Category: Individual

Christmas Reflections

After such a challenging and difficult year for many, Healthskills would like to wish all our clients, programme participants and leaders everywhere a happy and safe Christmas, however you are able to celebrate, and our very best wishes at this festive time.

This year, I and my colleagues offer our reflections as 2021 comes to a close, our thoughts on what we are taking from this year into 2022, and our hopes, opportunities and ideas that may help you with your challenges in the new year.

From Mark Greenfield:
The recollection from this turbulent year that resonates most with me is the power of human connections.  As groups of individuals and teams have started to meet again face to face during the latter half of 2021, I’ve been struck by how significant opportunities to Reconnect, Reflect and Recharge have become.
Reconnecting – and for many individuals, actually meeting colleagues for the first time and have space to catch up, get to know each other better and reconnect with their aspirations as a team;
Reflect – reflect on and share experiences over the past 18 months, think about individual and shared journeys, look ahead to how they work together and agree common purpose and shared priorities;
Recharge – have some time to just enjoy being together, unwind, have fun, and explore new ways of working that help them to have fulfilling working lives.

Whilst our natural default is often to get on with the day job, ‘business as usual’ (whatever that is!), making it a team discipline to take time out every now and then to Reconnect, Reflect and Recharge is a sure-fire way to accelerate your progress towards becoming a high-performing team.

Wishing you all a merry Christmas and happy, healthy New Year.

From Dawn Scott:
At this time of year, it’s always a habit of mine to reflect back on what 2021 brought into our lives and it is fair to say that it has felt like another rollercoaster ride.  The way we live and work I think has changed irrevocably and I find myself settling for more home and a lot less travel, which at my age is not such a bad thing and certainly doing the motorway fraternity a favour.

As I write this, I’m noticing that my heart is heavy for all of our friends and colleagues in the NHS.  This year marked my 40th anniversary of NHS association – over 20 years as an employee and another 20 years working as an external consultant.  I have many longstanding friends and clients who right now are on their knees.  Recent announcements to ramp up the vaccine programme with little notice could well have produced a rebuttal from a disillusioned workforce, but as ever when duty calls the NHS steps up.

Despite the incredible pressure that the pandemic has produced for all parts of the service and the impact of winter and funding constraints, clinicians and their teams are cancelling Christmas to vaccinate the population to keep them safe.  Spare a special thought for our CCG colleagues who are having to wind down their organisations before being replaced by Integrated Care Systems, whilst supporting primary care to work 24/7 on the vaccination programme.  Many of the senior leaders we have worked with over the last 18 months don’t even know whether they will have a job in the new organisations.  That for me is going above and beyond the call of duty.

It is to them all that I raise a glass this Christmas and pay tribute to their leadership in the face of such adversity; It has been a privilege to work with NHS teams this year. I wish them and you and your families a special Christmas and hope that 2022 brings you good health and less stress.

Much Love to all

From Bob Baker:
Goodbye 2021, I won’t be raising much of a glass to you……..

Three things have stuck with me over the past year.  Firstly (and I need to get political here), how the mantra of walking the walk as a leader (known as Modelling the Way in Kouzes & Posner’s 5 Leadership Practices model) appears to have often been ignored by government leaders and one individual in particular?!!  This is not only poor leadership but affects the way that government messages are interpreted and received by the electorate.

Secondly, I continue to be grateful (more than ever in these continuingly uncertain times) for old and new friends and family who listen to my musings and ramblings. I’ve always considered myself tolerant of – indeed almost embracing – ambiguity but I’m at a place now where some certainty and routine would be welcome – in the meantime thanks to those that help me navigate the weeks and months …

Thirdly, I have done some work with those leading in some of the Vaccination Centres during the year and I am in awe of their fortitude and positive attitude in spite of ever-changing priorities and demands.

From Mike Nelson:
I look back on 2021 as a series of hopes and setbacks; as the vaccine rollout in the spring took on momentum, the return of personal freedoms and business re-growth was very encouraging, and I started to feel the hope generated by this. Subsequent waves of the changing fortunes with emerging variants have come as a series of setbacks which, looking back over 2021 is rather akin to the most intense of rollercoasters.

Over the year I’ve learned the value of positive, solution-based thinking, to tackle each new setback with some thoughtfulness about how to deal and keep momentum in the light of the turbulence. Mindfulness has become more of a way of life and is proving valuable to stay on the rails of the roller coaster.

