Rachel Dunscombe – True Strength Podcast – Episode 6
As part of my True Strength project, I’m featuring interviews that dig deep into how people succeed and I was delighted to interview Rachel Dunscombe of Salford Royal NHS Foundation Trust. The interview has lots of insights into how Rachel succeeds, about strengths, weaknesses, mindset, and resilience. To listen to the interview, simply click ‘play’ on the audio player above or you can read the transcript below. You can find previous podcasts and details of how to subscribe on our podcast page.
Rachel Dunscombe dominant Gallup StrengthsFinder (TM) talent themes:
- Arranger – People who are especially talented in the Arranger theme can organize, but they also have a flexibility that complements this ability.
- Adaptability – People who are especially talented in the Adaptability theme prefer to “go with the flow.” They tend to be “now” people who take things as they come and discover the future one day at a time.
- Empathy – People who are especially talented in the Empathy theme can sense the feelings of other people by imagining themselves in others’ lives or others’ situations.
- Maximiser – People who are especially talented in the Maximizer theme focus on strengths as a way to stimulate personal and group excellence. They seek to transform something strong into something superb.
- Individualisation – People who are especially talented in the Individualization theme are intrigued with the unique qualities of each person. They have a gift for figuring out how people who are different can work together productively.
- Activator – People who are especially talented in the Activator theme can make things happen by turning thoughts into action. They are often impatient.
- Relator – People who are especially talented in the Relator theme enjoy close relationships with others. They find deep satisfaction in working hard with friends to achieve a goal.
- Learner – People who are especially talented in the Learner theme have a great desire to learn and want to continuously improve. In particular, the process of learning, rather than the outcome, excites them.
- Intellection -People who are especially talented in the Intellection theme are characterized by their intellectual activity. They are introspective and appreciate intellectual discussions.
- Futuristic – People who are especially talented in the Futuristic theme are inspired by the future and what could be. They inspire others with their visions of the future.
- Connectedness – People who are especially talented in the Connectedness theme have faith in the links between all things. They believe there are few coincidences and that almost every event has a reason.
- Ideation – People who are especially talented in the Ideation theme are fascinated by ideas. They are able to find connections between seemingly disparate phenomena.
- Developer – People who are especially talented in the Developer theme recognize and cultivate the potential in others. They spot the signs of each small improvement and derive satisfaction from these improvements.
- Input – People who are especially talented in the Input theme have a craving to know more. Often they like to collect and archive all kinds of information.
- Strategic – People who are especially talented in the Strategic theme create alternative ways to proceed. Faced with any given scenario, they can quickly spot the relevant patterns and issues.
Welcome to the Kingfisher Coaching True Strength podcast today featuring Rachel Dunscombe. So where do you work and what do you do?
I am CIO at Salford Royal NHS Foundation Trust, just down the road from here and we are one of the leading Trusts in the UK in terms of quality, digitisation and we do a lot of national work so I’ve got a really exciting role that I’m privileged to have.
So you’ve just mentioned where we are and I would just say we are at Media City and we are in a private booth in the private members club, On The 7th, so that is why people can probably hear lattes being made just outside!
I love the ambience, it’s really good and you can definitely hear all the clinking in the background and all the jazz music.
If anyone’s seen The Voice UK, this is where you would see people being interviewed before they sang. So you mentioned that you are CIO, can you tell us what CIO stands for and what that actually entails?
It stands for Chief Information Officer so it means looking after IT, information coding all that kind of NHS stuff. But within Salford we’ve got some national roles that look after digitisation and big data in what’s called a Vanguard programme so it’s doing some of the big and exciting stuff that we’re trailblazing in the UK so it’s a really fulfilling role actually.
What I want to do is dig a bit deeper and find out a lot more about you. In front of you we’ve got your StrengthsFinder full 34 talents and looking at your dominant talents, which I’ll include in the show notes for the podcast, which of them jump out for you as describing Rachel and explaining who you are?
