Day 15: An Action Day.

This is my umpteenth attempt to complete Julian Stodd’s ‘Social Leadership: My 1st 100 Days’ programme, as a participant, myself. I am familiar with the work, having worked with Julian at Sea Salt Learning for almost 2 years now, and have taken other groups through it, but I am a firm believer that you learn more by doing, and that shared experience leads to empathy, and therefore more effective learning experiences. So, am I doing it for myself, or for others? Both, I think. To learn more about the work from an emotional, self reflective standpoint, to become a better Social Leader, and also to help me better understand the experience of learners going through it.

The real bonus, though, for me, and the reason that I have managed to get to day 15, is that I am doing this with my crew. We have a slack channel, and we are sharing our answers together in that space, and we are also sharing them on twitter. For me, there are some days that my response is for crew eyes only, as they know me more intimately than the twitter-sphere, and that is important, but by and large we are #WorkingOutLoud (appropriately, within curated boundaries!). We have collected others, too…there is a local authority group, and an open university group, at least…there are some independents, and some curious folk. There are some who have been doing it alone, for a long time (fair play…that didn’t work for me!) and those who are new to it.

Just taking a few minutes out each day before I start work to consider the thought provoking questions is very powerful, and not very time consuming. Then, as the day goes on, I get to see the answers of my crew come out, which provokes more conversation, and often, more questions. For example, on Day 11: ‘What will you be known for?’, when we all made our lists, Saskia asked us to consider where we would like to be on the lists of others, which really helped me to look at myself and my motivation, and how that might affect my actions and my authenticity. Fascinating.

I’m writing this here because today is an action day, and I have been failing to take the action of blogging. I have been writing blogs in my head and yet not committing them to the page (often about failure to blog…), as I have thus far been unable to make blogging the habit I aspire to it being. I want to write my own story of my journey, and just like the actual journey, the story so far is a foundering example with many false starts, mistakes and confused priorities, but…it will get there…nothing worthwhile has ever come easy.

You can buy ‘Social Leadership: My 1st 100 Days’ on amazon, and you can find Julian’s daily podcasts, on both iTunes and PlayerFM.

Leaving the NHS

I did it. Well…kind of. I’m still on a nurse bank in the NHS, as with recent changes in tax law I can no longer be paid as my limited company via an agency. That was the benefit for me, not ‘more money’. The agency I was with actually paid less than the bank I have since joined, due to the too little too late incentivisation brought in by that (and many other) Trusts.  I belonged to an agency so that I could keep all my money together in my limited company, as a freelancer, with the added benefit of seeing how lots of different Trusts work.

Thing is, because we haven’t played nice, we have had our toys taken away. I have seen the system of NHS organisations paying individuals as limited companies be abused, and I completely understand the reasoning behind it’s removal, but it does pretty much ruin it for the rest of us, those who aren’t mercenaries motivated by greed.

I also understand the processes put in place to cap agency spend. Perhaps, if pay had not been capped so long, we wouldn’t have run up such a bill in the first place. I entered nursing knowing that I would have to do extra work in order to, perhaps not make ends meet, although sometimes it has been that, but certainly for treats. In the NHS, nurses measure things in ‘bank shifts’…a holiday? Oh, that’s three bank shifts. Unexpected bill? I’ll do a bank shift. New shoes? you get the picture. I also think that it is not necessarily about money. I was earning a very decent wage in the NHS before I left, and had been for a number of years. Significantly more than I am earning now!

So why did I leave? I left because I was frustrated. I genuinely reached a point where I felt that I could do more good for the NHS from the outside than I could from the inside. I remain frustrated, as I encounter a fair amount of negativity about my leaving (even from my GP!). The reality is, I provide a very competent bank/agency service, I am an expert witness for the law courts and provide objective ways for the NHS to learn from where things have not gone right, and as a leadership consultant I am able to find my voice in that crucial sense making, application to practice, culture change space, that only comes from knowledge of the every day reality of those you are helping.  Wasted? I think not.

I read daily in various places how awful it is that the NHS is losing it’s nurses…and I agree…to an extent. Freedom to Speak Up refers to the NHS as a monopoly employer, and so it is. If it could start to see how it could work with ex-NHS employees in their new guises, with their vast and multiplicitous experience, perhaps it would tap into a resource of hitherto unknown value. The more it separates itself from the rest of the world, the more isolated the NHS is, and poses restriction only on to itself.


I had the very great pleasure of speaking to a group of masters students last week. They were all nurses and midwives, some from the NHS and some from the private sector, studying leadership at a university in London. We talked about leadership and community, bonds of trust, drawing on Julian Stodd’s work on social leadership, with great emphasis on the core skills of leadership…those of humility, compassion, equality and fairness.

Interestingly, we got talking about consequence. It became clear, that the people in the room were quite simply afraid to speak up for what is right. They felt that they would not be listened to because of their grade…they felt that what they said didn’t matter. One person even had a terrifying, yet depressingly familiar story of whistle blowing and consequence; in her quest for patient safety, she had been the subject of frankly illegal processes to ‘get her out’. The unit she had been concerned about was closed down, by an external body, many months after she had repeatedly raised concerns about it, and she was removed from her position. The Directors who were responsible, also left that Trust, but reappeared elsewhere, seemingly unscathed, in board positions. It may be, and I sincerely hope it is, that these individuals have learnt from their mistakes, but it is a stark reminder that power feels no consequence, and junior people are scapegoated, in what is still a very hierarchical culture.

