Born leaders – you need to regress to progress

This blog originally featured on Third Force News.


The leadership industry offers numerous theoretical frameworks and models, ranging from the instructional to the inspirational. The majority of these models are focused on external factors and offer up-skilling and progression as a solution to overcoming leadership challenges. But is this enough?

After spending 2016 as a Clore Social Leadership Fellow, I don’t claim to be an expert on the subject, but with the knowledge that I have gained from that intense fellowship year and reflecting on my 15 years of working towards social justice I offer this: leadership should be more about regression than progression.

The chances are we probably once had many of the qualities that would make us a strong leader, but we have lost or forgotten them. Perhaps more concerning, we might have learned not to value them as we should. We need to tap into our inner-child and re-learn the qualities that childhood gifted us, and value them as leadership traits.

Key to this is our curiosity. I’m sure none of our parents expected to give birth to pint-sized Paxman’s but this is what many of them got. “Do the trees make the wind?”, “Do they close the roads to switch on all the cats eyes?”, “where is my soul?”, and of course, “Where do babies come from?”. As children we’re naturally curious about the world around us, and less willing to accept things at face value.

The circle of why is a phenomenon that delights curious young minds and frustrates parents in equal measure. Yet at some point we learned to be less curious. “Why?” Because the very question became annoying and it stopped eliciting the responses that we liked.

Research shows that our questioning drops off dramatically after the age of five, suggesting that schools have a role to play here too. I remember from my own experience that school rewarded the children who knew the answer, not asked the best questions, and this pattern of rewarding answers over questions continues into our professional life.

So, what’s stopping us being more curious as adults? Potentially lots of things! Have you ever heard it quipped that there’s “no such thing as stupid questions, just stupid people”? Asking questions can cause us to be perceived as naive or ill-informed. Asking a question might feed our imposter syndrome, or we could risk letting our demigod masks slip in front of those who we want to see us as strong and all knowing – so they can trust us to lead them.

But without leaders asking why, what if, and how, we stifle our creativity and, at best, are doomed to tweak existing behaviours, programmes and ideas, and at worst repeat the mistakes of the past. If we’re to lead the change that we seek, then it’s critical that we think differently, and maintain a curious approach to everything we do, and everyone we do it with.

I started doing this a few years ago, particularly in relation to who I work with. It’s now habitual for me to be more curious soon after appointment to get to know my new colleagues more closely. I start with two questions. First I ask “what matters to you?”.

Beyond an interview environment and trying to impress the new boss, I aim to get to know my new colleagues more personally. I talk about what matters to me, and give the example of walking my dogs at lunch times, hoping to give them permission to share what matters to them and how we can fit work in to their life.

I also ask them to tell me about their favourite line-manager (or sometimes their least favourite – depending how mischievous I’m feeling). This gives me an idea of how they do/don’t like to be managed and supported. This curiosity is simple, but it has had a big impact on my relationships with colleagues and helps me to create an environment in which we can all thrive.

I’m also more curious in circumstances and conversations where I disagree. In the spirit of curiosity, I have become better at listening to understand, rather than listening ready to challenge with my own view.

What else could we relearn to be better leaders? My next blog will look at other child-like qualities we undervalue as adults.

Mark Kelvin is programme director at the Health and Social Care Alliance Scotland (the ALLIANCE) and a 2016 Clore Fellow.

Looking back at our 2015 Creative Competition

The Health and Social Care Academy Creative Competition 2015 received 119 entries over six categories. Winning entries in each category received an exciting prize, have had their work featured in Academy publications and activities and shared with the Scottish Government to help shape a refreshed long term vision for health and social care in Scotland.

Watch our Creative Competition film clip highlighting the fantastic response we received. 

Art and Crafts - Rainbow Motion
Arts and Crafts Winner Rainbow Motion
Photo - Therapy
Photo competition winner Therapy

>   Photo ‘Therapy’ by Catherine Hughes
>   Short Story A letter to Ed by Megan Fortune
>   Poetry Inner Peace‘ Glenn Merrilees
>   Film ‘Avadan’, School Pupils (Stirling)
>   Music ‘Wellbeing’ COPE Scotland
>   Arts and Crafts ‘Rainbow Motion’ Disability Resource Centre

Highly Commended: 
Shirley Brown (Arts and Crafts), Jade Scott (Music), Glenn Merrilees (Film), Vera Coghill (Poetry), Robert McIntosh (Photography), Paul Alan Osbourne (Photography), Susan Robinson (Short Story).

Thank you to our judges who gave up their free time to score all of our entries.

Find out more about our 2016 Creative Competition, ‘Voices of the Experts’.

Leading the Commitment – Strengthening Leadership Roles

The new Health and Social Care Partnerships present opportunities for developing leadership at all levels. This was recognised early doors by the Learning Disability Nurse leadership team in NHS Ayrshire and Arran. They obtained funding from NHS Education for Scotland to invite the whole learning disability nurse workforce to a day of inspiration and reflection on their professional responsibilities in the light of the changing landscape of health and social care. The Health and Social Care Academy was invited to provide facilitation at the event through Lisa Curtice of the ALLIANCE’s People Powered Health and Wellbeing (PPHW) Programme.

Read More “Leading the Commitment – Strengthening Leadership Roles”

Is change happening fast enough in health and social care in Scotland?

The future of health and social care in Scotland will look vastly different from the landscape as we see it now.  There is consensus that we need a new type of health and social care in order to change the current narrative and tackle the challenges of the future.  Various different drivers – relational, policy, economic to name a few – will have an impact on how and the speed at which this happens and what the future will look like.

Read More “Is change happening fast enough in health and social care in Scotland?”

Citizen Bloggers – Chris Creegan: 2015 – a year for efficacy

2015 needs to be a year for efficacy. There are tensions to overcome. Between aspirations and resources, devolved and reserved matters, national and local decision making, institutions and communities, professionals and service users, to name just a few.

Read More “Citizen Bloggers – Chris Creegan: 2015 – a year for efficacy”

Embracing the future of Health and Social Care : International Lessons for Scotland

Delegates gathered at the University of Edinburgh on Wednesday 5 November to consider some of the challenges facing Health and Social Care in Scotland, and to explore how person centred innovation can help us create a healthier future.
Organised by the Health and Social Care Academy in partnership with the Joint Improvement Team, What Works Scotland and the University of Edinburgh, the event heard Derek Feeley, Executive Vice President of the Institute for Healthcare Improvement and former Chief Executive of NHS Scotland share his perspective on new ways of thinking about and health and social care.

Health and Social Care Academy masterclass explores a global perspective to health and human rights

On 20 November 2014, the Health and Social Care Academy, in partnership with the Scottish Human Rights Commission, NHS Health Scotland and the Strathclyde International Public Policy Institute held a pop-up masterclass to explore a global perspective to health and human rights.

Read More “Health and Social Care Academy masterclass explores a global perspective to health and human rights”