Friday, 29 November 2013

Letter to Gen

I am sorry it has taken me so long to write to you. Its been a bit of a journey since you left and it has taken me since you died to work out that I needed to carry on and that I needed to write to you. You understand it in writing, I know that so why have I continued to talk to you in my head where you can’t hear or understand me?

I think I just won the competition for the longest processing delay in the Universe. You can award me the prize. You’ll like that.  It’s been 2017 days or 5 years, 9 months, 7 days. (I know you think that’s hilarious). I am the one that’s supposed to be good at processing right? I sometimes couldn’t even remember to give you a day or an hour. Your patience is 2017 times bigger than mine. It always was. I miss you.

This week we are in Australia. We’ve just finished four delivery days. Its been tough to keep you with me all the way, not because I don’t love you being here, but because I do. The world is brighter. How can I explain? It’s like the feeling on your skin when the sun warms up slowly and adjusts it temperature to just the right level, its the way you feel when you are in a room on your own and we go away, its like music and light and dancing and postcodes and being with Grace the horse, when she is cantering. It’s special. It’s the best. I miss you.

We’re on the other side of the world, can you believe that? The work is the same and the people all have accents. You love it and we talk about it at lunch time. So much is the same, the ummmm game works and I hear your delight and the tinkle of your laughter as you watch them stuck in the land of no rules. They know you know something they don’t know. You know they  won’t be as brave as you and just ask. “you know something I don’t know.... what is it......”? Nothing changes. Only distance. It feels as though your brightness is harder to find. I miss you when it fades. I miss you more when you shine brilliantly. 

This time James helped me. No one replaces you but he did a great job. Even telling you that makes the hair stand up on my arms. He was brave and brilliant and you spun and sang in the sunlight he cast. He worked with so much courage and placed so much trust in us to help him navigate his story safely. We talked about it all the way home, you told me that you thought you loved him. I know you did, another beautiful mind another beautiful soul warmed slightly by the generosity of your teaching. You asked me if I had noticed the many subtleties of how incredibly clever he is, you asked whether I think they noticed and as always I said I hope so. I really hope so. I always hope so. My hope is never as radiant as yours. I miss it. I am less without it, without you. 

You don’t know this bit. This bit of the story goes beyond you. This is the reason for my letter. I have told everyone but I have not told you. I failed you...... and it hurts. 

I have learned to tell it. The story of my ultimate failure to read the obvious. “She”, “me” who knew so much but understood so little. 

This week James made his I pad play the Doctor who theme tune as he handed out badges to welcome people to understanding him - you - us - people. You walked beside us.  We’d sent the group backwards and forwards in time to sort things out for him in a way that made sense, you loved it and ..... we / I nearly got it right. 

The tune finished too soon and I rushed to make it better. I tapped the i pad to replay. You knew he needed it to be just as it was. You called out to me to stop, but I didn’t, couldn't, wouldn’t and it was too much for him. He faltered completely at a loss because the I pad was his and mine was the ultimate violation. You recognise that right? A heartbeat too slow to understand the significance of my action or in your case a heart beat too slow to recognise the significance of inaction. Same mistake... different year, different person, different outcome.. same story.

So, history repeats itself. My understanding coming on the synchophated beat, a heart beat away from doing the right thing and what he / you needed most. 

I am sorry I didn’t come. I am sorry I replied to your text with texts. I am sorry for your loss. You paid the ultimate price. I learned the ultimate lesson and despite the cost of the mistake I continue to make it. You, as always, continue to walk beside me in trust and faith and confidence that I will find my way and will translate you to them..... them to them. 

Yup, we are in Australia this week. We are back out there now, telling it like it needs to be told and I hold you tight. You gave me you to carry with me. I do the best job I can. It’s not enough, but right now it’s the best I can do and still stay standing.  They love you as much as they always did, I love you as much as I always did. I miss you, they love you... nothing so much has changed. Lets go.... the break is over and it’s time to get back to it.....I am not crying. Promise........