My top strength is an Executing one (Arranger) and it’s interesting that it is my only Executing one that is really high but it’s true. I make things happen that other people can’t make happen in the system. I’m very good at making things happen with people that I don’t have power over. And some of that is international work, so as well as working for Salford Royal, I work for an organisation called KLAS that does international research in digitisation. I’m very good at making people come together to talk about things that wouldn’t normally come together, so Arranger is definitely up there. I don’t know where that comes from as sometimes people will come to me because they know I can make things happen and that makes me really happy that I can get groups of people together who wouldn’t normally come together. The Adaptability as well. I’m really happy to live in a system that needs me to adapt very quickly, where there are changes. A lot of people I’ve worked with in the past get phased by change and I’ve always got a way of adapting. I think Empathy I definitely recognise as well. Listening to people, sharing stories with people, being there for people, I’ve always had their back. I think that’s something I’ve always felt is really important in Leadership, empathy, especially in the NHS and especially with the changes we are going through now in terms of the system, and the pressures on it as well.
I want to ask more about that – why is empathy important for Leaders then?
I think every individual needs to be seen and heard for who they are. You can’t make the best of people until you understand who they are and empathy is part of that process of getting to know who somebody is and seeing and hearing them and making them feel acknowledged. I want to acknowledge all the people who work for me, I want to acknowledge who they are and empathy is part of that toolkit to do that. And then you can change the environment that they work in based on what you hear within bounds, so empathy is reacting to what you hear from them and making the best of that person in that context.
That makes a whole lot of sense. So what else stands out from your talents as describing Rachel and who you are?
I would probably move down to Activator because one of things I actually like to do is activate people. My biggest resource isn’t me, it’s others activated, and I like that word activated because we’re talking at the moment about activating the citizen as well, so this is very much part of my role. So activating their self-care, activating their involvement with their care, activating their involvement with digitisation and their own health records, and for me, actually, the power that I have is to activate others to do good, to do the right thing and to work together and again, that kind of goes with the Arranging hand in hand as I arrange something, activate them and spin them off to go and do it. It’s wonderful to watch people go off and do things so Activator is definitely one, and I love spotting things in people that they’ve not seen themselves, or they’ve got some self dialogue that tells them their not that, and challenge their perception and make them go on and be that or play to that strength, so definitely Activator.
And there’s some Developer coming through there and it’s interesting because I already know you and I know you are somebody who cares deeply about developing other people and developing your team.
Yes, absolutely and I think that’s really really really important. I want everybody who works for me to be the best they can possibly be. The best whoever they are. And there is nothing more satisfying than having a set of people working for you who are fulfilled and playing to their strengths.
Is there anything else that jumps out at you or is that it?
No, I think obviously the Learner and Futuristic and the Intellection. I love poking the box, I love finding things out. I’m normally in the futuristic direction so I love new technologies, I love learning about them, I love the geeky bits. I do have the inner geek, working in IT. When I was younger it was probably far more obvious that I had the outer geek as well but I think they definitely reflect the geek in me.
Which as a CIO is probably a good thing to have! So loads of strategic thinking talents there and loads of relationship building/team talents. What’s it like to work with Rachel or for Rachel? How do you come across, how would others describe you?
I’m always there for people, I’ve got people’s backs, so my team know I’ve got their back and I think that’s really important. I think that I’m really good to work with as my sickness record and my feedback from my team is really really good. I think what people may find challenging though is that I’m looking at that futuristic ten-year picture sometimes and I have to consciously bring it back into the reality of day to day as I can tend to stay in there. So I think I’m alright to work for – I hope I’m alright to work for, it looks like I’m alright to work for, I get good feedback and that matters to me actually. It really matters to me that I’m a good person to work for because we can’t be a constructive or good team, we can’t reach our potential as a team unless I lead well. So I am really open to feedback from people, and really happy to receive feedback as well and I’ll act on that and I enjoy leading and again, it’s a privilege to be a leader. It’s something that I don’t take for granted I don’t think, something to reflect on, having the privilege to lead some dammed talented people.
