How outrageous, when we are all rushing about doing stuff, to take some time out of our day to actually stop and think? I have spent the last two days with Academy local delivery partners. These are local academies, LETB partners, and other groups who lead on local development activity and in addition work with us on some of those areas of work where one national approach works best.
You can imagine there are some tensions. Like so much of the rest of the NHS at the moment, the organisational architecture isn’t entirely clear; lines of accountability and responsibility are blurred and slightly fudged. Each area has its own history and background and so comes to these new sets of relationships with varying degrees of enthusiasm, irritation or scepticism. There were more new faces in the room than faces I recognise; people new to post, to their new employer and sometimes new to the leadership development field entirely. We have little time now to spend being forensic about how we will all work together but the problem with some high level agreements is that it allows us all to brush over the detail. And of course it will be the detail that eventually leads to our success or failure.
I did a short session with the whole group to set the scene of the work we were going to be doing together over the next couple of years. I was slightly nervous about how it might go. I am part of a national organisation speaking to colleagues from local organisations. I am talking about the national work we are leading with their support and involvement. I am talking about leadership development to a room full of people with expertise in this area. So I did spend some time thinking about how I could do this session with purpose and without patronising. For colleagues in the NHS, there is still so much more that draws us together than sets us apart. Having a common purpose that is best served through collective endeavour is the thing that we need to remind ourselves of frequently.
During my session, I shared a poem written by a friend of Dave Ashton (Head of Practice at the Academy). Mark Halliday was a close friend of Dave’s who died of cancer a short while ago. I share his story and the poem below. The story is a powerful one, sadly familiar to many people in the room. What drew us together in sharing the story were all the powerful things that keep us connected to the NHS. Mark was a whole person, not a patient. His experiences were good and bad. The things that made a difference were the care and compassion he received from those around us.
I am passionate about the difference leadership development can make to the quality of leadership in the NHS. Everything we do underlines that. We do it because better leadership leads to a better experience for our staff – leading to better patient care. Every moment we spend debating territory, arguing about power, privilege and preference in ownership and control of our work is time we aren’t spending doing our jobs. These boundaries are important, we do need more clarity in the new system and that will come. But for now, as a group of people all invested in the same thing, we need to remind ourselves daily what we are working for. Our purpose helps us keep perspective in every conversation and I think helps guide us to solutions which are about getting the job done well rather than serving any other personal need. It bears a bit of thinking about…
Mark’s story – told by Dave Ashton
Mark Halliday was many things; he was a husband to Mary, dad to Martha, Naomi and Joel, a brother, head teacher, brilliant bass guitar player, a Scotsman, a foodie and so much more. He was also a pretty decent poet and a story teller. Mark had a dry, sometimes cynical sense of humour; he blamed it on being a Scot. He was a beautiful man.
Marks poetry was his way of expressing his hopes and fears, of what he wanted others to know about him that he couldn’t bring himself to say in normal conversation. His anger at his illness, how unfair it was that he would die before his children grew up, that he wouldn’t be there to care for them and grow old alongside his wife. That he would never thrash his Fender bass guitar like some heavy metal hairy monster the way he had always wanted to!
His poetry tells the story from the person at the other side of the dressing; it speaks of fear and a need to be understood, to be held without being constrained. For maximum effect you need to read this poem with a soft Scottish accent in mind that would be Marks voice.
Propped up in chairs and laid out on beds
like jumble on a church stall.
We all bear the family likeness
of a long, thin white dressing
pressed to our bellies, keeping our scars warm.
We watch each other,
looking into lives that have no locked drawers,
no private corners, no closed doors.
They hear me cry out
as the nurse tears the staples
from across my wound.
We look on as Johnny’s test results
shatter his bravado,
leave him sobbing on the phone.
‘Come and get me. Take me home. Take me home.’
We give each other nods, newspapers
and those precious,
long sheets of silence
stretching on for hours,
that we tie together and slide down,
running away, out through the town
and off into lives that have
adventures and futures.