Lessons In Leadership

Two weeks ago I attended the Oxygen Conference organised by Wavelength. As I had graduated from the Community Business Leaders Programme run by RSA/Power To Change/RIO/SUMS they invited me along with other graduates from different parts of the UK to take part to benefit my project The Phoenix Cultural Centre CIC and gain insights from leaders across all sectors.

Everyone needs oxygen an analogy often quoted in life, when dealing with personal stress, stroppy teenagers and projects crashing together on your head it is always the first advice from a wise friend ‘put your own oxygen mask on first’. Is it that it’s often the case with social projects, businesses, charities and start ups that the very nature of what they are leaves their founders exhausted and overwhelmed with doubts and risk combined with a resolve that it is important to carry on regardless, where the need remains the driver despite the difficulties along the way.

Power to Change contacted those of us in the Community Business Leaders programme with an opportunity to take part in the Oxygen event put on by Wavelength. Since the CBL programme has ignited a boldness I was on it like a rat up a drainpipe, and intrigued and excited to learn more, to connect with a gathering of business and social leaders from a diverse global arena. There was everything to be gained to give my project and my own leadership some reflection and insight. Power to Change have published some of our insights here.

Connecting with the organisers beforehand enabled them to understand exactly what we needed from the event. To be able to be open about the challenges that leadership brought, as well as what we felt our project needed, was a refreshing change. Opened by Liam Black one of the founders of Wavelength, it was explained to the room that in order for the event to be successful it would operate under Chatham House Rule; sounds Jane Austenish doesn’t it but it is more like Fight Club – as in, first rule of….. By setting the context this removes the barriers between corporate and charity, large business owner and start up and becomes honest conversations between humans trying to make good sense of how to make good things happen.

Richard Addy introduced the concept of story telling, his strong example of a story of achievement and success swiftly accompanied by story two – the reality, that interwoven in all of the leaps and pinnacles were dark days, situations and struggles with circumstance poverty and integrity. He stressed the importance of putting ourselves into the picture, our real selves and what inspired us to act. Many have said that social enterprise is borne of sadness, an impetus to fix something that has gone wrong or something inside us that we want to heal and help the healing in others. The truth of it is that we can often mask our pain by channelling into social good, deflect it into building something to stop others bearing that. Telling a truthful story can allow others to see the integrity of the issues we are trying to face together and make them part of the social change movement. An authentic story shows situation to complication to resolution people want to see good news and bad news and that problems can be overcome for a better future.

PURPOSE DRIVEN BUSINESS

Photo by Ken Treloar on Unsplash

Cecilia Weckstrom from Lego told the tale of how it started, how children should have only the best and how success can be a curse if you forget your ‘why’ – why you exist what you wanted to do/change/be. Diversifying income streams can be a saviour to finance but a killer to concept and companies, large and small, corporate and social have to stop and take that risk. Acknowledging that others do and you must, go back to basics empowers your own belief in your own singular ideal. They went back to talking to children ‘if you want to create change you have to work with young people’. We now know where the large companies were seen to be untouchable and see a return to the core be successful, to hang on to the principle and grow again actually gives some hope when so often our perception is that large, global business seem to be the root of what we believe to be wrong.

Dr Aravind Srinivasan from Aravind Eyecare System who successfully treat eye problems and blindness in India spoke about keeping the purpose and efficiency at the heart of your business so that you can design for non customers – people who can’t access your services – why not? Can you innovate to make it better, easier? He used the example of how a surgeon can do twice as many operations by having more nurses and they trained girls from local villages to be eye nurses a job that a specialised nurse would not undertake, this meant that the surgeon could have nurses preparing two instruments, two tables, one taking place whilst the surgeon worked on the other – twice as many people helped that way. It also highlighted the extra benefits your projects can bring. By extension another purpose is found as a result of the main purpose – in this case young women from nearby villages received education, upskilling and paid work as a result of the need for more nurses to work this way.