I know that you’re open to feedback so if you don’t mind me saying this in public, I’ve just been working with you and the team working you through the Leadership Academy Healthcare Leadership 360 feedback process so you’ve all been very open in giving each other feedback both through the 360 process and in team workshops as well.
And that’s been brilliant because my team have opened up to me about what they’ve got in their feedback and we’ve talked it through and it’s just been a wonderful process, it’s just been people standing there and saying, Here I am and this is what I am, this is me. And actually we’ve got a really balanced team when you look at all the profiles overlaid, we’ve got a fantastic team. We’ve got everything covered I think and that’s lovely and I’m hoping that we start to use that in the future as a model of working and people will say, OK I know that’s your strength and actually this isn’t my bag, so it’s a great common framework and common language to have as a team. And we’ve got some really big things coming up in terms of what we do with the Vanguards as a group and where we will be interacting with lots of other organisations and nationally and we need to be a strong team and I think that’s a good basis for it.
You’ve just mentioned that you’ve got a really good mix of talents across the team. Let’s talk about your talents. What do you find easiest, what do you find naturally easy?
I guess I’d say this job is the first job in the last 10 years where I’ve felt that I’m actually in flow and things are not easy on paper but actually they are coming easier to me in the way they’re done.
So why do you think that is?
That’s a really good question. I think it’s to do in a way with leading people which actually gives me a lot of satisfaction and I enjoy communicating with the wider world, the wider stakeholder groups and international stakeholder groups and actually working to create something that’s much bigger than just even the UK in some cases. So I get the feeling that I’m changing the landscape in healthcare for the better and I’ve got a part to play in that and that plays out in the organisation, it plays out in the other roles that I’ve got, in the UK and internationally. It just feels right, it feels like I’m in flow, it feels like it’s coming naturally and I think the bottom line of that is it’s in line with my values. My values are that we need to deliver the best healthcare for every human being that we can, and internationally we’re not necessarily doing that, and in the UK we’ve still got a long way to go on that journey of optimising healthcare as well. So last week as I was with Intermountain from Utah, and their healthcare system is actually based on the Mormon faith and it was started up by the church there, and working with those guys, for round about what we spend in the UK, are delivering amazing healthcare in the US, it has the best value healthcare of any State in the US. Just unpicking that and looking at lessons learned for us in the UK around that, it was just absolutely joyous. What can we learn? And I love being that piece, kind of being the observatory that goes out and figures out what’s happening and bringing the best of that back to what we are doing in Salford, what we’re doing within the Vanguards, so I think part of my strength is actually transacting information and then taking that back to people I’m working with and activating them with that information.
And I’m looking at your strengths as we’re talking and I can see Learner, Intellection, Strategic, Input and that Activator and Arranger as well and it all fits together to pretty much describe who you are. What do you find more difficult, what naturally doesn’t come easy to you?
Detailed and granular information. My idea of hell is spreadsheets. I really can’t do that granular detail and I guess if I look down nearer the bottom of the list, it’s only struck me recently that I’m pretty good living without harmony but I’m harmonious within myself in doing that and so I can survive quite hostile environments, so that’s fine, and I’ve appreciated recently that a lot of people need more harmony than I do in the environment and I can lead people through that but it’s given me a fresh perspective on that. So Analytical, that’s near the bottom. I can be analytical but only for a short period of time because it’s uncomfortable, it doesn’t come to me naturally. Context again, having to explain the context to people is important because I can understand the context but unless I tell people why things are happening and in what context, they won’t buy into the idea. And context for me is not something I’d naturally sit and give them, I give them the future vision, so that’s something I’ve had to work on.
