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Caffeine-free me

It’s been nearly four days since my last coffee.

This isn’t a conscious choice. I’m not detoxing, raising money or awareness of a noble cause, or trying to save the environment.

Nope.  I simply have a cold and the idea of drinking coffee makes me gag. The last time I was too sick to drink coffee was 15 years ago when I was growing a whole other human inside me. I’m not pregnant now so this must be worse than a common cold; it must be ManFlu.

I’ve been coughing on my colleagues and sighing dramatically at my family. I can’t decide if my body aches because it’s sick or because it’s in caffeine withdrawal.  I am jet-lagged, flu-ridden, and have an overflowing inbox.

All of which I would accept better if I could just drink coffee.

I’d like to say this involuntary caffeine exile has made me attain a Yoda-like state of acceptance and peace, or zealously declare, ‘Hallelujah; life is better without it!’

Again, nope.  I find life without coffee is fundamentally flawed and categorically, well, meh…

While I haven’t developed a keener appreciation for a caffeine-free life, this experience has highlighted the following important leadership lesson: no matter what is happening in your sphere of leadership, keep the (literal or metaphorical) coffee flowing.

Our team stops work and gathers for half an hour each day for Coffee O’clock. Sometimes we talk work and sometimes we don’t.  It’s not about the content of conversation, or even – and it pains me to say this – about the coffee.  It’s about the team.

A difficult journey is made easier, a celebration more joyful, when we are connected.  When there is a place to pause in the activity.  When there is Something Good to experience, no matter how trivial it may seem.

Like coffee.  Everything is better when there is coffee.

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It’s over but it’s not…

Our two weeks of fact-finding and history-exploring is done.

It’s too soon to identify in detail how our experience might positively impact our roles and the organisation as a whole, but we know it will.

At the very least – and in fact at the core – we increased our appreciation for the world-class ambulance service of which we are a part; we will add value simply by integrating this with our current practices and sharing it with our teams.  That’s a good starting point.

We laughed often, learned much, and drank (mostly) excellent coffee.

Everyone’s already kicked a goal and the game isn’t over yet…

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Moving through the mud

I think I've learned how to master meandering in mud.

In seemingly - but actually not - unrelated news: I've got a crush on Yorkshire. It's people are generous, the scenery is moodily enticing, and when things are a bit tough folk carry on anyway.
....Yorkshire has reminded me success and beauty won't always look like blue skies and smooth paths.

Read more

Leadership legacy

Something rare and unsettling occurred in Malta;  I was, on several occasions, lost for words.

Actually, that’s not quite true.  I wasn’t always speechless.  There were times I graduated to incoherent.

Faced with the grandeur of the architecture, the magnificent scenery, and the history of the Knights of St John interwoven through everything I found myself muttering things like, ‘it’s just…wow…’ , ‘I can’t…even…huh?’, and ‘I mean…how?…yeah’.

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Travelling with a team of equally curious – and sometimes more articulate – people has helped me find my words.

Over many coffees and much delicious food, we’ve discussed the application of what we’ve seen and learned.

It would be easy to polarise the Knights’ rich, proud and at times turbulent history as either totally irrelevant or vitally important.

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I think it’s more complex than that…and at the same time it’s profoundly simple.  Sometimes we ask how history applies to us.  Maybe that’s not the right question. Their legacy is one of value-based leadership.  Maybe the question is about how we apply the values.

The Knights of St John maintained their core values in difficult political and social times, and they set a standard for health care which at the time was unrivalled.  Through all this, they created community.  They were committed to something beyond themselves.

The Knights of St John put values into action.

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The application of the core values of St John is not just the privilege or responsibility of organisational leaders.  Everyone leads. We do what we can within our sphere of influence.

I can feel enthusiasm beginning to brew.  It’s possible awe-induced mutterings are about to trip off my lips again.

I may need more coffee, tasty meals and meandering conversations with my colleagues.

That seemed to help last time.

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Diving in with coffee

Imagine it’s a warm spring day. You’re dangling your feet in clean, clear water and thinking a swim might be just the thing. A refreshing dip will add to what seems like a perfect moment.

You dive in but it is too cold and you swear-gasp-swear as you climb out of the water. The moment of perfect is gone in shivers and drips.

Metaphorically speaking, such was my experience of coffee this morning at Dubai airport.

It appears our band of merry travellers appreciates caffeinated goodness.

Our first coffee together was at Dubai airport. It was savoured and devoured with pleasure, so a couple of us dove in for a second. Sadly, we didn’t check the temperature of the water (metaphorically speaking; the literal temperature of the coffee was fine). I emerged slightly bedraggled and disappointed.

It’s possible I had an overly positive perception of the first coffee because we’d just stepped off an 11 hour flight and had another 11 hours until we reached Malta. Was it good or was I just desperate?

There was no objectivity in my decision-making process; it was entirely impulse driven.

Clearly this experience is not noteworthy for most or serious for any. It is, however – like all things coffee – useful.

Leadership and management decisions require the same balance of emotion and objectivity as caffeine-related decisions.

Enthusiasm and wonder are necessary. So too is critical analysis.

We need the sunshine on our shoulders to inspire and energise.

We need ideals of excellence to which we can aspire.

We need to test the water; analyse actions, input and outcomes to continually improve.