Tip – I’ve learned not to ‘soak’ in the media outpourings; the 24-hour, sensation-hungry press, constantly looking for the next scare story and usually conflating fact with speculation. I’ve discovered that the best way to stay resilient in the face of this is to not take this in and feel better off without dwelling on the hype and fearmongering, generated by this avaricious press culture.

From Ian Munro:
Traditionally I am not great at looking back as I am always eager to find out what is around the corner.  The past year – and the one before are the most unusual ones in my life so far.

Normally we have the wheels rolling in the direction we want to go but last year felt that someone else had their hand on the steering wheel, pulling us towards the kerb and ultimately stopping us. It was as if I was no longer in charge of my direction. Traditionally life rolls on irrespective of most things and gradually I realised we were just not going our own way.

Last year saw so many rules and regulations imposed on us that on occasion it pulled even me to a stop, wondering which of the four directions I should follow. This is absolutely not a political statement because I realised, we all seemed to be in the same boat irrespective of our roles in society.

I believe on reflection, that from the most senior in the land to the most lowly – like me – we all lost a big piece of the control mechanisms that are part of our everyday life. Some coped well, others staggered about but many tripped up and had to be picked up and brushed down.

The silver lining to this cloud is that many of us became more flexible about how we conducted our life which in turn has made is more resilient and adaptable to change. As we move into 2022 the situation will not suddenly change.  I am hoping that based on recent experiences we will be much better at wrenching back control of the steering wheel whilst helping those who are parked at the side of the road to find their sense of direction.

And finally …
We are donating to a local charity this year as always, instead of sending Christmas cards.  For 2021, Healthskills is delighted to support FareShare, the UK’s longest-running food redistribution charity: FareShare is the UK’s national network of charitable food redistributors, made up of 18 independent organisations. Together, they take good quality surplus food from right across the food industry and get it to more than 10,500 frontline charities and community groups.

Thank you as always for your continued support for Healthskills, and hope that we have been able to help you in some small way with the personal and professional challenges you have faced this year.   Here’s hoping that 2022 will bring health and happiness for you all.

Languishing or Flourishing – Blah Blah Blah

How often – in response to the question “how are you?” – have you used the phrase “not too bad”? Is that just a kneejerk response or does it indicate a view that you’re coping but that aspects of fulfillment are elusive? Could it even be that you are experiencing what some have called the "neglected middle child" of mental health – languishing? And maybe you and we should also explore how – even in these challenging times – you/we can move closer to a more contented state – that of flourishing?

The last 15 months have been difficult for many of us and “languishing” describes low mental well-being in the absence of a diagnosable mental health condition. The New York Times earlier this year (and later repeated in The Guardian in April 2021) wrote that organisational psychologist Adam Grant had described languishing as "a sense of stagnation and emptiness". While you're in this state, you may not see the point of things or anticipate forward direction or fulfillment in your life. You're not feeling hopeless – just a bit "blah".

The term "languishing" was originally coined by sociologist and psychologist Corey Keyes in an article in 2002. His research suggested that the absence of a mental disorder does not necessarily equate to mental health and well-being. He called it an untested assumption.. It is worth noting as well that recent studies suggest that languishing could be a risk factor for mental health conditions like depression later in life.

Positive emotions, life satisfaction, a sense of meaning and positive relationships are all concepts that are tied to our sense of mental well-being – people who are languishing tend to score noticeably lower in these. At first glance, these people might seem depressed – but they're not. Even though this group of people would not be diagnosed with a mental health condition, they're a long way from getting the most out of life.

So if this resonates and you’ve been feeling a bit “blah” over the last few months what can you do to move away from languishing and at least get on the road to flourishing? The good news is that the scientific evidence related to flourishing is robust, and numerous studies show simple activities can lead to marked improvement in overall well-being. Here are some practical activities, from a model developed by the ‘founding father of flourishing’, Dr Martin Seligman[1], which can help you get started.

