I am writing this editorial on Saturday 26 January 2002 and this afternoon I went to the Mulberry Bush School’s AGM. As well as the formal business of the AGM they had a guest speaker, Bruce Irvine, a Consultant Psychologist who works for Young Minds and is Chair of the Committee that manages the Tavistock Mulberry Bush Day Unit. The title of his talk was, “Sustaining Aliveness – Encounters Between Children And Adults In Therapeutic Environments”. I didn’t take notes but a few things have stayed with me.
I can’t remember what he said that prompted me to have this thought. Is it possible that business plans are the organisational equivalent of the trick, learnt in the army, of marching about with a clip board in order to look busy, so that you don’t get asked to do anything else? I realise this is a rather irreverent thought, given that as we are in the middle of doing ISP’s business plan.
Bruce Irvine described working with some schools in East London where the corridors of the schools were war zones and the classrooms were desperately trying to be havens for learning. Each school was engaged in a tremendous struggle between the war zone and haven.
He mentioned a project in Dorset called Connections where adolescents received a mixture of skills training and counselling. Some of the young people had just skills training and some had just counselling. They found that the outcomes were the same between twice a week scuba diving and twice a week counselling. The best outcomes were a mixture of both.
He referred to the power of projection in therapeutic environments. Adults find it far easier to think about what the children, who they work with, put into them. It is much more difficult for adults to realise what it is they put into the children. He mentioned the staff group who said in response to this, “No you’ve got it wrong Bruce. We don’t do this we’re all qualified!”.
Afterwards I spoke to Bruce Irvine and said how much I had enjoyed his talk. He said, “You probably don’t remember me. I visited the Cotswold Community 20 years ago looking for a job having just arrived from South Africa.” He said that I had dissuaded him from going to work at the Cotswold Community and advised him to take more time before deciding on a career direction. He thanked me for that good advice. I am not so sure. After listening to his talk, I felt like a football manager who had turned down a young David Beckham for being too small.
Our own Internal Conference, “Connecting, Reflecting and Belonging” was very successful, as a first of its kind for ISP.
I was asked to give a brief talk to introduce the Conference. Afterwards a few people suggested that I put it in the Newsletter, so here it is:
“Why do I think that a day like this is important for ISP? When a child comes into a family it’s obvious that how that family functions will have an important effect on that child. When a child comes into a school, it is obvious that how the education staff work together will make a difference to that child’s ability to learn in school. It is less obvious, but I think just as important, that how ISP is working as an organisation, will have an effect on our children.
Today provides an opportunity to reflect on that. Today may lead to a greater level of mutual understanding between different parts of ISP. Today may also lead to some suggestions about how we may improve the way we work.
We had to go through something like a messy divorce 14 months ago when we parted company with Brigidin Gorman. We did it ultimately for the sake of the children because the state of conflict at the top of the organisation was bad for everyone.
We lost something in that divorce as well as gained. Not everything in the past was bad and not everything in the present is good. I hope today can also offer an opportunity to re-evaluate our history. For children, a divorce is less harmful if both parents can retain some respect for each other and convey that to the kids.
Initially there was a strong feel-good factor about a new era, a new beginning. We are now through that initial honeymoon phase, having to face a new set of problems, which can’t be blamed on the past. In fact, I have encountered a bit of a tendency to say nothing has changed, it is the same old ISP.
I can’t promise that life within ISP will be problem free, or that communication will be perfect or that no one will make mistakes or get things wrong. I can promise that we will try and solve problems in a different way. I am trying to create a greater sense of safety, so that it is possible to acknowledge that a mistake has been made, to apologise if appropriate, but most important of all to learn from the mistake. We live in an era where this can seem a dangerous thing to do, but if ISP is going to grow and develop we have got to be open about our shortcomings and learn from them. This will be a tremendous role model for the children in ISP, because that is exactly what they need to be able to do, rather than remain stuck in a repetitive cycle.
Our biggest asset are the people in ISP – us – you. Several visitors have said to me recently that there are some very impressive people in ISP. ISP has always had good people, but has not always used their potential. If we can harness this potential, ISP will fly, if we don’t it will bump along.
What excites me about this last year is the wealth of new ideas coming from you, the people doing the work.
I see my job primarily trying to create the sort of environment, climate, culture which supports and encourages a growing sense of confidence and self belief in the people who do the face to face work with the children. Donald Winnicott said that, “In a sense, all communities are therapeutic in so far as they work”. I think we have to strive for an ISP that works and this will have a therapeutic effect on the children. The opposite is also true.