Tuesday, 15 October 2013

Bangladesh, the women and leadership

Work on developing a leadership course is picking up a pace. I met with the University and as soon as the days deliver enough hours to write it, it looks like there will be a choice for those who choose to study. Half a Masters or an undergraduate qualification. So that's massively exciting.

I am busy working on the work coming in, working on moving and working on the future and I find myself buzzing about electrified with the thought that maybe questions like "what do future leaders in social care need to look like", "how do we develop them" and "how do we make the conversation global" are going to get an airing?

I was lost in thought about who we might invite to contribute, what modules there might be and had only half an eye to packing up the house (as we are moving).

In a bedside table I found a card. Tucked under the wing of the envelope was a bit of paper. It's been  lost to me for months. I wrote about it weeks ago in the blog about the women in Bangladesh. As the paper fluttered to the floor if felt like they were calling to me. A sharp reminder to exit my reverie and remember that this stuff is real, not organisational, and it holds people's lives, livelihood and well-being in it.

The 30 or maybe 50 women we met somewhere way up in the North of Bangladesh called across time to me today. They form groups to generate work to generate income to feed their families. They say the "top qualities" of "great leaders are":

Positive attitude
Good humour
Time management

They should know. Their lives depend on it. Maybe we should just build the modules around that? 

Wednesday, 11 September 2013

Life under a purple parachute - Sept 3rd & Sept 11th 2013.

Sept 3rd

Well, it’s day two on location in a new life and I find myself back in Wales waiting for a meeting to start. In Starbucks with time to think. Yup, don’t let that pass you by, I seem to have some time to think.

I was going to write a labouring analogy between jumping from a salaried job on Friday and jumping from a plane on Saturday but I have abandoned that after a conversation today to make a call out for thought contributions. 

So, try this instead. A different analogy. 

Imagine the human services context as a landscape. Got it?

Think about all the stuff that’s going on in that context and then design your landscape to match. Keep it in your head, I don’t need to hear it. One analogy is as good as another.

Right now look out across your landscape to our current leaders. Give them a physical space and presence and imagine them into a form if it helps. Can you see them? Hopefully they look vibrant and strong?

Think about the current policy context and then re-imagine the landscape and those leaders in 10 years time. What form do they take now? If they are still good, strong and thriving then this thinking is a bit “previous”. If they are a little wilted  go back to re-imagine the original landscape you created. 

How many green shoots did you see in your imagination? You can see them now of course but were they there before? Is there a gardener? Who’s tending the shoots?

Sept 11th

What preoccupied me last week was how current leaders, in which I belatedly include myself, are going about developing future leaders in human services? 

I like to over-egg everything. It irritates some but it helps me to see complicated issues clearly. Oversimplification is not of course reality, but there’s a little enjoyment in parody if not a smattering of truth.

I started imagining three roads to the future. 

One builds a road out of money. The money is everything. Those that succeed are those most willing and able to make cuts, tackle efficiency, focus on hours of delivery and maximise output from minimum input. Those able to do that best are the fittest and they survive. Some on the road fall by the wayside. They are the ones who get weary of walking, they’ve forgotten where or why they were going . The journey is the purpose. Winning is for winnings sake. 

The second road comes from the past. People on the road hold tight to the principles we grew up with. They get to be angry. They protest. They survive by being all things to all people. They do what they used to and to do what they have to now. There is less and less time to do what they want to or what they believe is right. They spin more and more plates. They make cuts. They measure everything. They stay focused on people, on systems, on money, on value, on compliance on everything and anything. They hold what matters tight to their chest and run to keep up with those on road one. Progress is slow. There’s detritus on the road it’s hard to see where they are going and busyness becomes the purpose. 

Both roads seem painfully familiar but do they really, I mean really, require leadership? 

Last week I started a conversation about what road 3 might look like. The conversation uncovered more questions than answers. 

Here are some:

Are we clear about what we are leading toward now? Can we see the road to take us there? Are we absolutely clear about what the new skills of future leaders need to be? Are roads one and two actually the only options? Is there another way? What will it take to create the new cadre of transformational future leaders. 

They’ll need courage. They’ll need creativity. They’ll need enterprise. They’ll need to be let loose from “history” to create new direction. They’ll need energy. They’ll need some space on the bench.  

