Monday, March 28, 2005

Simplicity is the Key

I describe 'Simplicity is the Key' as a short book for busy people.

The book is my reflections after 35 years management experience in the National Health Service in the United Kingdom - the third largest employer in the world after the Chinese Army and Indian Railways - the NHS employs over 1 million people.

The book is about leadership; change; and generally how things get done informed largely by my experience in this massive organisation.

  • I am convinced we make simple things unnecessarily complicated.
  • I think complexity is merely the sum of simple parts.

The book is very short - 60 pages - and does not contain new management theory. It simply suggests that there has to be an easier way.

My experience tells me that there is much to do to lighten the sometimes stuffy and sterile world of management by releasing the power that all staff and managers have within them.

I believe keeping things simple helps make work a better place to be - my book is intended to assist that. The book is anecdotal, subjective and not academic. It is about what I feel based on experiences.

Simplicity is the Key is intended to be a book you can read on that long train journey to the next complex conference you have to attend.

I hope you enjoy reading the book please let me know

Thursday, March 24, 2005

Let's talk English

I get mildly irritated when our wonderful English language is abused.

Some things that annoy me have somehow been allowed to creep into everday vocabulary.

For instance - why do so many people?
  1. Start sentences with the word 'BASICALLY.. and repeat that word regularly
  2. Start sentences with the word 'ACTUALLY'
  3. Repeatedly use the expression 'AT THE END OF THE DAY'
  4. Repeatedly use the expression 'AT THIS POINT IN TIME'

There are many others I'm sure

What annoys you?

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Some light relief in our serious world

Today we will have a little light relief.

Confucious he say ....

'Too much serious management and leadership stuff drive man mad'

Old Confucius was not into political correctness so please forgive the male gender emphasis.

Today we will have a little light relief.

Please enjoy this little piece that many of you will have seen before.

A little bird was flying south for the winter.

It was so cold the bird froze and fell to the ground in a large field. While it was lying there, a cow came by and dropped some dung on it.

As the frozen bird lay there in the pile of cow dung, it began to realize how warm it was. The dung was actually thawing him out!

He lay there all warm and happy and soon began to sing for joy. A passing cat heard the bird singing and came to investigate.

Following the sound, the cat discovered the bird under the pile of cow dung, and promptly dug him out and ate him.

Moral of the story:

1) Not everyone who shits on you is your enemy.

2) Not everyone who gets you out of shit is your friend.

3) And when you're in deep shit, it's best to keep your mouth shut!

Happy Wednesday - it is ok to laugh when we are at work

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Seeking Stability in an Unstable World

This statement summarises my opinion that many managers and staff in organisations want the world "stand still for a day or two" so they can catch up and enjoy some stability and predictability.


  • Knowledge, information and speed force us to carry on at a faster pace – “just to keep up” with the way things are developing and changing.

In other words, many want to see a semblance of order, process and structure - but - we live and work in unstructured organisations where those facets simply do not exist any more - a fascinating paradox.

My view about coping with the current environment is pragmatic:

  • I think we must learn to live in the unstable world of unpredictability - bordering on chaos – then rise above it to a state where we welcome, encourage and celebrate change.

Throughout history, people have risen to challenges. The current Information Technology “revolution” presents us another massive challenge.

I think history will record that we are currently living through something as profound as both the agricultural and industrial revolutions.

Monday, March 21, 2005

Professional Speak … Guaranteed Protection

When I was younger and less confident at work in healthcare, I played the game too. I too nodded approvingly at meetings when we discussed complex issues in our own language. I probably even appeared knowledgeable.

As years have passed I came to realise that it is in fact a game.

I now try hard to keep things simple.

This is not because I want to score points over colleagues or appear non conformist. It is a straightforward realisation on my part that protectionism is one of the main reasons we use such language in work settings.

I guess there is, among like-minded professionals in an organisation as complex as the health care setting, an acceptable level of “in-house” language. I happen to believe this is also an effective method of communicating among peers.

Where I part company with professional speak is when the audience includes those not in the “inner circle” – in the case of health care I mean patients and ther family carers.

One thing that has become apparent to me is that when we engage in meetings with patients and family carers the language protectionism needs to be exorcised if we are to have real and meaningful dialogue.