This day is the first of its kind for ISP. We don’t know how it is going to work. I hope that we all feel it is worth while and this will depend on whether we make it so.”
I was saddened to hear the news that Eric Miller died on the 5 April 2002. Why is this worth mentioning? If for no other reason he had a great influence on my own professional development from 1980 – 1999 while organisational consultant to the Cotswold Community. Indirectly, therefore, he is having an influence on the development of ISP. In his obituary in the Guardian, written by Anton Obholzer, he is described as a social scientist who explored the unconscious relationships between people and organisations.
“Together, Eric Miller and Ken Rice developed the Tavistock’s group relations training programme on the unconscious processes within groups and organisations. After Rice died in 1969, Miller led the programme until 1996, directing or taking a major role in scores of conferences in Britain and abroad, and inspiring thousands of participants.”
In the Daily Telegraph’s obituary this was said of him.
“Over the years Miller’s role as a consultant took him into a variety of settings: the steel industry; the water sector in Mexico; and a geriatric hospital, among many other places. Whether the client group was a community group in the East End of London, or the Mexican Federal Electricity Commission, he was always quick to grasp the essential features of the relationship between technology and the people using it.”
On a lighter note I was recently reminded of the penetrating insight of young children. I was clambering over a mountain of garden chairs, mowers etc, to get a trike for my grand-daughter Aisha, when she said, “Bamp do you like grand-children?” I thought dammit what do you have to do around here to show commitment but responded, “Of course I do Aisha”. She followed up with a Jeremy Paxman type of supplementary question. “Yes but do you like grand-children as much as chocolate?” This really got to the heart of the matter. I feebly said, “Chocolate-coated children would be ideal”. She seemed satisfied and trundled off on her trike.
Earlier this month I attended a conference organised by the Jacques Hall Foundation. An ex-colleague of mine, Tim Rodwell, is the current Principal of Jacques Hall Therapeutic Community. There was a very interesting paper given by Dr Terry Bruce, “From Reaction To Reflection – Corrective Emotional Experience In A Therapeutic Community”. Dr Bruce had been, for 20 years, Consultant in Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at St Bartholomew’s Hospital and he is also a Psychoanalyst. I made the following notes during his lecture. They may be of interest to you.
Dr Bruce said that research demonstrates that severe conduct disorder as a child, if untreated, will almost always lead to a personality disorder as an adult.
Normally a baby, with attuned parents (tuned into his/her needs) will become attached to the parents and in time develop reflective functions. This is the ability to understand mental processes, that is, to link behaviour to thought and feeling.
A disturbed child hasn’t developed this capacity for reflection. However, as a care-giver becomes attuned to him/her we can expect to see a move from a reaction mode to a reflective mode.
An emotionally disturbed child will typically have acquired an omnipotent defence – I can’t rely on you therefore I will be in control. I will manipulate you and I’ll worry you. If I can’t get into your mind, I’ll make sure I’m on your mind. Sadly this defence also cuts the child off from sources of help.
As a child develops there is normally a link between thought, emotion and action. A severely deprived and abused child will not be able to make sense of what has happened to him/her (to make links). So unlinking is a feature of their chaos.
Dr Bruce then went on to describe a corrective emotional experience for such children. There are two main elements: a basic structure; and a symbolic attitude, which is trying to understand what the behaviour means and how this affects one. For a disturbed child the basic structure is needed to cope with his/her omnipotence. The symbolic attitude is similar to attuned parenting.
Dr Bruce said that there are several elements in the basic structure: –
Primary structure: feeding, sleeping and washing. Narrative structure: knowing our own story – our parents tend to tell us about our earliest years. This story is an important aspect of our identity. Moral structure: the need to develop a sense of morality, ie, values to live by. Education structure: to develop skills and knowledge although initially this will be fought against because learning can seem scary.
It is very hard for the adult care-givers to have and develop a symbolic attitude, whilst working with emotionally disturbed children. Supervision, support and training are vital elements to develop this reflective function in carers. Without it the behaviour of the child is likely to provoke reaction and vindictiveness.
As I write this editorial I am beginning to think about my forthcoming holiday this Whitsun – walking in Italy. It was rather timely to read an article by Alain de Botton, “The Problem With Paradise”. I was really excited to read it because for a long time I have laboured under the illusion that everyone has brilliant holidays apart from me.