Amidst all of the questions about road three my co-traveller gave me five certainties. 

They’ve been occupying my thinking.

  1. “Current leaders need to make space for new leaders to emerge”. How do you make that happen? Our current leaders are as dependent on organisation as the next woman.
  2. “Road 3 isn’t really just, only or even about organisational leadership”. What form of leadership is it then and how do we develop it?
  3. “Unlike the past policy won’t be the driver”. Sure, so what will and why are so many of our best thinkers still shackled to the alter of policy direction? How do we crowbar them free?
  4. “The skills, principles approaches and service models that have served us in the past are not right for the future”. Right about that! We’re going to have to let some stuff go and make some tough choices. How do we choose? How do we let go? What takes it’s place?
  5. “We won’t see the transformational change opportunities or create the new cadre of strong leaders we want on our horizon if we only tend our own organisational gardens”. Sure, the world’s a big place. Why don’t we go see what we can find?

I am interested in your thoughts and I’d love to hear your ideas. The thinking is contributing to an evolving leadership programme. 

Comments and thoughts to:

Saturday, 10 August 2013

Leadership, Bangladesh, Women and the Imam

One day, the time before last, when we were in Bangladesh we were really lucky to share a meeting space with a group of women who were, in turn, meeting with the Imam. The Imam wanted to borrow money and the women were considering his request. They decided not to agree but to ask the women who contribute to the community fund first. It looked like a pretty momentous decision. When he left the meeting after "not today" they all raised simultaneously from the floor, a thousand colours merging in unison to form a kaleidoscope of human butterflies. When they dust settled and the surge of adrenalin it took for them to say "no" seeped away we were given the space to ask questions. Always a tough one. What do I know of what it take to find the courage and imagination to haul up the anchor of poverty, steer toward a life and find the strength to lead and speak out amongst all that?  Not much I can tell you about that but our visitor status and, worse, the colour of our skin means I am often asked for the benefit of my "opinion".

I had nothing to give that came anywhere near what they'd just done, or were doing. So I asked a question. They were leading their community.If I took them to meet women in the UK and asked them to define what leadership is what would they say? Kate grabbed a bit of paper and scribbled what they said. I have been looking for it all morning. I will post it when I find it. It says what you'd expect. Courage, inspiration, humility, self confidence, self awareness, compassion. That's not the punch-line of the story.

No, the punch-line is not that the women's definition was so breathtakingly inspiring. It is that knowing they have never been to school & had only just learned to write, for an infinitesimal fraction of a second, I  was afraid the question might be too difficult.

Leadership isn't defined or understood by organisations, status or job role, it's defined by doing it. Even though I believe that with every ounce of who I am, even though I could see the evidence of it before me with my own two eyes, even though these women were doing it  against odds I felt an atomic sliver of doubt. As I recollect it is crystal clear that the singeing flames of doubt had no right of place on the edge of my consciousness that day. They taught me a big lesson.

Wednesday, 7 August 2013

It's not about ABBA

This post comes from a series of haphazard seemingly unconnected life events. I hope you see the point.

Scene 1. Cut to my first day at school. I was 4. I met Denise, my lifelong friend. It was an unlikely friendship, what with her being so little and cute and me being so big and gangly. That sourced endless jokes for people entering and leaving our lives for years... Cannon and Ball... Little and Large...Tom and Jerry..... 

There’s something about friendship forged so early that, like family, it denies judgement. It just is. The rules of engagement were laid down long before we were consciously aware that we needed them. The comfort is in the familiar. The detail is rich. The connections limitless. We walked our separate life paths she and I, together and separate, together and separate, together and separate. The elastic strained but never broke.