I am not suggesting patients and carers are unable to comprehend complex language – that assumption would be folly and indeed insulting to the patients and carers we serve.

Patients and family carers have enough to contend with.

By virtue of entering the health care sector – the patient is in need of support, advice and guidance. There is a health problem. That is often a stress provoking position. Support and care through that stressful period of life means it will hopefully pass. I am usually very re-assured in my discussions with patients and carers that health care professionals are very good at explaining things in language that is understood by the patient or carer. There is also the opportunity for the patient or carer to check the meaning in a one to one consultation.

So … you might say … what is the problem?

Something else seems to happen in meetings of managers with patients and carers.

This is a totally different setting to the one to one consultations. It can – at worst – become a stage or arena for the manager to show their prowess of mastering a language that leaves the patients and carers confused, as yet another acronym or buzz word or phrase emerges from the lips of the well meaning manager. This is not intended to be either an insult to my colleagues in management –I was proud to be one of their number - or a patronising statement about the intellectual ability of patients and carers

It is simply my contention that “in-house” language should remain in house.

The moment we engage in dialogue with patients and carers outside the “warmth” of our own health care environment, the language should change to what most people would call normal.

It is, perhaps, a sweeping generalisation, and one that I am confident will provoke challenge from readers, but I suspect that most patients and carers would rather hear plain language – similar to that used in everyday conversation.

This is not rocket science and I accept I am making a complex issue very simple. That is the whole point. I am simply asking for common sense and reality about the way we talk to our customers.

Sunday, March 20, 2005

Those who speak loudest often say nothing

"He who establishes his argument by noise and command shows that his reason is weak."

- Michel de Montaigne

I have come across many people in my work who speak loudly but say little of note.

The most effective people I come across are usually softly spoken, modest and thoughful - they command and usually get my respect.

Food for thought

Saturday, March 19, 2005

Margaret Thatcher - please note

"Without a sense of caring, there can be no sense of community."

- Anthony J. D'Angel

I remember a Margaret Thatcher quote in the 1980's that success is all about the individual and I believe she said somthing like;

'There is no such thing as community.'

I hope, in her old age, she stumbles on this quote and reflects.

She was a terrific leader without a doubt - maybe one of Britians greratest political leaders ever - but maybe, just maybe, she was blind to words like compassion and caring.

Friday, March 18, 2005

FRIDAY RANT - The courtesy of replying

Am I the only person in the world who gets annoyed when someone does not have the decency to reply or even acknowledge your e mail?

I am probably - let me re-phrase .... I am definitely - obsessive about effective communication.

I love to have an empty inbox and I love to reply quickly to things that can be dealt with quickly - it really is as simple as that.

Yes of course the thoughtful reply takes longer.

I can understand most people are not as keen as me to reply quickly and some e mail replies are well worth waiting for - even if it takes a week.

What really gets to me is no response at all.

To me.... not replying to an e mail - especially on things that are obviously important to the writer ... is no different at all to walking down the street; looking a person in the eye; saying 'hello' - and the person looks the other way ... yes I think it is as bad as that.

Maybe I am the only one who feels that way!

I know e mail is not necessarily a formal way of communication - although actually to me ... it is!!

I also know how busy everyone is...


Surely good manners means at least acknowledging that someone has taken the trouble to communicate with you.

I feel so much better after that Friday rant!!!

I would be really interested in your views abut this

Good to be Back


Another technical glitch has meant that my Blog has been down for three days ...what a joy to be back in touch with the world.

Oh the joys of modern technology .....

Happy Friday

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

The Positive Side of Life

  • Living on Earth is expensive, but it does include a free trip around the sun every year.
  • How long a minute is depends on what side of the bathroom door you're on.
  • Birthdays are good for you; the more you have the longer you live.
  • Happiness comes through doors you didn't even know you left open.
  • You may be only one person in the world, but you may also be the world to one person.
  • Some mistakes are too much fun to only make once.
  • Don't cry because it's over; smile because it happened.
  • We could learn a lot from crayons: some are sharp, some are pretty, some are dull, some have weird names, and all are different colours....but they all exist very nicely in the same box.