“The prospect of a holiday is likely to persuade even the most downcast among us that life is worth living. Aside from love, few pleasures are anticipated more eagerly or form the subject of more complex and enriching reveries. Holidays offer us perhaps our finest chance to achieve happiness, being outside the constraints of work our struggle for survival and status. The way we choose to spend them embodies, if only unwittingly, an understanding of what life might really be about. During the long working weeks we can be sustained by our dreams of going somewhere else far from home; a place with better weather, or interesting customs and inspiring landscapes – and where it seems we stand a chance of being happy.
But of course the reality of travel seldom matches the day dreams. The tragi – comic disappointments are well known: the sense of disorientation, the mid- afternoon despair, the arguments, the lethargy before ancient ruins. And yet the reasons behind such disappointments are rarely explored.
One of the reasons that our travels go awry is that we are prone to forget one crucial thing: that we will have to take ourselves along on the journey. We won’t just be in India, Australia, Peru in a direct unmediated way, we will be there with ourselves still imprisoned in our own bodies and minds – with all the problems that entails. I had imagined an agendaless, neutral observer: pure consciousness. But worries, regrets, memories and anticipations were to prove constant companions.
Another great problem of holidays is that they rob us of one of the important comforts of daily life: the expectation that things won’t be perfect. In our daily routine we are not supposed to be happy. But holidays give us no such grace. They are the one time when we feel we have failed if we cannot be happy. We are therefore prone, not only to be miserable on our travels, but also miserable about the fact that we are miserable.
D H Lawrence once said that if two people are in love they will be able to have a nice time in a bare cell. The opposite is certainly true. If two people are unhappy together then no amount of luxury will ever solve the problem.
The 19th Century German philosopher, Arthur Schopenhauer’s great insight was that we stand a much higher chance of being content if we accept that we are unlikely ever to be completely happy. He did not mean to depress us, rather to free us from the expectations (on holiday or otherwise) that inspire bitterness. It is consoling when holidays have let us down to hear that happiness was never a guarantee. “There is only one inborn error,” wrote Shopenhauer, “and that is the notion that we exist in order to be happy. So long as we persist in this inborn error, the world seems to us full of contradiction. For at every step, in great things and small, we are bound to experience that the world and life are certainly not arranged for the purpose of maintaining a happy existence, hence the countenances of almost all travellers and elderly persons wear the expression of what is called disappointment.” They would never have grown so disappointed if only they had set out on holiday with the correct expectations.”
For the first time in my working life I indulged in a spot of corporate hospitality and accepted an invitation to attend a cricket match, Kent vs India. I haven’t attended a first class cricket match for donkeys years and going along to Kent’s ground at Canterbury brought back all sorts of memories. My dad was a keen cricketer and he opened the bowling for Spalding town’s cricket team for several years. I remember my summers being largely spent travelling to different cricket grounds, as a family, to watch my dad play. If I was lucky I was allowed to join the players when they had tea and for a few moments felt I was part of the inner sanctum reflecting on the afternoon’s performance. It was particularly good if my dad had bowled well and taken some wickets. “Well done Harry, that was a corker, an unplayable delivery!” I could bask in reflected glory. During the interval we were allowed to go on the pitch, not the wicket though, and practice with bat and ball as if ours was the real game. I saw the same thing happening at the Kent ground and not just with young boys. When I got a little older I learnt the skills and intricacies of being the official scorer. What authority to signal back to the umpire that you have seen his gesture indicating that a boundary had been scored.
My first experience of attending a first class cricket match was when I lived in Colchester, during my secondary school years, and Essex County had a cricket week there. I think as a schoolboy it cost me next to nothing to attend. I don’t remember the cricket as being all that memorable and I can’t think of the name of one cricketer playing at the time. However that’s in complete contrast to the one and only time I’ve been to Lords and that was with a group of other schoolboys. The West Indies were playing and their opening fast bowlers were Wesley Hall and Charlie Griffiths, a terrifying combination that destroyed batsmen, especially English ones. Their runups were virtually back to the boundary so their overs seemed to take an age and when they did bowl they bowled so quickly I couldn’t see the ball. I’d forgotten, when you watch cricket at ground level, just how fast the ball is bowled. Years of watching cricket on TV, where the camera looks down on the pitch, dulls the full impression of fast bowling. I guess the same must be true of tennis.
