in organisations adopt very predictable patterns of behaviour and that breaking out of these is what we need to do before we can really achieve but of course changing behaviours is a real challenge for all of us. Systems thinking is from work by Barry Oshry that explains that organisations are broken down into ‘Tops’, ‘Middles’ and ‘Bottoms’ and that each of these, naturally as part of a system, moves back to unhelpful behaviours that create many of the organisational issues we face. This week we did the organisational workshop to experience the system workings of organisational life in a way designed to magnify these natural and unhelpful behaviours that manifest in the worlds of Tops, Middles and Bottoms; before you say you are never a ‘Top’ etc we all occupy these roles at one time or another, they do not necessarily reflect organisational status (but they might). I had great fun 🙂

The process of allocation to a role in the workshops was random and I was delighted to find myself as a ‘bottom’. That’s where the fun started! I have to say that although in my role I wasn’t unhelpful nor was I as focussed at first as I should have been and I did revert to the behaviours that Oshry would have predicted, for me this was to withdraw to almost a playful space. I was experiencing true ‘bottomness’.

Those of you who have done the organisational workshop will understand significance of this picture :)

Those of you who have done the organisational workshop will understand significance of this picture 🙂

Oshry predicts that people will revert to an unhelpful behaviour and unless we can break from this we will perpetuate the same issues over and over again. Tops at times of pressure suck up responsibility and become ‘burdened’. Middles slide into the middle between tops and bottoms and become weak and ‘torn’. Bottoms hold higher ‘ups’ responsible and become ‘oppressed’. Oshry also explains that Customers also fall into a pattern of unhelpful behaviour where they become ‘righteously done-to’.

Sure enough, as the great workshop panned out, all of these behaviours were exhibited. My bottomness centred on a feeling of no one telling me anything and therefore I didn’t know what I was supposed to be doing so along with my mates we had a grand old time – playfulness as withdrawal.

Oshry goes on to explain that we chose how we behave and that these patterns do not need to persist – we can chose to be different.

Partnership is the key and changing and transforming our relationships can stop these behaviours and stop recreating the organisational patterns.

‘Partnership

A relationship in which we are jointly committed to the success of whatever project, process or endeavour we are in.’

Partnership 2We can chose to be part of what he describes as the ‘side show’ where we make up stories about it and evaluate others as malicious, insensitive and incompetent or we can take the centre ring and have understanding and empathy for others, staying focussed on the best outcome and take a wider view where you take into account the perspective of others. Tops should take a position where they focus on developing responsibility throughout whole organisation. Middles should maintain independence of thought and act in service of the whole system. Bottoms should take responsibility not only for their thing but also for the whole thing.

I think I recognise Oshry’s organisation in many places I have been in my career, where ‘stuff’ happens and I also recognise my own unhelpful behaviours in those he describes. I can also adopt some of the more helpful behaviours that move to a better position of partnership. If you ever get chance to do the organisational workshop I would recommend you jump at it; it certainly fits with my experiential model of learning.

There is no way I will forget being a hard done to bottom and also the need to stop those old behaviours developing, even without thought, and I will try to take a more helpful partnership position.

You can find out more about the organisational workshop and Barry Oshry here and here.

Go on, reach out and build your networks!


I’ve always liked to get to know people and stay connected. My Myers Briggs type is ENTJ and my most extreme preference is extroversion – I know I’m a sociable animal. When you have those preferences it’s easy to under play the value of networks, after all connecting, learning and sharing are second nature to me and it’s how I stretch myself too; making sure I have interesting conversations that make me think. It’s also good fun.Myers Briggs

But as leaders in a system where it feels more complex and harder to achieve what we need to do than ever before, networking to share ideas and co-create solutions must be part of the future. Relationships that bridge organisational boundaries and stretch us to acquire new perspectives and look at things in new ways must surely be part of our future?

Networking sometimes has a bad reputation. That funny look people give you when you say you are meeting someone for coffee, a sort of ‘nudge, nudge wink, wink’ and a ‘tapping on the side of the nose’ as if to say – ah you are off for a quick skive or you must be job hunting. That’s not how I see it and how it works for me. I see meeting people and getting to know them part of my knowledge network; it enables me to stop worrying about not knowing so much but knowing others who do, or who think differently, or have different experience to me. My brain sometimes feels full-up and not able to absorb more – I need to share brains through my networks. You know the old AA advert ‘But I know a man who can’. 