Scene 2. Cut to this last month. Her 50th pending. M arranged a surprise birthday and I secretly robbed all her photos. The plan was to make a film of her life. Just a little one, to pull together the story and to stand back and love it and her in its splendor. The photos, many of them unseen or unremembered, plunged me back into life, memories and stories that were lost to me without them. I laughed and I cried. Her mum and I pieced together the background to the photos, the fragments of the story, to form something of a narrative of her life - in so far as that's possible anyway. I set them to music... Donny Osmond, Bay City Rollers.... Oh come on, don’t cringe it was our life!  We were 10, what did we know about what was cool? We listened to it when we were playing phones and libraries. Together and separate, together and separate. Thinking about it, we were playing work. Like so many children's games we were unwittingly preparing for our life beyond. There's an irony in that, you'll see. Read on. 

Scene 3. Cut to Saturday. The film was done and shown and she loved it. I watched as the notes to the soundtrackbeat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past” (Great Gatsby in case you are wondering). It had all felt like an immense privilege, a huge responsibility and for the 8 minutes it lasted time pivoted wildly on her axis my eyes locked half on Denises and half on the screen. With the final notes the clock resumed it’s metronomic tick and, unburdened, I took a seat quietly in the lounge to replay the serenity of a perfect moment. Together and separate, together and separate.

Scene 4. Cut to the sofa, eyes closed basking in peace. Feeling I’d done what I set out to do.  Relieved. My head slipped to the back of the chair, my eyes closed and I rested in the moment. Words, sounds, laughter bubbled up. Her voice, my mum, my sister, her brother, Nancy from class, her mum, Chris, my mum, Steve, Denise... each voice taking turns to lift itself above the others and fade away. I was listening to the sound track to my life and I couldn’t tear my ears away.

Scene 5. Cut to yesterday. I went to visit someone we support, nothing to do with that other story, right? Another story?

We are in a transition. We both get that. It’s not goodbye. We’ll stay in touch, only the form will change. A connection forged through a tough night maybe two years ago makes sure of that. Awake all night, we counted minutes, counted seconds, counted milli seconds each one carrying us a minuscule distance further away from the scene of a threatening nightmare. Readmission. We promised each other we’d be OK, we'd make it through the night. There. Would. Be. No. Readmission. We fought for it, we were terrified, we were sad, we paced, we fought for it again and we made it to morning. No-one walks stories like that and comes out unchanged. Our landscape altered and we came out the other side friends. Whenever we see each other now thoughts, life and our conversation turn back to then, to understand that night, that journey, that success. Hold the recipe tight and hard, we may need it gain someday. We relive it, each of us determined to award the happy ending to the other, truth is we did it together, together and separate. 

When we talked yesterday I talked of my weekend, of the story of Denise and of the sound track. He loved it. Eyes bright he put his head back, just as I did. He in his story echoing me in mine, listening. He was listening for his own sound track. I invited him to share.... “What do you hear”...............

“There’s screaming, anger, crying, everyone is shouting, they are shouting at me, I can’t hear properly, I think its the drugs. It’s all arguments, only arguments. It's awful. The click of the door on the seclusion room, I can't stand it. I am the only person they use it for. I can't stand the click. I can't stand the silence behind it. Ten minutes is a lifetime”. I faltered as, like you just did, I realised he hears the sound track of the many hospitals that built his late teens and twenties.  The music is not nice. It's like nails on a blackboard, tin foil on a filling, it's worse. It's real nightmare stuff.  He thought he'd never get out. He feared he was going back. 

“I am OK aren’t I here in this life Judith”? ..... “Yeah, you're OK mate, this sound track, this today, is not controlled by the people with syringes you told me about. It's controlled by you. It's you now, you are OK”.

The lives we create for people in a so called benevolent service system that sets out to care eh?

Consider this tomorrow. Listen in. What kind of music do you hear when you close your eyes and open your ears in work? What music do we we create in the "support" services, the "human" services that form so much of ours and other people's lives? What must it be like to live a system, a life, where shift changes or worse are your musical accompaniment? What's it like when each time you close your eyes or take your ears off now's road your Eamon Andrews turns out to be Freddie Kruger? Maybe it's benign and the soundtrack is just an endless sea of faces for whom you are a job, some come, some go, most never stay. None of them know that Donny Osmond is the right tune for those pictures.

Is this a story about “natural supports”? 

Maybe, but I think maybe more it just about music, my good fortune and a cracked record that needs to be updated.  