Annie and I just wanted to share these thoughts with you.

It really is as simple as this!

I wish this were the mission statment of all organisations;

"The important thing is not to stop questioning."

Albert Einstein

I say .... Amen to that Albert!

Did you know??

I heard recently that research has shown the average doctor in their training will learn 13000 new words – in other words another complete language.

There is little wonder doctors are not always the most skilled communicators –
perhaps patients simply do not always understand the language.

I guess doctors who really do communicate well are those that can have empathy with their patients and find a
common language.

I also heard that patients will make 7 impressions of the doctor in the first 11 seconds of a consultation – little wonder the need for doctors to be in touch with their communication skills is becoming more and more of an issue for the medical profession.

Apparently in America, doctors can be paid up to £2000 for attending a communication skills course – simply because litigation often has a root cause of poor communication. American Medical Insurance Companies obviously feel £2000 per doctor per course is good value to prevent doctors being sued.

Then I heard the story of the Australian lady who had surgery that went badly wrong and she wanted to sue the Surgeon in the hospital.

As the court case approached, the Barrister informed the patient that in fact it was the fault of the family doctor (GP) and not the specialist in the hospital as first thought.

The patient withdrew her complaint saying “I don’t want to sue my own family doctor – I like him

So what is the moral in all this? …

Doctors who care for people with kindness usually don’t get sued... those with poor bedside manners may well get sued even if they are the most ‘technically’ skilled doctor in the world.

Monday, March 14, 2005

To Brighten your Monday

Sometimes leadershipand management 'stuff' is not always the most exciting topic in the world ......

Annie and I fell about laughing when we heard this on the Radio this morning ... so as a bit of light relief we wanted to share it with you.... it may brighten your Monday!!!

15 Things to do in the Supermarket, if bored….

1. Get 24 boxes of condoms and randomly put them in peoples' trolley when they aren't looking.

2. Set all the alarm clocks in houseware to go off at 5 minute intervals.

3. Make a trail of tomato juice on the floor to the toilet.

4. Walk up to an employee and tell him/her in an official tone, "Code 10 at Pharmacy" ... and see what happens.

5. Go to the Service Desk and ask to put a bag of M&M's on hold.

6. Move a "CAUTION - WET FLOOR" sign to a carpeted area.

7. Set up a tent in the houseware and tell other shoppers you'll only invite them in if they bring pillows from the bedding department.

8. When an assistant asks if they can help you, begin to cry and ask,” Why can't you people just leave me alone?"

9. Look right into the security camera and use it as a mirror while you pick your nose.

10. While handling knives in the kitchen ware department ask the clerk if he knows where the anti-depressants are.

11. Dart around the store suspiciously while loudly humming the theme from Mission Impossible.

12. In the car accessory department practice your Madonna look using different size funnels.

13. Hide in the clothing rack and when people browse through shout, "PICK ME! PICK ME!!!!"

14. When an announcement comes over the loud speaker assume the foetal position and scream, "NO! NO! It's those voices again!"

15. Go into a fitting room and yell real loudly...."Hey! We're out of toilet paper in here!"

Saturday, March 12, 2005

Seeking Stability in an Unstable World

Seeking Stability in an Unstable World neatly summarises my view that many managers and staff in organisations want the world to metaphorically "stand still for a day or two" so they can catch up and enjoy some stability and predictability.

But ......

Knowledge, information and speed force us to carry on at a faster pace – “just to keep up” with the way things are developing and changing.

In other words, many want to see a semblance of order, process and structure - but - we live and work in unstructured organisations where those facets simply do not exist any more - a fascinating paradox.

My view about coping with the current environment is pragmatic:

I believe we must learn to live in the unstable world of unpredictability - bordering on chaos – then rise above it to a state where we welcome, encourage and celebrate change.

Throughout history, people have risen to challenges. The current Information Technology “revolution” presents us another massive challenge.

I believe history will record that we are currently living through something as profound as both the agricultural and industrial revolutions.

Friday, March 11, 2005

Joe J. Jones 1942 – 2005


I just came across this wonderful slide from a recent Tom Peters presentation.