‘Intelligence and capabilities are not enough there must be a joy of doing something beautiful’ Dr V – Founder of Aravind Eyecare System

There is nothing bad about profit but, the process to profit needs to be examined. Profit was described as oxygen however, as Dr Aravind pointed out – pure oxygen will kill. Both speakers were using the point that whilst profit has oxygen in its pure state it is dangerous and pointless and this is reflecting in the sea change that has been happening in the last three years – that employees need a purpose, they look for purpose in their roles no matter what they are.

A refreshing change seeing large companies whose leaders are more aware and in touch, knowing the traditional CSR model isn’t working (and yet even now seen as a new thing by so many companies) that they cannot ‘bestow’ favour on grovelling and grateful charities and socially driven organisations as good pr and marketing for them and no gain for anyone who needs the help. Whilst they are busy people with targets, so are the people who they are offering their help to who have left their duties paid or unpaid as well to help develop your CSR strategy (motivational shortcomings) as someone said ‘ don’t tell me you can offer me people to paint a wall when I need access to your health and safety advisers, don’t use up a day of my time telling me your people will fix our strategy when they haven’t understood what we are trying to achieve, don’t use us as a way of motivating your employees – it is not my job to stop your employees hating their jobs – make it actually mean something’ In other words – make it really be what it is: Social and Responsible as well as Corporate. For social businesses it was good to meet global leaders who really believe in social impact and that the two need not be mutually exclusive.

Don’t allow your drive or ambitions to be suppressed by your environment change it or ship out – this is where resilience so needed in this type of business comes in, the very environment change that is needed to allow drive and ambitions will kick back when that is the very point of your existence as a project to change and grow – if it means your project is giving more people a voice in an environment hostile to that then its very nature means it must face these difficulties and stick it out, to give up and ship out isn’t an option especially as the remit we generally all work under and certainly lots of funders require is that we are locally rooted and dealing with locally rooted needs.

Peter KeenCBE – Director of Sport Advancement – Loughborough University has successfully coached many olympic gold medallists and gave insights into how all the elements of excellent performance are needed to proceed and succeed. Martin Narey who ran the Prison Service and Barnados spoke of listening and learning, the loneliness of leadership and David Pemsel Guardian CEO of remembering the principles of your organisations existence and adaptive leadership.

Photo by Sam Mgrdichian on Unsplash

The themes from speakers at the height of their professional careers or who have been there seen it and done it were refreshingly frank, the idea that families, health and easy fixes of having a healthy walk, getting enough sleep, putting boundaries around your time are really that simple and yes really that effective. That to lead requires humility as well as boldness and the best key to everything is to listen, that it is ok to doubt yourself and happy to dispel the myths of leadership. The days of hero leaders are over people look for purpose, collaboration, boldness and kindness in equal measure and a listener who will take advice on organisational decisions.

Photo by Matthew Henry on Unsplash

Self doubt, fear of failure and anxiety will be your constant companions so the purpose has to be there, if you can’t make sense of your business how will someone else. Plan and protect time to think – some decisions are intuitive – but do ensure there are times to think slow, with logic, be willing to let go. In terms of out performing the great performers outlearned others, assimilating and transferring and successful businesses encourage and tolerate a culture of constant questioning.

It is ok to feel doubtful, intimidated and out of your depth, everyone feels the imposter syndrome, keep at the incremental improvements bit by bit everyday that is where the real work happens.

When talking about purpose, look for friends in purpose – I help you/you help me, you understand where each other is going, what you want and need to get there and step forward for each other to help that happen – go where the good energy is, where the good people are and just push it.

Look at your eulogy virtues as opposed to your resume virtues – build your life around that purpose that virtue sung as your last sunset comes.