I’m giving you all this background to help you make sense of why I felt disappointed with my experience of corporate hospitality. I went along, genuinely looking forward to watching some cricket, having hastily stuffed some binoculars into my bag, only to find myself in the company of people (entirely men of a certain age), who knew next to nothing about cricket and weren’t really interested in the proceedings on the pitch at all. There were several animated conversations about mergers and acquisitions but nothing about the chance to see probably the world’s greatest batsman, Tendulkar. In fact nobody had heard of him! Who said, “There’s no such thing as a free lunch.”? This is certainly true of corporate hospitality. Have you had those moments, when someone asks you what you do, when you want to say, “stack shelves in Tescos”, so the conversation comes to an abrupt end? That was what it was like for me desperately trying to watch the cricket and hold conversations at the same time.
An article in the Times on 4 July, “How Muck Works Magic”, caught my eye. It was about how children’s lives can improve after even a brief stay on a farm. This took me back to the meetings, (which makes them sound civilised) in Teynham, when we were trying to explain to the local people and planners the value of using a farm for educational and developmental purposes. We were asked to provide the evidence that this works. Most of us instinctively knew it without being able to prove it. This article would have helped at the time. Here are some extracts:-
“…..parents and children [were] enthusiastically united in praising the profound educational value and ‘life-changing’ effects on children of time spent in the farmyard shoveling manure, hand-milking cows and mucking out pigsties. More interestingly still is the fact that these are not middle-class families in green-welly mode, but children from schools with urban catchments that rank high on any deprivation index you can think of. Farms for City Children (FFCC) is an educational charity set up in 1976. ….Activities include plenty of physically tiring, muddy work, sometimes helping with lambing and calving, feeding and grooming, cider-making and cheese-pressing, depending on the farm and the season. There are neat links with national curriculum subjects, but the thinking behind FFCC goes deeper. The charity’s founding president was the poet Ted Hughes. ….These [farm] experiences, Hughes felt, feed the imagination and sense of self. There is a certain quirky, literary, Seventies idealism at work here – the kind of thing that education legislators have tried hard to smoke out of British classrooms. But teachers and parents are not concerned about the ideology. What is so noticeable, and so wonderful, they insist – using any number of individual stories as illustration – is the effect of the farm week on their children. Often, they say, it is the children who never speak in class, the ones you would least expect to shine, who come into their own on the farm. Behavioural patterns such as poor concentration and even insomnia can also show a dramatic improvement over the long-term.
…..In the wider social context of fragmented communities and problematic attitudes to education FFCC is a small player. But there are big lessons to be learnt. The Hughesian belief in the transformative power of intense experiences of environment – looking at the night sky rather than the TV, walking across a field (where you saw a calf born this morning) instead of a shopping centre – clearly has a pragmatic, as well as poetic, validity. (www.farmsforcitychildren.co.uk)
It was marvelous to see our farm used to host a day for the children who foster. It must have been attended by 60 plus children. Everyone seemed to be having a great time and it was well organised. Thanks to everyone who helped to make it work. I was fascinated by an inflated wall which children were stuck on in their velcro suits. I thought it would be a good management training exercise to be stuck on, upside down, for several minutes. Help see the world from a new perspective!
….further tales from the South China Sea. I know that I’m going to seem like a “miserable old git” because even though I tried to lower my expectations in advance of this trip, it still didn’t work. Basically I found the heat and humidity unbearable and spent as much time as possible in air-conditioned rooms, which is not my idea of a holiday. One day I went with the family to Sentosa Island, which is part of Singapore, and has been developed as a theme park. The British army built a fort here to defend Singapore and this has all been restored to enable visitors to imagine what it was like to be posted here as a soldier. From my point of view they did it too well. We were walking round in baking hot conditions with very high humidity and as we saw soldiers “lolling” on their bunks, suffering from heat exhaustion, malaria, violently upset stomachs, I was in a perfect state of empathy with them. I just knew that if I had been sent to this part of the British Empire I wouldn’t have lasted five minutes. I must have looked as dreadful as I felt because my family took pity on me and suggested I bowed out of this trip and found some air-conditioning. I didn’t need to be told twice.
The highlight of the holiday was a long weekend in Bangkok. It couldn’t be more different to Singapore. It’s chaotic, polluted but extremely interesting. The traffic was horrendous and frequently grid-locked. Some of the drivers were maniacs and some taxi drivers made a sport out of seeing how quickly they could scare tourists. Even my son-in-law, who generally enjoys flooring the accelerator pedal, told a taxi driver to slow down because we wanted to see our beds that night! We spent a day looking at magnificent royal palaces and temples and a day in an enormous market which we only saw a fraction of because it was so big. My sister turned out to be an excellent haggler. She had the ability to look completely disinterested, even though she wanted something, and always seemed to get a better price than the rest of us.