This happened after the Francis Report, after the fit and proper persons test was brought in, and after freedom to speak up, and the duty of candour and even revalidation for nurses came about, these formal attempts to control and dictate the improvement of culture. I have heard just this week stories of destructive subversion of the system of revalidation by senior nurses. Not a ‘stand up for what’s right’ subversion to disrupt and innovate, but a misguided lack of insight, that somehow doesn’t see the connection between nurse competence and patient safety.

So, my conclusion from this is that although the formal system is providing recommendations, legislation and rules to support doing the right thing, the culture is not changing…probably because recommendations, legislation and rules are not the things that change culture.

The people change the culture, the actions of the people, not the values on the wall, the aspirations, but the way people behave on a daily basis. The Directors referred to above, I’m sure, didn’t intend to cause harm…but the world does not judge us by our intentions, it judges us by our actions, or inactions. To paraphrase Julian Stodd, our reputation, and our subsequent social authority, is based on our actions over time..it is how we build trust and how we lead, and how we lead and behave is how we influence culture. One individual at a time.


Having had a veritable outpouring of words at my first few blogging attempts, I have struggled to get this piece out. It seemed a very natural progression, from fairness to humility…to equality. But I have struggled.

I find myself at odds with equality. I am a woman, a white woman, a white homosexual woman. I am broadly middle class, much as it pains me to say it. I belong to one or two other minorities that I don’t need to go into here, but ones that have a certain stigma, and that are therefore fair game for ridicule in polite’ society. I don’t include my homosexuality as one, as I am fortunate enough to live in the UK, although I have had my fair share of homophobia, and not just from ignorant peers. As a teenager, I wrote an angry letter to the Daily Mail about Section 28. As I write this, I realise I am less angry than I used to be, and I am quite ashamed, as I realise that I am less angry because it doesn’t affect me anymore, when just last week two men were flogged for it in Indonesia.

True equality is lacking. I was appalled as a child, for personal reasons, when ‘spastic’ and ‘handicapped’ resounded around the playground. Having forgiven children for being children, I have been even more appalled when those words have resounded around the departments and wards of hospitals, accepted as ‘banter’ from one nurse to another.

I think this is why I have struggled so much with this post. I have realised that equality is more about the experiences we have as individuals, and the extent of the suffering we ourselves have felt, and less about compassion for others and a true desire to be equal.

I am uncomfortable with the revelation that we are, to borrow a line from one of my favourite bands, complicit in our negligence.


I once asked a very wise woman I know how to talk about humility without sounding grandiose. She said “why do you want to talk about humility?” and I found myself in the catch 22 that, to me, is the very essence of humility.

I cannot say to you, “I am humble” and it be true, by virtue of the fact that I have claimed it for myself. Someone else can say it about me, but the minute I assert that I am humble, I am automatically not.

I strive for humility, personally. I occasionally hit it between periods spent lurching from supreme arrogance to crippling low self esteem, sometimes several times a day. It is a largely elusive characteristic, but it is one that sits at the heart of what I hold dear. It is integral to authenticity, to self awareness, to generosity and, most importantly, to not behaving like an ass.

Humility is poorly understood. Society as a whole would rather self deprecate, lest we be prideful, put ourselves down lest we be accused of arrogance, and we judge harshly those who are able to see themselves as they truly are. I think that that is what humility is. The ability to see oneself as we truly are, flaws and all…but, vitally, also seeing and valuing our assets.

Humility is learnt in the times during which we are not humble. Just as things seem to be going really well for me I generally “suffer” a setback. These are lessons in humility, that keep me grounded, allow me to gain perspective, to grow, and to become more authentically me. But, lessons in humility do not have to be humiliating…they sometimes come in different guises. For example, I have recently been working as an agency nurse in a geographical area mostly unknown to me. Having only been Head of Nursing at an acute trust in London fairly recently, it was quite a shock to be treated by my colleagues as a lower class member of the team. Now, there was no need to tell them the depths of my experience, there was nothing to be gained by behaving like an ass (see above) I just got on with my job. It was nice for them that I was so competent (although I found it harder than it was when I was 25) and I got more work. Everybody was happy. I behaved well, but I’d be lying if I didn’t acknowledge that in my head there were times that I wanted to shout “do you know who I am?” or some such. But I didn’t. And that, my friends, is growth.



So I’ve finally given in to writing a blog. It makes sense, I enjoy writing, and words, vocabulary. I’m good at it, too. But we’re always told not to say when we’re good at something for fear of being arrogant (who says society has low self esteem?) I am also good at leadership. I have learnt this from my experience. My experience of being led well, my experience of being led badly…my experience of leading well, and, most emphatically, my experience of leading badly.

But I digress. My point is that I don’t want to write a blog because there is already too much noise out there. Why should I add to it? What will I blog about? What do I know about? I know about me. So that is what I shall blog about. My experience.

I have fundamentally changed over the years. But there is one thing that I have always found to be important….fairness.

In my adolescence, I was a metaller* I was surrounded by ravers, and we fought (think ’90s version mods and rockers) I had an arch nemesis, whom I shan’t name to protect the guilty…but you get the point. The Friday before our GCSE exams, in a prearranged stunt, the head raver pushed one of the other girls (neutral, as it happens) into the pond. The head raver got suspended (despite the “victim” being complicit)  and banned from taking her exams the following week.

I was outraged. Never had my young self seen such injustice. So I started a petition to allow her to take her exams and got it signed by the whole school. Now, I have no idea whether or not that action made any difference to the actions of the school administration, and I suspect it didn’t….but that girl, my sworn enemy, came and thanked me in the street for that teenage sense of indignation, some years later, having been allowed to take her GCSEs.

My sense of doing the right thing has not changed. It’s not about doing the right thing because the person is a friend, or it will look good, or it fits in. It is about doing it because it is right.

*still proudly a metaller