How you deal with change? We have a disruptive chaos and a paralysis and these things challenge us so look for your reason for being, what unites you, your stakeholders, common goals and values? If you stick to these trust is generated and value is created. Trust your instincts make sure you value your team and their differences and qualities

Within the room was an understanding that large or small, corporate or social – businesses occupy the same space, are part of the same communities, containing the same human beings with complex needs and need to work realistically together. That the needs the social sector are meeting are usually way ahead of traditional business who need to anchor into towns and cities and networks, makes them a valuable barometer indicating change in our society. Now mental health and wellbeing have seeped in as considerations for all employers to be aware of, meet sympathetically and yet people see this happening first as social projects deal with helping those back on their feet who weren’t in an environment ready to acknowledge the existence of invisible, scary health problems. The attitude of the event was that people could openly ask for help and there was no expectation that it must be given and no resentment caused or felt by answering no, by working in this way actual stuff happens rather than good intentions which as we all know pave the road to hell and whatever that is for you.

We had on day two a chance to be open about our needs and ask for help, democratically people were given the chance to voice their needs and for people to come forward everyone was very engaged with the whole process.

Many were inspired by the discussion about platform and purpose and not mixing up the two, something spoke of not forgetting that the platform was not the purpose and the need to have a healthy platform, many things in place to help you spring from. Some of us our communities are adrift of platform and though clinging tenaciously to purpose find a gap there. This is why we need help that the funding does not necessarily become just money but another layer of a platform. Sometimes all we need isn’t a pot of money (though don’t let that stop anyone ever handing some over) but belief, sometimes just an email, an introduction to someone who can open a door just by saying to lofty heights ‘I recognise this value in this project and these people’ so often we talk to people who admire the cut of the emperors new clothes but not the value of a good pair of warm knickers, until they are told warm knickers are this years zeitgeist – then show an interest. That sometimes is all we need, to undo the ‘a prophet is not without honour except in his own town, among his relatives and in his own home’ or as Will Rogers definition of an expert ‘an expert is a man 50 miles from home with a briefcase’. Sometimes the locally rooted, delivering to local issues needs the expert from 50 miles away to say what they have been saying for years to deaf ears.

So many people shared honest stories of reaching successful pinnacles in other worlds having everything and realising it wasn’t enough, no purpose to it, not enough good being made from it so they changed it, took brave leaps and realigned their purpose. It made me feel inspired by them but in fact also disconnected. How for us is it when we are trying to start something from nothing and we have nothing ourselves, how is it that we are starting these things because we are inside the problem and don’t want it to continue further that we know we must act but have no platform to spring from and yet here was our chance to build one. Largely because the generosity of those who can connect reached it out to us here. Hopefully this will be the new concept and template of what real Corporate Social Responsibility is, meaningful for all and really making change and improvements in the communities that we all exist together in. The event definitely gave an oxgen burst to my resolve and purpose

http://www.powertochange.org.uk/blog/above-all-breathe/

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SHE SLEEPS SILENTLY

She sleeps silently while the wind rushes

fast and silent across the sea

She sleeps on, eyelash on cheek,

I don’t think she dreams of me

I gave her a kiss and left her there

Never to see her again

But when I left only I said goodbye

silently she slept on

There wasn’t a fight or parting of ways

or sneaking out in the night or break of the day

There were many tears though I left her

to run

away from the fact she’d already gone,

And she sleeps silently despite all she gave

all while I weep mightily

by her grave

At Peace



When will we be 

At peace

With ourselves

With the layers in our bodies 

that repel

Against each other

The cancers that eat and the 

Inflammation that takes hold

Or the sadness that debilitates us

And all of those things 

We carry unending war in our DNA

The gene for this 

The gene for that

Like battle campaigns 

We walk the earth

Minds screaming to ourselves to cope

Our cries 

Sirens of warning

Our depths

Silence

Of aftermath

And we grieve

For ourselves and others

Ones we make 

and 

who we make miserable

Whether we knew them or not

And so

The world follows suit

And we are at war

Inside and out


Legally Blonde Holds Court in Woking

Legally Blonde held court in Woking’s New Victoria Theatre on its first night out this week where it plays until Sat 14 October.