These 3 activities are not necessarily easy to enact but will bring rewards:

  1. Get better at noticing, directing and re-directing your attention.
    Just as we must carefully manage our time and our financial resources, we should also carefully manage our attention. Attention that is focused towards worrying, fretting, anger, revenge, and sadness is generally wasted attention; instead work to notice your negativity and to focus your attention on analysis, possibilities, investigation, compassion, and growth.
  2. The tendency to use your time with intention and for impact.
    We all have to deal with constraints and barriers due to lack of time, but we don’t have to throw our hands into the air and admit defeat; instead, we can consciously choose to apply at least some of our discretionary time wisely and avoid wasting it on activities that do not bring us joy or move us closer to things we want to achieve.
  3. The ability to communicate and listen to others.
    Soliciting feedback from others is vital to just about every human endeavour, and flourishing is no different. It’s tough to evaluate ourselves, so we should consider ourselves lucky for people who are willing to provide honest information on ourselves and our efforts. Those who flourish do so, in part, because they are willing to listen to others, learn from them, and take advice.

Bob Baker

Not All Heroes Wear White Coats

woman working at computer

Recently I have had the privilege of closing a Leadership Programme with a group of Senior Leaders at NHS Cheshire Clinical Commissioning Group on the Compassionate & Inclusive Leadership in Cheshire Programme (CLiC). As part of their final presentation to the Executive Team the group were tasked with providing feedback about what they had learned on the Programme and how this had impacted on them. As part of that they produced a 2-minute video that highlighted the events of last year and the roles that staff had fulfilled as part of the pandemic effort.

Although the piece was only 2 minutes long it was incredibly moving to see the reality of what was faced on a daily and hourly basis by CCG staff. The piles of PPE that arrived and had to be distributed to local community and primary care services; Shifting resources around the system at pace to ensure staff were safe at work and could work remotely and more recently working 24/7 to set up and run the vaccination programme through local centres and community healthcare providers. All of this done with care and compassion and smiling faces.

There has been a phrase used throughout the pandemic which says “Not all heroes wear capes” referring to the frontline staff who have toiled and suffered to ensure people get the treatment they need to deal with the impact of the virus. For this the nation owes them a great debt and personally for me all NHS staff are heroes. However, this is my tribute to the other people in the NHS who support the frontline – the back room boys and girls who have been doing their thing to support the covid effort.

In leadership terms the covid pandemic brought a unique and unifying aspect to the work of the NHS – a national common goal that mobilised millions of staff to work together. Talking to colleagues in many CCGs – the camaraderie and dedication that was brought to the table was second to none and I have listened to impassioned Directors who have talked about their inspirational teams who went above and beyond the day job because they cared and are still doing so even as the effort is now focussing more on business as usual.

Having heard first-hand from such a dedicated and hardworking team that have quietly got on with the job it just felt right to shine a spotlight on them in recognition of what an amazing job they do. When you go for your covid vaccination to a community centre or GP Practice just remember who played a leading role in getting the supplies there for you and your family – that was the work of CCGs and their teams working collaboratively with others.

So what of heroic leadership? Here is one definition: Heroic leadership is the pinnacle of leadership, conducted by a transformed and enlightened leader who seeks to transform and enlighten others. The NHS has not weathered the pandemic through the heroic efforts of one transformational leader (in spite of the politicians vying for that position) but through everyone stepping up to be a leader every day in everything they do. So whilst I applauded the frontline staff every Thursday and they will always have my admiration for what they do; in my book not all heroes wear white coats and I want to pay tribute to all those staff who work in CCGs and all of the support services to the frontline.

Dawn Scott

Career Development in Turbulent Times

stormy wave

Recently I was the guest speaker at a webinar which was addressing the topic “Career Development in Turbulent Times”.

It was for Executives in the public, private and voluntary sectors. It recognised that during the last 14 months, life has been extraordinarily demanding and in the main people have kept going but as we come out from lockdown and the workplace pressures that the pandemic has brought, we need to address two areas going forward:

  1. There is a general recognition going forward there are likely to be some job losses as organisations recover and adopt a “new normal”. This is likely to include incorporating regular home working as a regular feature of how they will operate. There will be less people needed in the different management strata across organisations.
  2. For those remaining, the big question is what support should be offered to help them recover – “the survivor syndrome”, and their onward development?