Let me ask you one specific question. So in your lesser talents, what some people would refer to as weaknesses, you know, things you just don’t find easy but you can do if you need to. We’ve got Harmony and you’re not driven by a need for harmony, we’ve got Analytical and you mentioned that you’re not a lover of spreadsheets, we’ve got WOO on there which is Winning Others Over which is often perceived to be the kind of classic networking skill where people walk into a room. I am high on WOO so whenever I get to a big networking event where I don’t know many people, I’m just excited there’s new friends but it’s interesting from working with you that you do not seem shy in a crowd so I’m just really interested. Some people look at a low WOO and think, ooh you’re going to struggle with big crowds, but you seem comfortable.
OK so I’ve got a different way of thinking about that. I go in and look at a big crowd and think I can learn, there’s lots of information in this room and they can teach me something and that’s how I transact that. I’m actually a really shy person, in some ways I’m quite reserved and I can go into big crowds and that’s great and it tends to be about the learning more than anything else and I find people fascinating but I don’t feel the need to go in there and woo them in that way because that’s just not my way of approaching the situation. But equally if I do too much of that, recently I’ve been doing a lot of that, I need to go and have a lie down and process it for hours. I need to look at a blank white wall for 2 hours and process it! So I’m actually quite a reserved person with the ability to use those transactions with people to actually learn and to improve the future is probably where I’m coming from on that.
I think that is a beautiful example because one of the things that bothers me sometimes is when people don’t know what they’re doing with Strengths, or if people have only done their top 5 and don’t understand some of the subtlety behind it, people sometimes get constrained by their strengths –‘ I’m not this, I’m not strategic’, and people over-label – and what you’ve just described is that you need to be out there, you need to be networking with people but you’re not looking and going ‘I’m a low woo, I’m not good at that’, you’re using one of your talents to actually do that.
I don’t think I’m trying to win people over; I’m actually transacting with people in a different way. The conversation is more winning people over, I’ve got things to offer them in terms of information and knowledge and they’ve got things to offer me and my conversations tend to be quite like that. A while back my kids and I met Felix Baumgartner who was the guy that jumped from space and in fact we’re going back to meet him again in June and I think we are going to go up in his helicopter, and everyone has been like, Oh what did you talk to him about? Risk Management! You talked to him about risk management? And it’s interesting about how I approach conversations because other people would probably try and have a social conversation with the guy but I’m really going in at the Learner, Intellection level, so OK, how did you manage the risk of this, and maybe that says something about me I guess.
It says you’re being who you are. So what sort of environments, what sort of conditions help to get the best out of you?
I think what’s important is for whoever is leading me to understand who I am because as you pointed out, there are different types of people and I need to be acknowledged for who I am actually. I need to be in an environment where I can communicate up as well as down and it’s really really important to me that I work as part of a team. I’ve learned by taking some time out in management consultancy that working as a lone person really doesn’t bring me any satisfaction. I need to work within a team and I get real enjoyment from that.
So let’s build on that, you say that working alone doesn’t get the best out of you, what other conditions bring out the worst in you?
I’m trying to think here… I don’t thrive in an environment where there is total conflict and I’ve been in those environments, and I know Harmony is really low on here but actually when the empathy goes in an environment, that’s the point for me where I am just not switched on anymore. I don’t work well in an environment where I’m not challenged, so when people don’t believe that I can do something. It’s really quite interesting isn’t it, there are people in the past who have told me, and I’m sure just about everyone else has had this as well, that you can’t do this or you won’t be capable of this or you won’t make this and I find that really stifling, being put in a box which is actually untrue and I’ve proved that it’s untrue. So I don’t like being in environments where people are pigeon-holed or almost, I call it sitting on people’s heads, I don’t like that kind of environment at all and that’s where you would get the worst out of me and I guess there have been certain roles I’ve had in the past when I’ve been younger where I have shut down to a degree and work has become a chore then and work should not be a chore, work is something that should give you satisfaction in some way.