Disclaimer: I had to go into this like a puppy for that ‘special’ vet visit – reluctantly but for the good of all, for the good of society even – my daughter*  told me I had to review it because the film was what inspired her to want to study law because it showed fashion and law could mix. I have a bit of an anathema to pink but when such a heartfelt plea (guilt trip) is laid on so heavily what can you do? I put it under the ‘things we do for our kids and will mention a lot when I want a visit when they’re old’ file and set forth.

*I’ve got two daughters so whichever one you think it is – it’s the other one in the interests of me getting a good Christmas present.

After noting that in this performance the role of Elle Woods was played by Rebecca Stenhouse and the role of Margot by Sally Frith due to Lucie Jones being unwell (get well soon) we all settled our belongings about us – me ready for a little rest and the daughter on the edge of the seat, bracing herself. A woman near me shifted about in her seat a lot and moaned about not liking the dates she’d had recently ‘I thought – I’m not surprised love you don’t sit still for a minute some of us are trying to rest tsk tsk!’

Bright, fashionable Elle Woods vows to woo back the love of her life Warner Huntington III (Liam Doyle) by following him to study at Harvard Law school. Dismissed as being an airhead she studies hard and manages great results, not sure about the using cheerleaders as a great role model in place of a personal statement (as the eyes next to me slid over in a questioning way I mouthed NO! Very firmly) Elle proves her worth and comes out on top smashing through stereotypes to win her career.


It was lively, pink yes, vibrant definitely and the cast were superb. The variety of characters representing the law students from the typical, entitled, ‘ready for Senate’ to Enid Hoops’ (Nancy Hill) firebrand social justice campaigner (daughter turns with a smirk and says ‘wait, you’re about to come on look – ha ha that’s you that is – see it really is a musical for all!’ like some government appointed musical tzar) worked off each other very well. The dance routines are clever and blimey! The skipping display by Helen Petrovna as Brooke Wyndham was mind boggling – not since our playground cat’s cradle c 1972 or Malcolm McLaren’s Double Dutch has skipping ever raised my blood pressure so much, admittedly in 1972 I didn’t know what blood pressure was and is now only a polite word for a tantrum after falling over (I still say I was pushed by……… no names, can’t afford a solicitor and injurylawyers4U won’t take playground cases and it wouldn’t make a good legal musical so back to this one) but, suffice to say the display on offer in Legally Blonde is incredibly skilful and choreographed without skipping a breath whilst singing a full number – I should coco! Even I leaned forward in my seat – I never lean forward- I am too cool*

*Lying

Rebecca Stenhouse as Elle was incredible her comic timing was spot on with the others and the whole cast show a chemistry and dynamic that made the whole thing flow. All without exception had great vocal skills. Special mention for strong, more bluesy at times, and sweet vocals also for Rita Simons whose performance as the good hearted but vulnerable Paulette Bonafonte was comedic and poignant and her journey to finally finding the man of her dreams brought us an unexpected step dance in front of the Irish Flag to full Riverdance from the whole cast. Poor old Professor Callahan hoisted by his own petard and the solidarity of his students who initially turning on Elle recognised unfairness, sexism and that they have had their day and kicked him into touch. Bill Ward played him admirably. People of my cultural magnitude will remember him as Charlie Stubbs (nasty builder who came to a bad end) in Coronation Street but who has had a varied and rich TV and theatre career from Sophocles to Shakespeare and beyond and now, Woking and he performs with menace and elan. 