Networks are also brilliant for finding people to test my madcap ideas on – it sometimes takes someone to say to me – whoa! Hold that thought right there!

nurture

 

You need to nurture and grow your networks, they don’t just arrive, and once you have them they need loving care and attention.

 

 

Here are my top 10 tips for developing and growing your networks:

  • Always be genuinely interested in people and what they have to say
  • Find common ground and share what you know too – it’s not a one way street
  • Try to stay connected as much as you can – close connections need more of your energy than loose ones but both need your attention
  • Always try to give as much as you take – generous spirits tend to be good networkers
  • Only promise what you can deliver
  • Build trust and mutual respect and keep at it
  • Never, ever, ask for anything that you know is wrong, however good the relationship
  • Use social media to connect and share
  • Share your connections – you will extend your networks this way
  • Enjoy yourself and relax!

Leeds connected coffeeI recently had the very great pleasure of meeting Phil Jewitt @philjewitt from Leeds City Council as my NHS Change Day pledge for Leeds Connected Coffee. A great example of networking; we both come from very different professional backgrounds but we found much common ground and I feel sure I will be meeting Phil again  and I wouldn’t hesitate to ask his advice on local authority stuff! If we are to connect across systems it is the people who can do this, not sterile organisational structures – so go on, reach out and build your networks!

Finally have a look at this short RSA film about where good ideas come from and spot how networking might play a role here too 🙂 Its a good watch too!

 

Where is your change preference?


figure headSometimes life throws you an opportunity to explore something new or even explode things you thought you knew. Often you think you know what enthuses you but then you surprise yourself; I once surprised myself white-water rafting in the Ottawa River – I was like the figure-head on the front of a ship, holding on bravely – but I digress! This time it was a new opportunity to explore and expand some knowledge.  As part of my Florence Nightingale Foundation Burdett Scholarship I have been very lucky to spend some time at Roffey Park  and a few weeks ago I was there looking at change management.

So we looked at a number of theoretical change models. That was interesting enough; I knew some and was less familiar with others. Then the interesting bit started, we tried putting them along a scale according to what I have termed humanist > mechanistic approaches. What I call humanist are what is termed ‘relational’ where enabling techniques like World Café, Future Search and Appreciative Inquiry have their place. At the opposite end of the spectrum was more mechanistic project management type approaches, that are less messy and are organised in a more logical flow led by theorists such as Lewin and to a degree Kotter; they have a more linear and analytical style with techniques like business process mapping and lean methodology. Of course the scale is not a scientific one and it is matter of personal interpretation and perspective.

change

I had a sudden moment of clarity. The process of learning led me to think about my personal preferences and how I liked to think about change. I discovered that although I see that different approaches have different strengths and weaknesses, I had a personal preference for the type of approach to change that I liked to be involved in. I also saw that not only had I personal preference for any approach to change, that I worked in organisations that equally had a culture with a leaning towards an approach, and finally that there was an opportunity for discomfort and tension in this.

BridgesMy favourite model was a new one to me and is a model called ‘Transition Management’ based on the work by William Bridges. It refocuses change into transition, which is the psychological transition and reorientation required in response to change. I loved the idea that before we can transition we need to address endings and then we inevitably experience a neutral zone, a period of chaos and an in-between time. Then the process of renewal starts. I loved the language of this model. Words like: endings, relationships, resistance, disorientation, beginnings and new identity. If you want to know about Bridges have a look at this article here.

Gant chartSo, I like a particular approach to change but I work in an area that clearly can’t use that approach, you can’t introduce new software using appreciative inquiry – you need good Gantt charts plenty of them! If you work in the large scale programmes I work in you are nobody if you don’t have a Gant chart or a RAG status!  But I survive there despite my preferences – I had to think hard about why!

My conclusion was that I am able to see that its appropriateness that matters most and having people around who have the skills to use the right approach. Organisational development people are not one-trick ponies they need to be able to work out what is the best way and then use it. I’m just glad that with my preferences for relational models of change I work with some great people who have skills at the other end of my change spectrum – It made me think about difference and value it even more!

At a time where there is a need for unprecedented change in the NHS, understanding our personal preferences and leanings as well as the embedded culture of organisations and their almost instinctive responses to the need for change has to be important learning.

standing out from crowd