Absolutely. So can we talk about that, why the work satisfaction – I want to talk about the kind of impact you want to make and you’ve already talked about your passion for healthcare and changing the landscape. What gets you out of bed in the morning and what dint do you want to make on this world? What impact do you want to make?
I want to make as much impact as I can for good. It’s not about me, it’s about I might have the ability to make things change in healthcare in Salford, in the system in Greater Manchester, on a greater scale which is for the good. I get out of bed in the morning thinking I have an opportunity today, what am I going to do with it? I’m normally driving in the car thinking OK, what am I going to make happen, what are my opportunities today to change things, what are my opportunities today to make people or processes or healthcare better? And actually, I am quite driven by that and I think that’s my values. I think my values are very much in line with the NHS and I do feel very privileged to work for the NHS because they are the best bunch of people that I’ve ever worked with, categorically the best, so they get me out of bed. I spoke with Brendan yesterday who is one of my former CCIO’s at Bolton who runs up and gives me a big hug and says Hello and tells me how difficult everything is in A&E over there at the moment and we have a conversation about that. And it is people like Brendan who get me out of bed, you know supporting him and over at Salford, Gareth and the guys there on the clinical side, I get out of bed to support the clinicians.
For the benefit of those people who don’t know, explain what a CCIO is?
This is a little bit of a story, so CCIO is Chief Clinical Information Officer and it’s something I’ve been championing nationally with a lot of other people and at Bolton we went from none to 4 substantive, so they’re working part-time. Brendan was one of those guys, Philippa, David and Simon and associates like Dr Malik in Radiology and I got the funding, despite the really harsh financial climate over there, to put them in post and I got a huge amount of satisfaction from that. So these are guys who are clinicians, they’re doctors, they’re nurses, they’re therapists, radiologists. They have been trained to be informatics professionals as well as clinicians so they can lead from the front and that was an amazing satisfaction. But they grounded me and why I was coming to work, because you’re coming to work because I’m in A&E today and this is happening or I’m in Radiology today or the community today has got this issue and so that’s been great. So now at Salford I’ve got Gareth and his team who are doing the same role there and again that interaction with clinicians and that bringing informatics closer to the clinical and putting the intelligent client in there with the clinical is something I’m really passionate about. I think that’s the right model and I’m excited to see it taking off in other places. I’m excited to get phone calls that say How did you get that funding? I got that call from someone this week and I’m thinking right, I’m really going to help this guy to try and get his organisation so yes, again, changing the way we do healthcare informatics, that’s a more ethereal leadership piece isn’t it. The system needs leading and I’ve got my role to play in that and again, a wonderful set of people that I’m working with on that.
I love seeing what you’re doing because there could be a disconnect between IT and the end user but instead you’ve got clinicians who are also now becoming informatics professionals so it’s that deep integration and it’s a very exciting connection.
And also opening up the space to say, challenge us, make sure we do the right thing. So bringing them in and saying Come on, let’s have some really interesting debates here. What do we need to do better, what do we need to do differently, what can we do together and actually giving them the mandate to be on the same level so they can challenge and that’s really helpful tension, not tension, a really helpful relationship where nothing goes unsaid. Anything can be said and the clinicians can say anything that they see and that takes you on a way forward. I think we’ve got some wonderful things happening here in Greater Manchester and I work with another wonderful bunch of CIO’s as well so I said this the other day, I’ve never been in a position where I’ve worked with a group of CIO’s potentially to change Greater Manchester in the way that we deliver things. I’ve never worked with a group that’s so collaborative actually which is wonderful. We can all sit down and talk about the future without any parochial bounds which is kind of good.
That’s fantastic, that real spirit of collaboration and also as you mentioned just a minute ago, saying what needs to be said.
And being open and feeling safe about it and that’s really nice so I guess in that space Steve Dobson and Philippa Winter who are the CCIO’s in the sector are very open people and again that’s part of my support network.
You mentioned a minute ago about what’s going on in the car and what’s going on in your head, I want to explore that a little bit more and talk about your mindset. What’s it like to be in Rachel’s head?
