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Reflections from leadership cubed – New Year, New You Mini Series: Guest Reflections


We are delighted to share reflective pieces from two participants on our current leadership cubed cohort. They offer thoughts from the cohort’s most recent time together back in November 2018. Regardless of where you are in your career journey, their reflections highlight the importance of making time to incorporate reflective practice when learning, being open to a range of perspectives and thinking and staying curious and compassionate about your responses and what they might reveal. Both pieces go on to highlight the power of listening to and sharing leadership stories.  Thanks to Sharon Hammel and Suzy Aspley for making these available.

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Project Lift - The Butterfly Effect by Suzy Aspley

At the heart of the Project Lift emergent philosophy is a butterfly. Such a beautiful, colourful and vibrant creature which emerges like a miracle from something else, transformed from a caterpillar into a being that can take flight. Butterflies are magical things and at first it’s hard to see how a leadership programme in NHS Scotland can in any way be compared to one.

But spending three days at the Stirling Court Hotel, getting to know my fellow colleagues, the metaphor felt like it was every day becoming the right one. Leadership cubed is a new approach to developing leaders in our public services. It’s a brave step to go in with many ideas, but fewer processes and frameworks than you might usually expect and for some it was a challenge. To break out from the system way of thinking and give leaders the space to reconnect with their values, their compassion and their humanity. And that is exactly what is needed at a time when we work within complex systems, often firefighting and forgetting sometimes why we started the work in the first place.

We heard from Mark Beaumont, who cycled around the world in less than 80 days. His inspirational approach was rooted in a new way of tackling a challenge that some had tried before, but through meticulous planning and a fantastic support network, he showed that distributing leadership to the right people at the right time could achieve incredible results.

We spoke with colleagues leading in some of the most challenging roles in health and social care. The stories of leadership from Jane Grant, Hazel Borland and Katie Kelly echoed different perspectives from across the system in which we all work today. It was thought provoking, challenging and inspirational, all at the same time.

Our coaches, Brigid, Joanne K and Joanne R also immersed themselves with us and it felt like a real team effort. Katie introduced us to Vibrant Communities and her enthusiasm and energy was infectious, helping our group, from every corner of Scotland, to build the foundations of our own vibrant community.

We shared stories of our own leadership journey and questioned how we had been chosen for this innovative new approach to development. The answer was that WE had chosen to join this movement. When Hilary Cottam joined us half way through, she talked about her own fascinating journey, including a stint in a guerilla camp in Africa ‘making coffee’, and the experiments across the U.K. which made up her book Radical Help. She also brought a different kind of vibrancy to our discussions and helped set some flexible boundaries around the ideas we were forming for the live collaborative work which will take place during 2019.

Threading throughout the Stirling experience was a focus on thinking about how we lead in our teams and systems, how we manage our own health and well-being and a realisation that remaining true to your own core values, remembering why we do the jobs we do, and staying compassionate and kind, are so important in today’s often chaotic world.

It’s hard to break out of a system that seems so rigid and process driven, when at times the person seems to get lost in rules or offerings that have no relevance to them. But just as the caterpillar emerges from the rigid structure of the chrysalis following weeks of evolution, it feels like the small changes we’ve started to make, mean the Butterfly Effect is well and truly underway through Project Lift.

Project Lift - leadershipŽ cubed November 2018 by Sharon Hammell

The second gathering of the inaugural cohort for leadership cubed took place over two and a half days in the campus of Stirling University. It started well: I managed to secure a parking space close to the Stirling Court Hotel, my room was ready for check-in and lunch was a convivial sandwiches and coffee affair. So far, so good.

My existential crisis began shortly after we got down to the leadership business of exploring the relationship between self, team and system. We were asked to split into twos with someone we didn’t know, and respond to the question: “Who am I?”

Over the next two and half days, I was struck by my own and others’ high levels of discomfort in relation to self-reflection. Most of us are judged on delivering quality at pace. This discomfort made me pay attention, and our exploration of self turned out to be a light bulb moment. My biggest take away from our time together wasn’t anything to do with wicked problems and strategic planning, but that I need to build the habit of self-reflection to be an authentic, adaptive and emotionally intelligent leader, to build and maintain my personal resilience and to seek out work and partnership opportunities which make me happy.

Our cohort was extremely fortunate to hear from several inspiring leaders, with differing approaches to leadership. Mark Beaumont shared his collaborative leadership approach to cycling 18,000 miles around the world within his target of 80 days. (78 days and 14 hours, to be exact.) He actively managed risks from familiarisation bias by engaging a key team member who knew nothing about endurance cycling. I learned that objectivity is an extremely effective way to develop and test a plan which will deliver the required performance, while enabling the team leader to delegate most of the decisions to members of the team. I also learned that this level of performance stretched all the way to his physiotherapist and cycle mechanic stepping up to perform road-side dental surgery, guided by a dental expert on a mobile phone, after Mark broke several teeth in an accident.

We were also joined by Katie Kelly, Depute Chief Executive from East Ayshire Council, Jane Grant, Chief Executive of NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde, and Professor Hazel Borland, Nursing Director at NHS Ayshire and Arran, who described their own leadership journeys, and their successes, motivations and frustrations. I was struck by their passion for citizen and staff-led design of services, by their ability to build trust and relationships to meet the needs of the communities they serve.

We were also joined by social activist, Hilary Cottam who is motivated by how we can enable everyone to live our true and shared potential. As our cohort started developing ideas for live collaborative leadership projects, Hilary helped us to shape our ideas for working together to remove barriers, deliver a positive impact, and develop our collaborative leadership capability. We won’t be cycling for 16 hours a day, but I’m in no doubt there will be multiple challenges to overcome while testing the relationship between self, team and system for the benefit of service users, patients and staff. If anyone needs dental surgery, though, I’ll hold the torch and clean towels.

And for anyone interested in collaborative solutions to our social challenges, I recommend Hilary Cottam’s book Radical Help.


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