During a poll of those attending the webinar 92% admitted they had not properly prepared for the move ahead. I was frankly stunned. The webinar was for 45 minutes and the organisers asked me to produce some short tips that could be helpful to leavers and survivors. I thought these might be helpful to you too, so here they are:

For those who will unfortunately have to leave the organisation

These basic points are often initially missed by the leavers I work with


FACT 1   When Job Seeking, you are selling yourself
Action 1  Identify your skills and competencies so you can talk through how you can benefit your new customer – your potential boss

FACT 2   Job market vacancies are filled 30% by agencies and 70% by contacts and networking
Action 2  Do NOT put 70% of your efforts into chasing 30% of the market place. Learn how to network and communicate with your contacts

FACT 3   CVs are your sales brochure. Readers will give it 90 seconds, are mainly interested in the last 10 years and what you achieved in each job
Action 3  Keep it to two pages, make punchy bullet point statements, and focus on what was achieved rather than responsibilities which are implied in the job title

In summary here, if organisations do not adequately look after Leavers it will have a negative effect on the Survivors.

Survivors are the lifeblood in your organisation so please read these tips carefully


These should be HR initiatives supported and implemented by line managers and all staff

  1. Create a Solution Focused culture
    • This should be directed at helping staff to focus on solutions to work and career issues rather than exploring problems
    • Build on, and encourage how to leverage strengths rather than “solve” weaknesses
    • Find positive ways forward and overcoming barriers
  2. What do individuals need to do to make for successful job outcomes?
    • Focus on the individual and what sensible goals should they set themselves in the short to middle term.
    • This includes any teams responsibilities
    • Use a simple Core Objectives tool supported by a Monthly Action Plan to measure progress
  3. Encourage upwards management for improved engagement and performance
    • Encourage through the culture change a strong solutions based approach from staff upwards through the organisation structure
    • Develop in surviving staff a stronger sense of belonging than may have been there before
    • Apply a mentoring and coaching approach to organisation development

Ian Munro

Ian is an associate of Healthskills and in addition to Executive Coaching he has written these two books for those seeking a new job or learning to develop their career


National Day of Reflection

Today marks a milestone for all of us – a year to the day when we entered a national lockdown as a result of what was then becoming a global pandemic of Covid-19.  It is a day we need to take to remember the lives lost, those we hold dear, lifelong partners, parents, sons, daughters, friends.  It is also a day of reflection for the NHS, to consider what a huge impact the pandemic has had on our national treasure.  For without the NHS and its ability to care for us in our time of need the impact on us and ours would have been far worse.  I feel truly grateful for all those amazing people who turn up every day to ensure that we all get access to healthcare free at the point of need.  Not just the frontline but everyone who supports that effort.

I have spoken before about my passion for the work that I do which is as a result of my joining the NHS many moons ago.  Today is for me another day of reflection – it is 40 years today since I joined the NHS workforce as a Clerical Officer at the then North West Regional Health Authority – Gateway House next to Piccadilly Station – known as the ‘Lazy S’ due to the shape of the building, but also a tongue in cheek poke at the productivity levels emanating from it.

This morning I woke and recalled the first day like it was (forgive the cliché) yesterday.  I remember getting on the bus from home in Oldham and getting into central Manchester to join the metropolis that would be my place of work for the next 6 years.  The anticipation of what was to come – my first proper job.  In those days smoking was allowed in the office and I remember how in one corner of the office the curtains at the windows had turned yellow as a result of their proximity to a couple of chain smokers.  I can feel the nervousness of my first phone call to arrange a meeting for one of the senior managers in the team and not knowing how to conduct a ‘business’ conversation.

Little did I know then that the NHS would provide me with so much that has shaped my life:

  • A career with unlimited opportunities
  • A university education to gain a master’s degree
  • Friendships that have lasted 40 years
  • A sense of purpose and a job with meaning that I was doing important work
  • Treasured memories of fun times
  • The chance to shape healthcare through personal influence as a senior leader for my local community

It is a legacy I will always be proud of and thankful for, despite the challenging times and stress through countless reorganisations, modernisations and changes of government that shifted the focus.  The thing that always lingers in the memory banks is the people I have met along the way – the good hearts, the ‘Steady Eddies’ the mentors and critical friends, the aspirational leaders I looked up to, and the dedicated professionals of all clinical and non-clinical persuasions.  My acknowledgement list would be far too long to list here.

Whilst the work that I do now is at arms-length through business partnership, leadership development and coaching, it feels at times I am able to give back to the people and the service that gave me so much in my formative years – a full circle after 40 years.  To reflect on one’s own life experiences and the lessons we can learn from this practice is how good leaders operate.  How we got through this last year was down to that leadership at play in every corner of our NHS and our local communities.  We have to learn more lessons through an open process to find out what we can do better next time – and there will be a next time.  Let’s take a leaf out of Martin Luther King Jr’s book who said “We need leaders not in love with money but in love with justice.  Not in love with publicity but in love with humanity.”  Those are the leaders I see in the NHS every day.