OK so I have about an hour or bit more commute to work and I hear people going, Oh I hate commuting and I think Thank God for the commute because it’s where I do clear my head, usually with some loud music on, but what’s it like to be in my head, I think that depends. A lot of things come from my gut as well as my head actually so I kind of get a gut feeling and then have to examine in my head why I have that gut feeling and try and retro work it. That’s kind of about being me, I have a very strong gut feeling and I think, why am I feeling that way and what’s that telling me and where has it come from and just kind of retro working that because you can’t just go on a gut feeling, you’ve got to know why you’ve thought it. So being me is a bit busy sometimes, my husband, I probably drive him mad as he likes to relax and he tries to force me to try and relax sometimes where I need to sit down and be quiet for a bit, and Will you please come and sit in the living room for a bit because I’ve always got something on the go. And that commute is very good for me because that allows me to kind of pre-process things for work and almost de-process for work so it kind of gives me a wind down of what I need to do and sometimes I’ll sit in the driveway and write myself an email with a list of things that come out of that thought process, but actually time is valuable isn’t it, and that time commuting is valuable but sometimes it’s interesting to try and get that balance because it can be hard to unwind.
So the journey helps you and loud music. Any specific type of loud music?
Ohh so I’ve listened to your podcast with Gemma Reucroft and it is not One Direction, haha, oh sorry Gemma it’s just not my thing! All I know is that’s the story of my life with one direction. I’ve just got a really bizarre taste in music so German cowboy rockabilly right? It’s quite niche!
I can’t name many German cowboy rockabilly tracks myself but…
No so there you go, but I love that. I love Richard Hawley because he’s got the ultimate guitar collection and he just writes really soppy songs which is fantastic and he’s a wonderful musician. And there are a few others – I’ve just been to see the Wonderstuff with a mutual friend, Alison Singleton, because her son was supporting that but loud music and sometimes quiet if it’s all got a bit too much, but music’s good and I used to teach music when I was at University so there is something else there about it feeling quite homely – music is something that really appeals to me. So yeah, that and skiing. Skiing is probably my other total escape, so love that, to be present in the moment where nothing else can go on in your head while you’re skiing so it’s great, totally fantastic!
So let’s explore how you get things done because I think you’re really interesting so let me give you some feedback. You have got a huge role, senior person, lots of different things going on, you seem to achieve a vast amount and at the same time, you make time for what’s important and when we arrange to meet to discuss, you’re never late, you never re-schedule, you always stick to your commitments as well, so how do you do all that, how do you get everything done? What’s your approach?
So you’ve got to remember that I sort of lead from the front on stuff. So at a certain point I have to hand off to others who fulfil that and I have to activate them. So making sure I do that at the right point and in the right way and then keep the minimum but right interaction with things to keep an eye on them is kind of how I work. So yes I start things happening and get the right people lined up to fulfil it. I’ve got this real set of values about not being late. I’ve got a real set of values about a personal contract I’ve made with somebody. I was dropping some emails last night to the Chief Exec of Allscripts who is in the US and I said, When I give you my word, I mean it and that’s absolutely how I work. I’m afraid when some people give me their word and don’t honour it, I sometimes have a problem with it and probably need to work on that but when I say I’m going to do something I mean it, otherwise you’d never get anything done in life. So I guess I thrive on a sense of momentum and achievement and making things happen and that’s the satisfaction I like. I don’t get satisfaction working in a bureaucratic government body but being able to deliver somewhere like Salford where the pace is wonderfully fast that’s great, and being able to deliver wider is great. I need a sense of go for it, where actually in the last 3 months we’ve done this, this, this and this which has improved healthcare for the citizen and globally or whatever else. It’s just when I die, I want to have done something useful. I want to have made a difference to the bottom line I think – I guess that’s just where I’m coming from.
