Thinking about the disengagement many health and care organisations are struggling with at the moment I took the opportunity of a long journey to revisit Brene Brown. She has some useful thoughts. When I think about the cultures of many health and care organisations and the belief and value systems of powerful groups that work within them, there is a discomfort with the spiritual and the emotional. In health care we are beginning to accept the health promoting power of communities and recognise the destructive impact of loneliness and isolation for the people we support and care for. We are much less able to recognise and embrace the potential of emotions and spirituality in our staff and our leaders.
Brene argues that it is vulnerability that is the core of all of our emotions. By walking away from our vulnerability we walk away from emotion which is what brings meaning to our lives and work. Vulnerability, she argues, is what we need to do difficult things well. When we have difficult conversations with our colleagues and the people we support and care for from a place of vulnerability we make real connections, enable new possibilities and make a difference. When we recall instances where we have made a real difference to the lives of our colleagues and the people we support and care for we can often identify how we took the risk and courageously showed up as our real selves.
Many organisations are struggling with situations where this courage is lacking. Staff experience a disconnect between their values, often the values they thought they shared with their organisation, and the way they experience their work and organisational leaders. They experience shame, believing they are not good enough and their organisation is not good enough. When staff work for organisations like the NHS, personal pride and identity is often closely tied to the reputation of the organisation they are part of. Being told by public leaders and the media that the organisation is not good enough, that it is failing the people it intends to serve, is a message that has been taken on board personally by many staff.
Brene also identifies the impact of comparison and how this can limit our creativity and enforce a very narrow standard that excludes many of us and cannot meet diverse needs. As I think about our preoccupation with comparing ourselves across and within health and care organisations I can see that this is true. Staff who have a deep understanding of what is important to and needed by the people they support are denied the opportunity to create new ways of working and delivering what’s needed as practices and ideas are transplanted from other “more successful” places.
So if we revisit Brene and apply what she has to say, what would it be like? We would intentionally create organisations where our emotional and spiritual selves are valued and we are supported to be vulnerable. Places where our courage to be vulnerable and do difficult things with authenticity is recognised and celebrated. Where the need to be perfect is not allowed be the enemy of good. Organisations where we make comparisons to learn not to shame, and to help us consider who we have excluded. Where we can talk about the guilt of making a bad decision or doing the wrong thing from a place of vulnerability not shame so that we can learn and grow. We would create cultures where we can “Dare Greatly”. Where, as Brene would encourage us to do, we consider not what we would do if we couldn’t fail but what’s worth doing even if we do fail?
Inspired by Brene Brown (and airport delays!)
Jane Pightling has experience across the public, private and charitable sector. Through her work in the NHS Leadership Academy and her consultancy Evolutionary Connections she developed complex systems leadership capacity, providing training, coaching programmes and establishing networks and communities of practice to sustain learning. She maintains her social work registration and her commitment to person centred and community focused approaches. Jane has a deep interest in the potential offered by new ways of working, designing and building organisations and communities that can best deliver this kind of service. She works with organisations and leaders to develop approaches that design in autonomy, wholeness and purpose.