So where have I got to in 40 years? Well, I feel like a round peg in a round hole – I fit, I still belong to the NHS body and soul and wouldn’t have it any other way.

Dawn Scott

2021 – A Year of Love and Kindness

man walking in park

Well, it’s been a year to remember. Back in March 2020 when we got the message that we were all going into lockdown how many of us would have thought we would still be here? As we step into 2021 I wanted to share with you my own personal thoughts about my time at home and my hopes for the coming year.

As a coach I work on my own development a lot and my study group met recently to reflect on our learning and our experiences of the Covid impact. It is ironic that 2020 represents perfect vision and for me 2020 gave me perfect vision to see what is really important to me. Family friends, the personal contact and relationships we have with people in our lives are the things that I have missed but at the same time have got me through some dark days. I don’t know about you, but the roller coaster continues for me. Some days I feel on top of the world and then others I struggle to get out from under the duvet.

On the good days I have been productive at work and at home sorting out the life laundry and clearing the spare room of the junk that was regularly dumped. This has become my ‘woman cave’ or to put it more kindly my retreat. A space I can call my own for work, for quiet time to think and read and be creative. It also doubled as a fairy grotto for the wrapped Christmas presents ready to be delivered! On the down days I just accept it for what it is, make a list of the things I must do and leave the rest to tomorrow. I’ve literally learned to be kind to myself.

Working with many NHS clients I see and hear every day about the impact of the surge in Covid cases. Many staff are very tired and some on the edge of illness because they push themselves on – such is their dedication to do the best for patients and the people we serve. More than ever, we need to recognise how important it is to look after ourselves so I hope that many of you will be able to take a much needed break from the relentless need for your care and compassion. None of us can keep giving from an empty vessel and hearing that there are nearly 50,000 NHS staff off sick at present just means that those that remain have to keep giving just a bit more.

The need to build personal resilience has never been greater than now. Whether you are on the frontline or just working from home it is likely that you will be missing the contact of loved ones and colleagues. The office banter, the kitchen gossip it all contributes to helping us get through the working day. We are social beings and right now many of us can’t hug those we hold dear. Reminding ourselves on a daily basis to just get through today is all we can do.

We have for current clients delivered some short online sessions to support health and wellbeing and to build personal resilience. Just taking an hour or so out of your work routine is enough to connect with people and to share your experiences and personal tips on how you cope with this world we find ourselves in. Do contact us if you or your team would benefit from a little downtime from the laptop or the frenetic frontline if you are a key worker.

Try and find some peace and joy in the small things – a walk in the park or an extra cuddle with the kids – it all adds up. Keep topping up that beautiful vessel that is you with as much love and kindness as you can. Sent with love from me.

Dawn Scott

Christmas Reflections from Healthskills

After this extraordinary year, Healthskills wish all our clients, programme participants and leaders everywhere a happy and safe Christmas, however you are able to celebrate, and our very best wishes at this festive time.

This year, I and my colleagues offer short personal reflections each from 2020, and a suggestion, idea or thought that may help with your challenges in 2021:

From Bob Baker:
2020 has been a tumultuous year. My learning has been a concern for mental well-being and that despite considering myself a “balanced” individual (whatever that means!), I have needed the support of family, friends, and my work partners from time to time over the past few months.  So – and this won’t come as a surprise – reach out, be prepared to be vulnerable and don’t always write off a down period as just another bad day. Being willing to own up to it, to do something about it if you can or to seek a listening ear or other help if you don’t feel able will help in these difficult, sometimes despondent times.

From Dawn Scott:
My reflections on this year… 2020 represents perfect vision and ironically that is what 2020 has given me.  Perfect vision to realise what the most important things are in my life.  Family, friends and people.  Just being with someone and having that connection where we can hug freely, laugh together, kiss and be loved.  The personal loss of the stuff that makes us human and the impact we have on others cannot be underestimated and I have hopes that 2021 will bring us all closer together in some way.  Merry Christmas and a happy and healthy new year to all of you.

From Mike Nelson:
In terms of having to completely re-shape my work, my life, and the balance between the two, I’ve learned that nothing is impossible; I had to be clear on my goals and purpose, set my heart as well as my mind to it and get on and make things happen.