Although I have seen the slide many times it always reminds me of the tragedy - yes I genuinely believe TRAGEDY is the right word - when bosses prevent people doing things that challenge 'the way things are done around here.'

I often wonder how many bosses have ruined the promising careers of enthusiastic and passionate people by negative reposnses to what bosses see as risk taking ....... while the person sees it as comon sense and just TRYING SOMETHING DIFFERENT!!!

Leadership and Management – Chalk and Cheese

“There is a difference between leadership and management. Leadership is of the spirit, compounded of personality and vision; its practice is an art. Management is of the mind, a matter of accurate calculation ….its practice is a science. Managers are necessary; leaders are essential”
Field Marshall Lord Slim, when Governor-General of Australia

“Leaders say … this is where we are going….. Managers say … this is how we are going to get there.”
A General Practitioner as part of interview during my research

I think leadership and management are as different as chalk and cheese.
My views have been formed over 35 years as a manager in the National Health Service in England and particularly as a result of my research when studying leadership from the perspective of family doctors in 1997/8.

Good managers do not necessarily make good leaders and good leaders do not necessarily make good managers. Each has a distinct but different role.
Leadership qualities are far less tangible and measurable whilst most management processes can be measured.
Perhaps this is best summed up with Warren Bennis quote “Managers do things right … leaders do the right things.”

There is clearly something about effective leaders that makes them stand out from the crowd. I find it impossible to identify and quantify that elusive quality. When I look back through my own career, I have had superiors who are clearly leaders and those who are clearly managers.

The Leaders among my past bosses:
  • Have high levels of integrity
  • Are focused on the bigger picture
  • Are not comfortable with “intense detail”
  • Make me feel part of their vision
  • Do not punish mistakes – they see mistakes as a learning opportunity
  • Challenge the status quo
  • Are not afraid of unpopularity

The Managers among my past bosses:

  • Are process driven
  • Are comfortable with detail
  • Are more interested in the bottom line than the wider vision
  • Want to measure everything
  • Are not comfortable challenging the corporate view

I think the difference is around the words 'hard' and 'soft.'

My experience of effective managers is they tend to be very good at the “hard stuff.” They are concerned with measurable outcomes – sometime obsessed with process at all costs. They appear to be driven by the need to prove their effectiveness in some tangible way.

Leaders are interested in the soft stuff – the immeasurable, the anecdote, the story. Effective leaders in my career are generally not so interested in the detail of process but they need to be assured there is a process.

Paradoxically, the effective leader will be interested in the detail of something that may appear very trivial to “non leaders.” For example, many of us have worked in organisations that proclaim:

  • “We value our staff”
  • “We are an equal opportunities employer”
  • “We value diversity.”

Picture now a wet, cold and dark winter morning, a 6 am early morning hospital shift for the cleaner who parks her car in the staff car park 200 yards from the staff entrance. As she fights her way through the cold wind and rain to the entrance she notices the empty car park spaces reserved for Directors, Dcotors and Chief Executive, positioned immediately outside the main entrance.

She cannot help thinking the mission statement somehow just does not ring true.

The effective leader will be interested in the feelings of that cleaner and even if the leader cannot solve the parking problem, the fact the leader is interested at all, will spread around the organisation quicker than the speed of light.

Quite often the leader will also solve the problem of the car parking as well.

Small things are important – leadership is not only about the big picture

Thursday, March 10, 2005

Seventeen Things I Believe

I am convinced managers make things that are simple, complicated.

All professions do it, plumbers, hairdressers, lawyers, road sweepers and doctors.

We all invent our own complexity - designed to confuse.

We build a wall round our own profession and then plaster that wall with posters that say “no entry unless you speak our language”

My passion is to dispel the myth of complexity in management and leadership.

After all, complexity is merely the sum of simple parts.

Management is not complicated at all ….we just love to make it complicated.

I love lists.

This is a list of 17 things I believe about management and leadership.

Yes 17 is a strange number. There is no mystery or significance in 17 - that is as far as I got!

Things I believe with a passion - not in priority order

1. Staff at the front line know all the answers all the time

2. The words “managing people” should be exorcised from the workplace. Nobody “manages” people any more - people manage themselves.