You make it sound incredibly simple! So you’re really focussed on the impact you want to make, you are really focussed on making the best of you in terms of your strengths and talents and also having a team around you that complements that, and you’ve talked about flow a couple of times and just making sure you get into that state and do stuff.
Well I like being in flow and I like others around me to be in flow as well because if there is something that’s not working for them in their environment or how they work or what they’re doing, how can we change that?
I want to change tack a little bit and we’ve talked about how hard you work and all you do, I want to talk about resilience and wellbeing. How do you look after yourself and make sure this is sustainable?
So I’ve got be really careful, I’m diabetic and I’ve got other health issues so at a real baseline, I have to get enough sleep, which isn’t always easy with kids, but I’ve got to sleep, I’ve got to eat well. I’ve got to take my vitamins to make sure I get what I need and to make sure I eat at the right times otherwise that’s not good. So there’s that baseline there. I think there’s been certain times in my life where there have been bereavements and things like that where I’ve had to back off from my career a little bit and take a bit of time to reflect things through and there’s been certain times where I haven’t been able to fire on all cylinders and I’ve had to acknowledge that, and I think just taking the time to think things through like loss and difficult times is really important and then come back feeling refreshed and that you have got the right perspective on your experience. Life is always portrayed in quite a glossy way, you know, Here’s this leader who is doing wonderful things and I’ve just seen a great poster this morning from one of our service providers from a lass who works in the NorthWest who is now a global leader for a big service integrator, and it looks wonderfully glossy and she looks fantastic and that’s great but there’s a back story to it. She, like all of us, has had difficult times and she’s survived through those and found ways of coping but we’ve all got to realise that we need to share our stories of the bad times as well as the good so we all realise that it’s ok, we can get through this. I kind of find that bit quite interesting, that life isn’t a bed of roses and we all need to support each other through the difficult bits. So we talked about flow a minute ago and there are going to be times when people are knocked out of flow by difficult things that are happening for them on a personal level or whatever else and it’s how we support them as part of the team. I think that’s really important about how you make the space for them.
That’s really solid advice and I agree entirely and you know that’s why I do the podcast because I don’t think we learn so much from sanitised versions of success, where people stand up and say ‘This is what works for me and it’s all brilliant’. Rather, we learn from those authentic stories and that understanding of how people are making the best of them and putting up with some of the garbage that gets chucked at us from time to time and the difficult times.
And I tend to do that with humour, so a sense of humour about some of these things and a sense of absurdity is great because sometimes life isn’t that easy and there’s no straight paths, this takes big wiggles right the way through. And as I said earlier, people that tell you, you can’t, or you’re not going to or you’re not the right person or whatever else and there are certain places where you might work- I mean I’m very lucky at Salford, it’s an amazing environment. There are places I’ve worked in the past that haven’t been enabling of me or supportive of me as an individual and I guess we come back to the fact that this is a journey and with the empathy I like to share my stories with people but then I like people to share their stories with me and I’m very respectful of those and I think narrative’s great. I love stories, and some of the sharing I’ve done in the past has been very valuable to me, sharing the very difficult times, and equally having people around me who have shared their stories, and it makes me feel like I’m not alone.
What sort of support network have you got around you then?
Oh gosh, all kinds of really good people actually. Going right the way through the years, I’ve got people that I’ve worked with from very early in my career right the way through to now and one lady I would definitely name check is Julie Brotherton and we have a call every Tuesday morning her and I. It’s a half hour call and catch up and she does a lot of leadership development work and she’s been great, we kind of facilitate each other’s thinking, and people like that are just fantastic because they allow me the space to explore what I need to explore and it’s kind of a mutually reciprocal arrangement. And again the clinicians I’ve worked with have been incredibly supportive in what I’ve wanted to do. There’s a wonderful pragmatism with some clinicians that’s been really supportive of my way of working so the guys who are still at Bolton, I meet for coffee on a regular basis and they are part of my wider support network as well. Again I feel really privileged to have a community of people and it’s interesting isn’t it that over the years that’s grown. I felt a little bit alone in my early days, I didn’t feel there were very many like-minded people around and now I’ve just got a whole bunch of people and if I ever felt anything, I could just pick up the phone and say, I’m feeling this today or this is happening or have you got a perspective on this, and there’s always somebody I could raise the phone to whose opinion I would value I think.