Tip – Take the time to invest in yourself, fitness, diet, wellness, exercise all help to develop a more resilient approach to life, work, leadership and making sense out of the ongoing uncertainty.

From Mel Warner:
2020 represents the significance of generosity and gratitude. I have noticed how the act of generosity brings so much joy and happiness.  The gift of offering your time to help someone else, sharing your insights or skills, simply listening, running an errand for someone, reaching out, volunteering, or sponsoring a worthwhile cause. This year has raised my awareness of all the small and bigger acts that individuals do that helps our community and how grateful I am for this. Someone said that if we only search for our own happiness, we may never find it but if we seek to help others find their happiness, we find our own. For me, being generous follows the same principle. By being generous, we become more fulfilled. 2020 has shown me just how true this is. I wish you all a happy, healthy Christmas and New Year.

From Ian Munro:
My learning has been around how really effective coaching sessions (based on client feedback) can be achieved by video calls. This means increased capacity to work this way because of no travel time, and support more of our clients.  The action for me has been that the increased intensity of video coaching means “exercise” or “me” space needs to be scheduled into each working day otherwise it does not happen!

From Mark Greenfield:
I’ve learned that with significant changes to my professional working life as well as personally this year, that time taken to ‘be’ rather than ‘do’ is critical.  Not being naturally reflective, I’ve realised that always being busy and getting on with things is not necessarily conducive to working smarter or focusing on the right things. Carving out time to think about the really important, often values-based stuff has proved vital for my wellbeing and sense of perspective.  And it doesn’t have to be lengthy, sometimes ten minutes in a day is enough to restore some balance.

And finally …
We are donating to a local charity this year as always, instead of sending Christmas cards.  For 2020, Healthskills is delighted to support Young Minds,, the UK’s leading charity fighting for children and young people’s mental health.  In the UK, the number of young people presenting at A&E with urgent mental health needs has tripled in the last ten years, where a quarter of young women have a diagnosable mental health problem and where suicide is the single biggest killer of boys and young men.  And these figures do not yet factor in the devastating impact of the coronavirus pandemic and the tsunami of mental health struggles anticipated as a result.  Young Minds want to see a world where no young person feels alone with their mental health, and gets the mental health support they need, when they need it, no matter what.

Thank you as always for your continued support for Healthskills, and hope that we have been able to help you in some small way with the personal and professional challenges you have faced this year.   Here’s hoping that 2021 will bring health and happiness for you all.

Managing Resilience and Overcoming Adversity – A Lived Experience

Adversity. What do I know about adversity? If I contemplate the Cambridge Dictionary definition; a difficult or unpleasant situation then yes of course, I experience those from time to time. But if I’m open to a different definition of adversity, one that points more towards hardship, misfortune or wretchedness, then it’s not something I’ve have much first-hand experience of.

In 1999 at the age of 34 (and before I knew him), my friend Richard died. He had already had a challenging childhood with an alcoholic and abusive father. But he grew up and fought back, developed a successful career and made a good life for himself and his young family.

Now, you might be puzzling over the fact that I commented Richard died before I knew him? Well, that’s due to the fact that he flatlined on the operating table during what should have been a routine operation. Thanks to the highly skilled clinicians and the incredible wonders of medicine, Richard’s life was saved after his heart was re-started.

However, this proved to be the beginning of a new and very different life. One that left him having to adapt to a permanent disability and PTSD. He was no longer physically able to maintain his previous career, he could not do the things he loved doing with his sons, and he struggled to meet the most basic of personal needs that most of us take for granted on a daily, hourly basis. Adversity of the hardship, misfortunate and wretched kind, you might say?

Fast-forward to 2020 and the year we will never forget. A year in which a pandemic strikes the world, has us living through periods of lockdown, shops and schools are closed, people working from home if not furloughed, limited contact with friends and family, a ban on overseas travel. At first, the novelty proves quite exciting for some. Advantages were to be had with a slower pace of life; more time to think, quality time spent with immediate family. As the months pass, zoom-fatigue kicks in. A lack of interpersonal contact, an oddly increasing workload for those working from home and rising boredom and financial worries for those on reduced income, inevitably begin to have an impact on people’s wellbeing and resilience. Adversity is stretching out its arms to all corners of society.

Richard sees 2020 as an opportunity to get the book he’s been working on for the last 10 years published. Dying for Success is an inspiring autobiography as he tells the story of the extreme highs and lows of his personal and professional journey, and how he continues to bounce back time and again despite ongoing physical and mental health challenges.