3. If a manager has any job at all in 2005 it is to move heaven and earth to make it easier for front line staff to do interesting new work

4. Get other people to do bits of your job - they usually do it better than you

5. Management is simple

6. Leadership is not simple - it is an art form

7. The basics are the new cutting edge

8. I’m not convinced leadership can be taught

9. Give all the budget to front line staff ….yes I did say all the budget

10. Complexity is merely the sum of simple parts

11. Forget MBA think MST (Masters in Story Telling)

12. We are all Chief Executives of our own future

13. “Powerlessness is a state of mind - not a state of reality” Tom Peters

14. I don’t know what “a big organisation” means in 2005

15. I would take a pay cut for some leaders ….I would not follow some leaders if they doubled my wages

16. Our greatest motivation is always from within

17. The older I get the more I like words like “difference” and “diversity” …and the less I like words like “right” and “wrong

Phew!!! - that feels better!!!

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

The Power of Story Telling

“A key – perhaps the key – to leadership is the effective communication of a story.”

Howard Gardner
Leading Minds: An Anatomy of Leadership

I have sometimes been glued to a story told by someone – my concentration has been total.

In more reflective moments I think about the process I have been through. How is it that:

  • I remember the story almost word for word - without rehearsing?
  • I create pictures in my head from a story?
  • I can relate the story to another context and use it to transmit a message?

I am not suggesting everyone learns through stories, or that stories are the best, or only way of learning.

Stories are simply one of many methods of teaching and learning - but it is interesting to muse that before the written word was invented, all information was passed on orally. Arguably, the oldest skill in the communications book of tricks is the spoken word.

With the words we speak there is no electronic spell check or grammar check. When we are talking we don’t think about left or right justified so maybe we are more ‘on the spot’ with our spoken word.

Little wonder many like to think carefully before opening their mouth to speak – little wonder equally, that many regret speaking without thinking first.

The power of the spoken word is immense.

Some have the ability to deliver the story in such a compelling way that we never forget it. I cannot recall a page of A4 text from my Physics lessons at school - but I can probably recall almost word for word, some of the stories I have been told – twenty or thirty years ago.

In the world of organisations, management and leadership I believe we are beginning to appreciate the value of story telling.

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Aim High

"Never measure the height of a mountain until you have reached the top. Then you will see how low it was."

- Dag Hammarskjvld

This quote made me reflect on my career.

Sometimes it seems that the task in hand is beyond our ability, our detemination, our knowledge, our experience or the time we have available.

When we achieve our objective it never seems as hard as it did when we started the journey.

I wonder if this is the feeling the top people in their profession have?

I always remember an old boss saying if you aim low you will always achieve your objective.

Monday, March 07, 2005

Let the Child in us Lead us

“Strategies are okayed in boardrooms that even a child would say are bound to fail. The problem is there is never a child in the Boardroom”

Victor Palmieri, Fortune, February 24 1992

“What a distressing contrast there is between the radiant intelligence of the child and the feeble mentality of the average adult”

Sigmund Freud

Maybe we need to get in touch with our child-like qualities.

In 2005 there is no doubt organisations are faced with some really stark decisions about how to survive in the private sector and, in the public sector, ensuring good quality services at an affordable cost.

Traditional approaches to solving problems are always our first position. This is fine but 'old approaches' were for an 'old world' where there was more predictability and stability and we all had more time.

The information technology revolution has demanded that we all work at a far quicker pace.

The customer is no longer a 'passive' recipient of services or goods. The customer is now in possession of information about everything and organisations need to be very smart to stay ahead.

I know some of these ideas have detractors. That is fine – life is all about different views and finding common ground.

I like to think I am a “realistic idealist” – how’s that for a good old compromise statement?

It is like swimming close to the side of the pool ….. which is I guess ….. where many managers swim. Close enough to the edge of the pool in case we get out of our depth.

I am not advocating anarchy, I am simply raising the issue of informality versus formality.

Sunday, March 06, 2005

Always do your homework

The heights by great men reached and kept

Were not obtained by sudden flight,

But they, while their companions slept,

Were toiling upward in the night

- Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

I have always had a problem about 'overnight success.'

The 'one hit wonder' in pop music.