We also need coffee.

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Have heavy suitcase and light words. Will travel.

I’m at the airport and my brain is slightly wrinkled. It’s been two days of meetings, one late night of networking, and one very minor ‘I can’t believe I forgot to pack that’ tantrum.

I’m not sure what to do with the combination of weariness and excitement I feel…so I’ll read upon the Knights of St John, drink the bad airport coffee and think about what’s ahead.

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There is much to anticipate. This trip promises experiences which hit some of my favourite things simultaneously: History. Best practice. Strengthening connections.

And strong, smooth, good coffee.

The black book

Malta is a whisper away.  England is a wee bit further, but I feel like I could still use my Inside Voice to greet it.

In preparation for exploring the history of St John and the future of best practice in ambulance services, today we gathered.

We were given a Black Book (it’s more of a leather folder than an actual book, but I’m all about alliteration).

The Black Book contains itineraries, useful notes, pens, general information, and pages on which to note things we’ve learned.  The Black Book will keep me organised and focused AND it feels like a special treat.  Everyone kicks a goal.

We sat around the boardroom table – each with our Black Book in front of us – and talked about what we’ll do, what we might learn, and how we’ll bring that back.

I was conscious of the newness of our team, and of the work done by others to prepare for this. I’m excited by the former, grateful for the latter. It’s humbling to have people sharing their knowledge, expertise and time with us.

I can feel the familiar pre-travel anticipation begin to build, flavoured by the purpose of our trip.  It’s like dark chocolate with chilli; delicious with a hint of the unexpected.

So now I’m sorting my suitcase. I’ve got my passport, my comfortable-yet-fabulous travel clothes, my assorted bits of technology..and I’ve got the Black Book.

The Black Book makes it real.

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Volunteer managers and good coffee

Much like I would not function without caffeine, society would not function without volunteers.

And as with coffee – all roads lead to coffee – there are countless expressions of volunteering.

One thing common across all though, is leadership.

Regardless of the cause, the size, the organisation (or any other variation), someone – or several someones – coordinates volunteers, influences organisational policy, inspires communities, leads colleagues, manages budgets, facilitates change, casts vision, develops strategies…and drinks much caffeine.

For the Greater Good.

When the ‘what’ is stripped away, the ‘why’ for those involved in volunteer management is resolutely idealistic.  (It’s true; I do secretly still think I can change the world).

It’s International Volunteer Manager’s Day on Nov 5th.

You might know folk who are the aforementioned Someones.  Find them, either in person or online, and find a way to say ‘good job; thank you’.

If nothing else comes to mind as a demonstration of your appreciation, buy them a coffee.

Make sure it’s a good one though.

They deserve the best.

 

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The adventure of grief

I’m a fan of day dreams.  As a teenager I was often told there would come a time when I would need to stop day dreaming.  That day hasn’t come yet.

I used to – still do – dream of rollicking good adventures, and those day dreams sometimes end up being reality.

Grief is one of those adventures.

It’s not, however, a rollicking good adventure.

If grief were a movie it would be less Pirates of the Caribbean and more Good Will Hunting.  Worthwhile, but deep and profoundly moving rather than frivolous and fun.

When someone dies there is often reflection about the Meaning of Life, which usually ends in  YouCan’tTakeItWithYouWhenYouDieSoDon’tWorkSoHardWhileYou’reAlive.

I wasn’t ready for my father’s death earlier this year – or that of our baby in 2005 – but once it happened I thought I was ready for the aftermath.  I wanted the revelation of a changed perspective.  I figured turning forty in the same year my dad died positioned me perfectly to contemplate and re-examine life.  We returned home after the funeral and I mentally geared myself for a time of navel-gazing.  I dreamed of arriving at the other side of grief with the grace of Audrey Hepburn and the wisdom of Yoda.

Of course it hasn’t happened like that.

I spent most of my teens and all of my twenties swimming in a big pot of self-indulgent post-modern angst; it’s possible I’ve already used up my quota.  Instead of contemplation, it seems I’ve embraced pragmatism.  Life, unsurprisingly, does in fact go on.  It’s weirdly the same but different.

Sometimes grief reminds me we’re still on the adventure together with bittersweet gentle memories.  Sometimes it knocks me on my butt, leaving me breathless and stunned.

Either way, it’s not the journey I thought it would be.

One day I may attain the wisdom of Yoda.  The grace of Hepburn is unlikely.

But a girl can dream.

Bigger isn’t always better

A good coffee is not necessarily the largest.

As the cup gets larger, the quality and strength of the coffee often decrease exponentially.

A good leader is not necessarily the busiest.

Busy may result in ‘getting the job done’, but sometimes at the cost of effectiveness.

Leaders need to do the functional aspects of their jobs well.  Effectiveness is increased (in this utopian dream) when they also demonstrate sustainable, ethical work practices, and care about the people with whom they work.   That’s difficult if they’re in a cycle of doing busy.

When I stop doing busy and choose to be sustainable I always still get the job done but, importantly, I’m more effective.

Regardless of your sphere of leadership – because actually, we’re all leaders – let the how you want to be and the why you do what you do determine how much you doNot the other way around.

It will make a positive difference for you and the people you’re with.

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So will the quality of the coffee you provide.

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