I cried at times reading the book. I discover things I didn’t know during 12 years of friendship. The depth of the challenges, the pain, the successes and the disappointments are laid bare for all to see. I recoil at the depression and darkness described by the optimistic, generous and outgoing guy I know. People need to hear this story. People can learn, help themselves and be uplifted by it. As a consequence, I have partnered with Richard to design and deliver a 2 hour online workshop with the following objectives:

  • To learn about Richard’s story and his personal strategies for managing resilience and overcoming adversity
  • To inspire and provoke discussion around how we support ourselves and our clients in relation to resilience and wellbeing

The session was road-tested with my Healthskills colleagues where the focus was on what we can learn and apply in our coaching and leadership development work, though it can be tailored towards other audiences such as team leadership and various scenarios where resilience and wellbeing is important. Feedback on the session from the Healthskills team included:

  • Brilliant and inspiring
  • Enthralling and thought-provoking
  • Quite simply the best 2 hours I’ve been part of in a very long time
  • A lot of people would benefit from this session

There’s lots of great material available on this subject and indeed some of you reading this might be mental health practitioners with a wealth of professional experience and qualifications. But if you’d like to explore resilience and wellbeing through the lens of one man’s amazing life and death, please get in touch.

Shirley Ficken is an Executive Coach and OD Consultant who works with NHS and Healthcare Leaders as a Healthskills Associate. She also works with leaders and teams in the private sector and Local Authorities to help them achieve organisational success and personal wellbeing

Richard Dixon is an Entrepreneur with interests that include property and surveying, vintage cars and motorbikes and now Author. Further details of his book can be found at and is available on Amazon

The myth of the well-rounded leader

It’s performance appraisal time already for one of my clients. Managers are busy assigning individual ratings and reflecting on how people have achieved the things they were aiming for 12 months ago(!). A common part of this process is assessing performance against a prescribed list of behavioural competencies. Underpinning these competencies is an assumption: that to be a high performer, an individual should be good across the board, especially as a leader. No major flaws and a good balance of interpersonal and critical thinking skills. Decisive and action-oriented, but also strategic and non-directive, in equal measure. But what if that was a recipe for the “bland leading the bland” as Marcus Buckingham1, bestselling author and behaviour analysis expert, puts it?

Organisational practices like performance management processes, interview criteria and talent management systems all reinforce the need to be good across a broad range of factors. We hear it in stories too, about leaders with vision that are infallible and have no weaknesses. Incredible managers who know exactly what to do even in the most unprecedented of situations. Passion and a strong work ethic can overcome gaps or challenges of any kind …until they can’t. If this year teaches us anything about the world of work, it’s that existing organisational practices can be challenged and changed, and for the better.

Why is striving to be a well-rounded leader not necessarily a good thing?

Watch out for the significant downsides of trying to cover all bases. Here are three important unintended, but very real, issues that I have observed in my 20 years developing leaders:

  1. Lack of psychological safety as people feel reluctant to reveal weaknesses or disclose mistakes. Why should they when the leader doesn’t seem to have any? This makes it risky for people to put forward new ideas or alternatives and seriously stifles innovation.
  2. Failure to delegate and empower others (which is crucial for highly-skilled, technical professionals). All too often, leaders can become a bottleneck for decision making, which puts them under more pressure and frustrates everyone else.
  3. Struggle to really connect with people and create a foundation of trust and openness. With rising workplace mental health issues, and fewer opportunities to talk face to face, the importance of talking frankly about how things are going personally and professionally is hard to underestimate.

What is the alternative to being a well-rounded leader?

“The best people are spiky” (Marcus Buckingham1). Outstanding performers in any field of practice do not fit a mould, and in fact have clearly unbalanced attributes. Rafael Nadal’s left-handedness is so dominant that he literally runs around his backhand. He plays to his strengths to get results.

This is not just a feature of elite sports. Zenger and Folkman2 have carried out extensive research on leadership and their analysis of 360 assessments across 100,000 leaders is conclusive. According to them a “lack of weakness is not a distinguishing feature of the best leaders”. For clarity, this does not mean ignoring critical weaknesses (Nadal’s backhand is not an Achilles heel). Their research shows clearly that the most effective leaders, globally and across industries, those in the top quartile of performers, have a small number of standout strengths.