Thank you for the music... the songs I’m singing..........thanks for all the joy.... yeah.....take it away maestro......

Saturday, 27 July 2013

Processing people?

I guess its possible to turn just about any form of human interaction into a process or to describe it in process terms? After all, all a process is is an effort to deconstruct and make sense of a complex set of interacting variables and put them in some sort of order so they can be replicated. It’s reductionist - I doubt anyone would deny that - my interest today though is in reconstruction.

This morning Kate and I spent some time Skyping from on opposite sides of the planet. Our focus was to provide support to one another, to share understanding and to enhance completely separate coaching and team development journeys each is on. 

The coaching and organisational development books probably say what we found in considerably fancier ways. Forgive us if what comes next is nothing new. These felt like precious discoveries this morning. 
Process or paradigm descriptions proliferate in social care. Many have had significant impact in changing the lives of people in receipt of support and that has to be a good thing. Right? Agreed. Nothing to argue with there.

We have both spent part of our working life dedicated to teaching process - deconstructing “the way” to do something and then reconstructing it so others can learn, emulate and reproduce or in other words “do it”. Coaching, person centred planning, strengths based supervision, solution focussed team meetings.... blah blah blah.... all offer some such examples.

Once process is taught  and understood there are people who seem to really “get it”. They breath life into it and there’s something fundamentally awesome in their delivery and impact. Everyone can see it. No-one can name it. Others just “do it”.   Watching them work is like looking at a body without life. It’s profoundly uncomfortable.
Whatever it is that one person can do that the other can’t  it is superordinate and grappling an understanding of it seems urgent. Let me tell you why.
There’s not one of the processes listed above that are not in someway configured to alleviate human discomfort, confusion or bring relief to real life situation. Connect with people in any of these processes and fairly quickly you bump up against some kind of pain. A considerable amount of it comes from human interaction, other people or the lack of them in someone’s life and thoughts. 
That’s a scary life truism. It is pretty terrifying in the context of human services. What else are we about? Who’d know that knowing we are in the people business we’d be so tuned out to the internal life of our people and the dynamics that go between them.  Who’d have guessed that we’d spend so much time teaching process without really understanding the “life the body needs to make it live”.
We have decided to start to write, to start to put words around the “life” and not the process, to think about whether it’s possible to deconstruct that instead of process. We want to try to find names for it, ways to share it and ways to come to understand and apply it better in human services. Why? Because human services need humanity to be what they set out to be.  

Our human service system will be eternally indebted to some incredible process thinkers for their contribution to improving the lives of people we serve and those who work beside us. It’s time to take it up a notch now. If we are in the people business isn't it obvious? I can’t believe I have missed it with this level of clarity until now. If we are in the people business surely it’s time to explore and understand the nature of people?

This thinking belongs to no-one and everyone. It’s ours and its yours. This isn’t a two person thought piece. We need as much help as we can get. Share your thoughts. Everyone of those is precious too.

Sunday, 21 July 2013

An Orenda moment

I know it's cheesy.... but..... I've thought a lot about what use I might put the blog to. It feels like I should write something erudite and change the world that way and I probably or at least possibly will. Maybe you will too?

Then again if you've known me for a while you'll know I had an aspiration to open a virtual museum. The museum of ordinary moments.... They were intended to capture the inspiration in the ordinary. Simple stories captured from ordinary life that hold life in them. Anyway it didn't come to much. I didn't have the self discipline  or maybe the time to write them. Whatever.....

Today I found myself thinking about what a hard week it was last week. The pervasive theme was striving to meet demands that will always outstrip capacity... such is the day to day reality of leadership in social care. It's Sunday. I started doing the loop, mentally preparing all the doing I am going to need to do from Monday. I can never remember it all and even if I write it down, by Tuesday it's already getting the better of me. Maybe I need to go on a time management course?

I don't think so. Look at what's happening here. I am trying to wind up one job and start a new business. I might have difficulty juggling all the balls, but juggling I am and both are getting my full attention. If any part of my life is getting short changed its the people indoors....I am working on it and that's another story!