The juxtaposition between Elle’s likes and lifestyle and the stuffy halls of Harvard Law School were lightly seamed together (fashion expression – skills) by using the old Greek chorus device (of sorority friends) and sliding Cupids with silver lame shorts 

So as it ended and the show, especially Rebecca Stenhouse, got a well deserved standing ovation from an enthusiastic audience of people from the very young to well, people older than that, (who were clearly fans of the film – a man walked in saying ‘are there any blokes in here at all?’ – there was I saw loads) I had to concede that the stage show was excellent, uplifting, funny and vibrant and the ways the story were told told differently from the film worked really really well. I still grunted when my daughter said ‘see saving the world isn’t all wearing black and shouting ‘keep the faith’ at each other at grungey gigs is it Mum?’ I may have grunted in agreement but she still can’t have a chihuahua at University so, ha- I win! 

When I got home I tried to do the ‘bend and snap’ but only the cat was there and he’s European so didn’t notice and my leggings weren’t really up to the job – who can I sue? This has made me very litigious this theatre show, I’m going to be tripping over in supermarkets and falling off pub tables on a regular basis from now on and saying m’lud -oh ok maybe the latter is a current pastime rather than an actual industrial injury. 

If you are like me you don’t really need to wait for a guilt trip (heavily laden) to be visited on you to see this show, I’d go along and enjoy yourselves, even if just to look at the face of a loved one having a brilliant time. Legally Blonde is on at New Victoria Theatre Woking until Saturday 14 October 2017 tickets can be bought from http://www.atgtickets.com

Mothers in War

asked to writeof young lives lost

shelled and burned relentless frost
happy home to relentless fear

brave face conceals hot tears

once a hug and safety 

the currency you traded

exchanged inexplicable hatred

bones exhausted hope faded
At Marathon

Xerxes honouring father

and so on and so forth

these wars get ever harder

millenium echoes of ‘what’s it all for?’
and weaved into the words of life

new names come

sprung from their strife

our everyday

the balaclava

named from pain frozen hell like lava

became a young boys winter wear

running down streets without a care
cheerfully we sing of barrels rolled

Towns in Ireland myths unfold

a hundred years ago

In a room

a clock ticked

whilst cannon boomed

the heartbeat of a mother waiting to hear

that precious child coming near

the footstep on the path instead

solemnly told her

He was dead
If you see the sight of battlefield

with blood and guts and brain all spilled

sightless eyes who know no pain

Think of the ones who feel it again

and again and again and again
The ones who walk with the field inside flesh

Where their children are killed each day afresh

who cared for them fed them and loved them each day

but when the monster demanded them

waved them away

 Fairy stories talk of scary dragons

 demanding the people hand over their young

of evil archetype make panto players

but still it goes on and on and on

Bravery for an ideal or not is a hard won thing

sometimes pretended, just to get through the turn, away from mother, 

toward an unknown king.

  


Where are all the saintsThey should be marching in

Are they in Hoxton drinking all the gin?
Where is their conviction to right the wrongs

Surely not a fiction we sang all the songs?

Why is their armour rusted and worn

Bits mismatched some lost and gone
Turned their faces, heartsick of us

We’d rather a lifestyle than stand, make a fuss

To be the vehicle to dishearten a saint

Makes of us a race of taint
So this after all was our original sin

Blamed on a woman, serpents grin

our inability to stand to defend the weak

Our backbone jelly voices won’t speak
Will we ever connect to a higher plane

Within or without us all one and the same

Children play in gutters of fear

Patterns in the sky ashen tears
We want saints on demand

a credit card to buy a conscience

We want those who were burned 

For belief to take our presence
Life, sham and drudgery have made broken dreams

A society from a sweatshop poorly riven seams

A cleverness we espouse to leave superstition behind

embarrassed to take the fight of the kind
Contemplate our horror over a glass of fizz

Contemplate the fact none of us exist

Whilst we allow ourselves to be grass fed herds

The saints are on strike until we find the right words
Until we find that we will stand strong

Stop dictation, right our wrongs

Until we take our responsibility set fire to our cares

The saints are on strike not marching anywhere
And the angels won’t act as scabs in our war

Humanity it is time we got our arses in gear

Be cynical be wry be all sorts of clever 

Can’t blame religion if we fuck up forever 
It is all down to us now

It is not a roll of the dice

Our humanity resides 

On our ability to be nice

Grow Them, Feed Them, Love Them, Yet, There Is No World Fit For Them

I pulled up outside the school the news was on and smarmy djs shocked, just reporting over and over repeating what they heard as they heard it in disbelief. 