One of the key differences between leadership and tennis of course, is that leadership is all about the performance of others, not your own: it is a team sport. As a leader, you can call upon your team members and peers to bring their unique talents to any problem or crisis. This idea of ‘strengths-based team working’ not only gets the best from others, it also enables you as a leader to spend time using your own unique strengths. Using your strengths is energising, and evidence shows there are a number of benefits, including feeling happier, having more self-esteem, confidence and energy, less stress, and faster learning3.

This tells us something profound about being an authentic leader. It is a liberating way of overcoming the difficulties in sustaining performance and energy during extremely testing times.

About the Author

Andy Jenkins, MCIPD, is the Co-Founder of My Leadership Strengths and designer of the Developing Leaders in Health 360 Assessment


1 Nine Lies About Work (2019) by Marcus Buckingham and Ashley Goodall


A funny thing happened to me on the way through the Covid crisis…

I write this newsletter in a very different environment to the last one I penned… this morning I’m at my desktop setup, at home. It’s a glorious summer morning and my home office window is open so I can hear birdsong and see the oak wood behind our house. Last time I did this, I think I was on a train, hunched over a laptop, hurtling somewhere in a hurry to do something else on my rather hectic agenda.

Then the world stopped… literally…

In the last four months I suspended all business activity, went on furlough, took more exercise and most importantly spent a lot of time thinking. As result of all this I’ve transformed what I do and how I do it – travelling much less, home more, much more online working, more exercise and every week I have time to think. So, am I more effective? The answer is very clear to me – undoubtedly, I’m spending much more focused time with my clients, with better results and a huge increase in wellbeing, which in turn I can feel is improving my personal performance and this to the benefit of my clients as well as friends and family around me.

There is no doubt in my mind I’ve gone through a profound reframe – a technique used in counselling, coaching and by psychologists to help any of us to see something from an entirely different angle rather than through existing mental filters framed by current beliefs and attitudes to the world around us.

Watzlawick, Weakland and Fisch (1974)* describe the ‘gentle art of reframing’ thus:

To reframe, then, means to change the conceptual and/or emotional setting or viewpoint in relation to which a situation is experienced and to place it in another frame which fits the ‘facts’ of the same concrete situation equally well or even better, and thereby changing its entire meaning.

Now I was somewhat ‘forced’ into reframing by the dramatic changes in life/work imposed by the necessities of the Covid crisis and I am reflecting – would I have done this without such a stimulus? The honest answer is probably not (not yet anyway) and the most fundamental learning I’m taking out of all this is not this particular reframe but the need to regularly take a big step back, think about what I’m doing and most importantly why I’m doing it (related to my primary purposes in life). This will require self-discipline, but the change has been so beneficial I now have a really positive internal driver to do it. It needs the application of self-care, something we are currently discussing with attendees to a Healthskills Change Programme and comes from a quote given to the design by one of my esteemed colleagues:

“Self-Care is not selfish… You cannot serve from an empty vessel”
(Eleanor Brownn)

If you decide to undertake a reframing exercise there are plenty of articles around or you could talk to a coach or critical friend.

Feel Happiness has some very practical ideas and tips/techniques, including this wonderful quote by Mark Twain:

“My life has been filled with terrible misfortunes, most of which have never happened.”

Getting down to the nuts and bolts on this webpage are the following three principles behind reframing:

  1. The first basic principle is that events or situations do not have inherent meaning; rather, you assign them a meaning based on how you interpret the event.This can be difficult to accept, but you must. Even when something seemingly horrible happens to you, it is only horrible because of the way you look at it.This is not to make light of tragedy. It’s perfectly ok to be sad when something seemingly bad occurs. That being said, even a “bad” event can be given a “good” meaning.
  2. The second principle is that every thought has a hidden “frame” behind it. The frame is your underlying beliefs and assumptions that are implied by your thought.For example, when you think “I’ll never get that promotion I want because I’m not a sycophant at work”, part of the frame is that only suck-ups get promoted.
  3. The final principle is that there is a positive intention behind every negative thought.That inner voice of yours that expresses negativity is only doing so because it wants to help you in some way. That doesn’t make the thoughts right or acceptable of course, but it does mean that your inner voice is not an enemy to be resisted.


Mike Nelson


*Watzlawick, P., Weakland, J. and Fisch, R. (1974). Change: Principles of Problem Formation and Problem Resolution, NY: Norton

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