As a result of spending many hours in airport lounges, I found myself reading things I wouldn’t normally bother with. For example in The Strait Times I read an article by Robert Bruner, Professor of Business Administration at the University of Virginia, which I found thought provoking in relation to ISP. The title was, “Kick the habit of momentum thinking on growth”. Here are a few extracts.
“……It is easy to appreciate the popular appeal of growth built upon momentum. Momentum thinking drives strategies that seek to maintain hot streaks, such as investments that focus on buying past winners and selling past losers.
Unfortunately, forseeing changes in hot streaks is impossible. The streak produces reactive behaviour and ignores the fact that he who lives on rising momentum dies on its descent……The growth that matters most is in economic value, not in earnings, assets or revenue.
The momentum manager seeks growth for its own sake. The value manager knows that not all growth is good – some may be too risky or unprofitable. The momentum manager seeks to sustain growth. The value manager seeks to sustain economic profitability.
The value manager embraces the quirkiness of business. Opportunities and threats are surprising, large economic profits are usually only temporary and localised in market space. The momentum manager trusts illusion; the value manager trusts reality.
What the tragedies of Enron etc. show is that theses companies refused to admit frankly to shareholders and to themselves that their very high rates of growth were unsustainable.”
You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting –
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.
I had a week in Finland at the beginning of this month, primarily to participate and speak at a three day conference (seminar in Finland) on Therapeutic Child Care in Tampere.
On the Monday I gave three one and a half hour lectures. Not being used to this I found it pretty tough going, but necessary as we had the simultaneous translation arranged for that day. The three themes of my lectures were: how do children fail to achieve emotional integration; what is necessary to enable unintegrated children to make a recovery; the management implications of providing a therapeutic environment for unintegrated children. Chris Beedell, my tutor at Bristol University in 1977, describes this very well in his oration on the occasion of an honorary degree being presented to Barbara Dockar-Drysdale.
“We recognise that the behaviour and feelings of a particular group of miserable and troubled children (and to those who live with them, very troublesome children) could be understood by reference to a specific kind of breakdown in their first year of life. These children have come to be known as “unintegrated”. They have suffered some breakdown in their baby dependence on their mothers, so their infant greeds and rages (familiar to those who have held a small baby waiting for a too-late feed) have not been contained by the reliable managing of their parents, which normally would lead to a basic trust that the world is, not perfect, but “good enough”.
There may be no obvious effects at the time, though the infant may respond by frantic over-activity, or by withdrawal and a brittle kind of resignation. Such children often become difficult even before they enter infant school, being inaccessible, sometimes violent, and always a disruption to the activities of their peers. Or they may make a dizzy series of superficial charming contacts with adults. Fundamentally they cannot distinguish between what comes from outside themselves and what from within. So, like tiny babies, they continue to live for the moment without a sense of time and its balances, at the mercy of apparent attacks and failures and unable to remember any satisfaction for long. Untreated, they make a rueful progress through a variety of increasingly desperate schools and foster homes. In adolescence, they often become severely anti-social and delinquent. In later years they are likely to end up in prison or mental hospital.”
Over the three days of the conference I kept coming back to two basic things. Firstly, it is essential to address the underlying emotional foundations of these severely emotionally deprived children. If we don’t it is like building a house without foundations. It may look alright on the surface but under stress it will crack and may collapse. Secondly, whenever such a child feels hope he/she will need to test the carers to destruction. It is our job to survive and come through this and only then will the child start to trust and believe that we are trustworthy.
Barbara Dockar-Drysdale described the difficulty of our task very simply and profoundly when she said, “These histories of severe deprivation all stem from a pre-verbal period, so that only pre-verbal communication is available: babies cannot think about their troubles, only feel them.” For me this is a key reason why therapeutic child care can be so effective, because it is a 24/7 approach.
I was really pleased to see an article about the Cotswold Community’s farm in the latest issue of the Therapeutic Communities Journal, written by Dave Cooper, the farm manager. I have mentioned Dave in a previous issue of this newsletter. He was the person who introduced Neil McCarthy to rugby and who later played for England at junior and senior levels. I would like to quite a couple of extracts from this article.
“As time went on we began to see more and more how the boys benefited from being involved in a farm environment. It is so easy to give them a sense of achievement, a feel-good factor – a nail hammered in straight, a fence staple put in, a straw bale carried across the yard without having to stop for a rest, managing to climb up a ladder, merely the farm staff saying thank you for the help, being able finally to shout at a cow and seeing it move to where you want it to go, survive a hard frosty morning. Simple things that we take for granted but for the boys, door-opening factors.