You’ve found your tribe.
I’ve got a tribe, yeah yeah – it’s Seth Godin’s Tribes, I love Seth Godin’s books, Poking the Box is one of his. I like Poking the Box and I like Tribes and tribes is just that informal space where you are not judged, where you are listened to, where you are heard and you do the same for others and my tribe is far and wide globally and my tribe doesn’t just include people in IT or in Healthcare by any stretch of the imagination, but there is a tribe there.
But even though you’ve said that they are there for support, you also said a minute ago that they provide a different perspective as well and that can be really powerful and I value exactly the same as well which is why I have strategic lattes with people and again, it’s a really diverse support network which is just incredibly powerful.
And drawing on that knowledge and drawing on those people you can make extraordinary things happen together.
So final couple of questions. What do you wish you knew when you were younger or what would you say to your younger self based on what you know now?
Ooh, I was really shy and I didn’t know how life was going to pan out and I’d say It’s going to be fine and you can enjoy it and it will be alright. Being the other side of 40 now, it’s like Phew, actually it is ok, and things are alright. I think it was difficult being diagnosed as diabetic as a teenager, you know that really threw me because I didn’t particularly look after myself for a little bit and there were a lot of implications to some of the damage that may have done, which didn’t get any worse because I looked after myself, but I would tell myself, It’s going to be fine, you’ll be fine health-wise, you’ll find a way of getting through that. Interesting thing is that the skiing comes back to the fact that I was part of a team that broke a world record so I would tell myself, You can achieve – right?
So what world record did you break?
It was the formation skiing world record and I will send you a link to the YouTube video so you can post that as well because it was great fun, it was amazing! It was in the Chill Factor and actually we can see it here through the window!
So that’s a great link back to that but I would tell myself; You can achieve on multiple fronts, you can be a Mum and you can be good at being a Mum and you can succeed at work and you can be happy because I didn’t know and there were a lot of those curve balls thrown at me when I was younger. I was really shy, painfully shy, but it can be ok, and you’ll enjoy it and it will be cool and actually there are many different ways of getting over being shy and you’ll find your voice. It’s interesting isn’t it, I was reading Caitlin Moran’s work about her advice to teenagers and I think that’s really important, especially teenage girls. If I as a teenager had known what I know now, it would have made my life a lot easier knowing that you were always going to be ok.
Let’s think about people just starting in their career. Perhaps people starting off in Informatics at the NHS or elsewhere, maybe want to be future CIO’s or CCIO’s, what would you say to them?
I would say start finding your tribe of supportive people, that’s really important and they’re not necessarily going to be coming from your organisation. They could be coming from a much wider community so you need to start finding those people that you can surround yourself with and will give you that network that you need and the interesting thing is, I’ve noticed this with some of the younger people, they just tend to look inwards to their own organisation and sometimes that can be the worst thing you can do because when things get rocky in an organisation, that can completely wobble you. Widen your horizons, look at what’s out there in terms of groups that aren’t part of your industry necessarily or aren’t part of your natural networking. Go find different groups of people who are out there that you can join that will actually give you some context. I went off and did TEDx conferences and things like, that’s another piece of my tribe. That’s nothing to do with NHS, that’s completely left of field but that gave me wonderful context and for younger people going out there and finding, be it Manchester Girl Geeks if you are in Manchester in IT who are doing great things in IT and can support one another, be it TEDx conferences, be it other groups that are doing things, you can build up a network that will give you almost a triangulation of what is happening and when you come to move on or change and move on and up, those people can really support you.
So on that final bit of really solid advice, can I just say thank you for being open and honest and sharing your real stories.