I was flustered with my toddlers in the back of the car and turned it off I didn’t register, my mind was on my baby’s birthday tomorrow what to buy and what to do the last minute bits with three kids in tow after rushing from work. I collected my son some were talking about stuff but most of us mums had rushed from work some to go back after dropping to an adoring nan and work more hours so the bills get paid or doing tea, stories, baths, reading books tucked up in bed and then turn on the computer to log in to work again. Scoop up kids and scoop up toddlers and scoop up babies and scatter our families to where they need to fit whilst we work to pay the bills and make ends meet. We had no time for news. So we went on and packed in the car, the radio still off whilst I heard about the news of the day.Reception is a very important place and the headline news in our car on 11 Sept 2001 was that some kids weren’t allowed the time on the wheeled toys at break because they weren’t being good listeners. 


I had on my mind my golden haired girl’s second birthday excited for the trampoline she would unwrap tomorrow, let her loose on some of the energy that always built up to make her like a little whirlwind. She had been a whirlwind in the womb, kick kick spin. She was overdue and I had to go and have a heart trace. It should have taken 15 minutes it took over three hours because they couldn’t get 15 minutes worth of heart trace, not because they couldn’t get a heartbeat but because they couldn’t pin down a heart beat she moved so much inside, my sister drove me and we waited and waited. I apologised as much because all the magazines in the waiting room were fishing or sailing ones none of which were her choice of read, she forgave me and Whitney Houston’s My Love is Your Love played on her car radio and I already knew that whilst I studied and worked, as I carried her that she was with me they all were and when she was born she stayed awake so much outside. I walked the floors at night just her and me, I sang songs and she was soothed, My Bonny Lies Over The Ocean (sing my bonny!! She would cry to me when she could talk) You Are My Sunshine (like my Mum sang to us) the Irish Lullaby (like my gran sang to my Dad) Goodnight Sweetheart (because I love Dean Martin) and so many more. If I had to leave her she would cry, I had to go back and press her cheek against mine. No one else would do. As years went on and the school office became familiar to me, the Head of Year had me on speed dial, the slammed doors the thrown things and walking off, being the biggest enemy in the world, the near tragedies that we experience as parents, with that pulling her back from brought her to my arms again just like the baby she was and will always be. 
On 11 September 2001 I took them to the shops after school, they badgered for a happy meal and I refused the junk food and started to walk back to the car park buggy laden with happy shopping and tired children, exhausted; noticing a crowd around the TV shop in the days they still had tv’s in the shop windows, I stopped to see why people standing speechless watching over and over, a plane fly into a tower, over and over and silent disbelief in retail outlets. I turned back to get the happy meal because sometimes we need to spend £2.99 on happiness. We buy stuff don’t we, when we can’t control stuff?
The next day, on her second birthday my golden haired baby thrilled, jumped up and down up and down holding on to the rail of the trampoline, her vest poppers undone and flapping, laughing like bubbles floating in the air and filling the room, her chubby arms holding tight to the trampoline safe with a rail, next to the big fire guard to keep them safe away from burning and sometimes handy for drying school uniform bits on. Keep them safe, keep them safe that is all we ever try and on the news over and over the sombre tones and the film, over and over, of a plane crashing,over and over, answerphone messages of people saying their last goodbyes, their last I love you’s because they knew they were dying.

The world was never the same again but my baby grew up, my golden haired baby and tonight she becomes an adult. Tonight I wish to hold the baby like I always do with all of them, but now every single baby I have is an adult; keep them safe, kept them safe to here and now I fear the world is mad and they are going into it………