The footballer who is going to be the next Pele, Maradona or George Best.

In truth - in my experience those who reach the top of the tree in business, management and leadership are never 'overnight successes.'

The people who have inspired me in my career have always been those who have credibility and have arrived where they are in the 'pecking order' through a mixture of experience, knowledge, talent and - perhaps most important - determination and focus.

I researched leadership among doctors in the mid 90's and discovered that the greatest quality that doctors look for in their 'leaders' are professional credibility; peer credibility; knowledge; and hard work.

This is not rocket science - so I therefore always treat with caution those who are celebrated and promoted as an 'overnight success.'

There are exceptional people of course who achieve 'instant' stardom and success but I have just never met one in business, management or leadership.

I generally like to judge some people over the long term - not a few days, weeks or months.

I think the Henry Longfellow verse sums up my feelings perfectly.

To My Mum

Not a good weekend with my beloved Manchester United dropping two points in the race for the Premiership title ... never mind .... such is life....


Today Sunday 6 March is MOTHERS DAY

I have just put the phone down after talking to Mum.

I would like to wish my 76 year old Mum a fabulous day - though she won’t read this.

She doesn't use the Internet - she probably thinks it is just some 'new fangled fashionable idea' that won't last.

Sometimes I admit I do overlook mum and take for granted the phenomonal person she is - she has always supported me in whatever I have done - the mistakes I have made - and like all mums - her love is unconditional.

I hope everyone who reads this will take a moment to reflect and thank their Mum in some way - even if only through that moment of thoughtful reflection.

Bless her she is the best

Thursday, March 03, 2005

Heart or Head ....... or Both?

The fullness of time is here and now, and spring does not last forever. It is time to gather my energy and walk through the confusions and paradoxes, the opposing pulls and contradictory challenges, the desires and attachments, needs and programmes, and all kinds of fears and blocks and "get it on".

This means getting centred on a path that is chosen for no better reason, and no worse, than that my intuition says, "it feels right.”

Rivers, from 'Dwellings'

Another wonderful quote.

I remember once - a long time ago - in my healthcare management career a fellow manager saying

"Your trouble is you make decisions based on your heart and not your head."

Very judgemental when I think about it now!

That worried me at the time - I was much younger.

Time passed and I went through a spell of thinking "Do I really allow my heart to make most decisions?"

The answer was usually "Yes - I think my heart generally does rule my head".

As I progressed 'up the management ladder' I came to realise that there are occasions when one’s head must rule one’s heart ..... but they are the minority of occasions in my opinion.

I have to say that even now - at the grand old age of 52 - I still rely more on ‘how it feels’ rather then proving it ‘rationally’ and beyond any doubt.

I guess my conclusion is - like most things in life - there are rarely exact answers - life is a mixture of decision making processes. Some of us rely more on the heart - some of us rely more on the head.

Fascinating topic methinks - look forward to comments.

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

To Lead is to Follow

"To command is to serve, nothing more and nothing less."

- Andri Malraux, "Man's Hope"

When I read this quote it made me reflect about the 'leaders' I worked for in my 35 year healthcare management career.

  • Those who inspired me always made me feel special and valued.

  • They had a knack of encouraging me to experiment and try new things.

  • It seemed to me they put my development and learning before theirs.

  • They always made the effort to speak to me and make eye contact - even on those awful mornings when they had the 'troubles of the world' on their shoulders.

Sadly, not all my superiors portrayed these qualities.

My conclusion?

Only truly great leaders have these qualities - as Andri Malraux says they see their role simply as 'serving.'

What a fabulous role model to follow!!

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Predictability or Chaos?

"Life is not a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in sideways, thoroughly used, totally worn out and loudly proclaiming …....

"F*#@, what a trip!"

I love this.

It is ok that some go through their life in a planned and predictable way - that is probably one way of living a relatively untroubled life.

It is also ok that others have no plan or direction but tend to live for the day with perhaps an overall goal but no sure plan of how that might be achieved.

I would never be so arrogant as to suggest there is a right and wrong way of living our lives.

I would however say judging the way other people live their lives in unhelpful at best and downright rude at worst.

Enjoy the quotation anyway!