So it's not busyness that's the problem here, its not capability and its not even really capacity. I am finding space to do better than what needs to be done. The real issue is where I put my attention and the discipline to focus where it matters.

So, turn down the lights, start the orchestra and lift the curtains on an Orenda moment.

Orenda means the power within people to make change in the world and in themselves...... lets see where that takes us....

Last week, in the week I just described as "hard", I was called at lunchtime to present myself to the forum of people we support. The forum didn't exist 6 years ago and it's had its' up and downs. I was invited because it's the last time they will convene whilst I am there and they wanted to say goodbye and good luck. They had thought about the occasion, they had some words and had bought me flowers. I stood at the front and said how proud I was of their journey, what a massive difference it makes to hear their voice and how the organisation's strength rests in their courage to speak for themselves and others. No compromise. That was what we agreed and I left and went back down to my office to be busy.....

An hour later E (the Chair) headed toward my door, her walking frame masking nothing of the determination with which she intended to reach me. D followed closely behind on his stick similarly fuelled with purpose and and a real fire in his belly. They arrived at my door. It's existence proved no barrier, instead they bowled right on by and took their place in the chairs we preserve for all sorts of formal business related busyness. It looked like I was "for it" and I waited pensively to find out what other bit of busyness I had not settled, sorted or resolved.

I waited. I waited more. I discovered their mission was to claim some time.... they came to demand some time,  just time. There was no shape to it, no purpose in it, no ask, no complaint, no jobs, no nothing. All they wanted, all they took, was a little time. It was close on silent or maybe there were some words but what I noticed was the ask was simple. It was to be connected in warmth and regard. Just a little spot to let the sun shine, to enjoy each other's company, to reflect and to just be.  They brought that to me. They gave it to me.

Wasn't that what I was always there for? When did the busyness become the habit? I hardly know, but what saw is that they chose to come, they shaped the space, they didn't see the door. They chose to take my time and gift it back to me.

That's my Orenda thought for today. I don't even know who did what in this story to make the difference to whom. I think its mere detail. Moving forward I am going to try to use this space to write more moments, when I see them.

You should do that too. I will make a space here, if you send me what you saw.

Monday, 8 July 2013

Study Visits

Fantastic study visit to Arduin in Netherlands last week, more about the learning to come. Thoughts include "outcomes are not a monitoring exercise" and creating social businesses takes enterprise....

If I was going to be supported, its them I would want to support me. Not least because I could choose a doing kind of life and I am a doing sort of person... well most of the time anyway.

Whilst you wait for the more learned parts of my learning here's a short story that reminds us why resting on tour matters. I will be back with the real lessons soon....

Post Script to a Study Visit......

I went for that massage I had planned on Saturday afternoon. The masseuse said “do you want me to massage you lightly”, I said “no, pummel me with a brick”. ......She did..... apparently.

My friend Valerie and I shared a session and Valerie said it was pure comedy. This woman was belting me and poking me in the back with her elbows and I was face down snoring like a pig. 

All I remember is.....” I would like an absolute and unrelenting pummelling” please and then “excuse me madam, excuse me madam”.... as she tried to wake me up. She came close to having to douse me with ice cold water and shove me off the massage couch..... I think....

I hope the massage was good.... It cost a bit that little snoozette......
I hope I learned a lot in Holland. I need to rest a bit to find out........

Saturday, 8 June 2013

Getting started

This blog starts as I am 83 days or 2 months and 22 days away from leaving reach and starting a new working life as Orenda. The journey is a month or so old already and I could /should have started blogging before now. Its probably the hardest change journey I have chosen to make and not because its not fun, I am loving it. Nope. Its just that I find myself having to dance with uncertainty like I haven't ever chosen to before. What a wild dance partner she is. The whole of my life is her stage. She whips through every conversation sometimes thudding out a flamenco and other times licking gently at the very edges of my awareness, barely there but unwilling to go completely unnoticed. So hey, welcome to the world to which I have beckoned others demanding that the only way to live is to step into the dance. Until it becomes something else, this blog traces the steps until the opening number. Who knows. It might be instruction enough to enable other great people to join. ,two,, two,, two, three....and we are off.