Educationally the boys were picking up so much as we talked and as we worked; the passage of the seasons, plant growth, animal growth. Let’s put in some science, or animal health and diseases. Oh yes and sex! Reproduction and artificial insemination, just where these boys are so streetwise and screed up. Teachers started coming down with the boys – maths (what weight of mild powder to you use how many litres per day, what is the cost how big is a hectare, areas of fields; if sheep need 1.5 square metres of space each, how many sheep can we put in this pen?). Rural science (weights of new-born lams and a 6 weeks’ growth curve) and more. Learning without pain for boys where education previously was only pain, and seeing how the learning is applied in adult life, ie, the whole point of learning.”
The Cotswold Community is the only therapeutic community that has a working farm and Dave vividly describes what an asset it has been to generations of children. I hope that our farm at Teynham can develop in this way. It has so much potential which we are still only partially tapping into. (Dave Cooper’s paper is to be found in the Archive section of this website in “Material arising from the work of the Cotswold Community”.)
As you know, Jayne and I are working towards putting together some training in therapeutic childcare, which we plan to make available within ISP next year. In the course of doing this I have come across a book by Kate Cairns, “Attachment, Trauma and Resilience” (published by BAAF), which I can strongly recommend. Here is a brief extract to give you a taster.
“For children who suffer disorders of attachment, nothing, absolutely nothing, is easy or straightforward. Today breakfast has come and gone and he has not appeared. Yesterday, our day of rest, he arrived in our room at 5am with mugs of coffee. “I wanted to do something for you. Aren’t you pleased?”
Struggling to sit up in bed, I remember when we used to sleep naked, limb against limb, the friendliness of it. Those days ended with fostering, which could be sponsored by flannelette nighties. Struggling, too, to find a calm voice, knowing he truly means well, he has no access to the same basic understanding of others that most of us happily take for granted. “It’s a good thought, but we still need to sleep, Shane. You go back to bed, and we’ll have a drink together later.”
Slam. Crash. Coffee and mugs meet wall and carpet. A meeting which will lead to a permanent relationship if I don’t get up and do something about it. And I have to get him to help me, get him to stay connected and take responsibility for what he has done. At five o’clock in the morning. Please can I have an easier job in my next lifetime? Wrestling bears or breaking rocks come to mind.”
For me what makes this book authentic is that Kate Cairns has herself been a foster carer and the examples that illustrate the book are, like the above, true to life.
Another book I have been reading is about Ernest Shackleton, the Antarctic explorer. It’s “Shackleton’s Way” by Margot Morrell and Stephanie Capparell. This book has a particular slant as it is studying leadership and management under extreme conditions. I am told it is used a lot on management training courses.
“From 1914 to 1916, Ernest Shackleton and his men survived the wreck of their ship, Endurance, in the crushing Antarctic ice, stranded twelve hundred miles from civilisation with no means of communication and no hope for rescue. The temperatures were so low the men could hear water freeze. They subsisted on a diet of penguins, dogs and seals. And, when the ice began to break up, Shackleton set out to save them all on his heroic eight-hundred-mile trip across the frigid South Atlantic – in little more than a rowboat. Unlike most other polar expeditions, every man survived – not only in good health, but also in good spirits – all due to the leadership of Shackleton.”
As I was reading the book I reaslised how much we depend on the mobile phone. The most terrifying thing was the fact that they had no means of communication, and they were stuck on ice flows for months at a time. I won’t go out in my Morris Minor without my mobile phone, in case it breaks down, and I probably wouldn’t be more than 10 miles from home! Having complained about being too hot in Singapore this is going too far in the other direction for my liking.
The authors of the book have identified some key points under the heading:
Shackleton’s Way of Forging a United and Loyal Team
- Take the time to observe before acting, especially if you are new to the scene. All changes should be aimed at improvements. Don’t make changes just for the sake of leaving your mark.
- Always keep the door open to your staff members, and be generous with information that affects them. Well-informed employees are eager and better prepared to participate.
- Establish order and routine on the job so all workers know where they stand and what is expected of them. The discipline makes the staff feel they are in capable hands.
- Break down traditional hierarchies and cliques by training workers to do a number of jobs, from the menial to the challenging.
- Where possible, have employees work together on certain tasks. It builds trust and respect and even friendship.
- Be fair and impartial in meting out compensations, workloads and punishments. Imbalances make everyone feel uncomfortable, even the favoured.
- Lead by example. Chip in sometimes to help with the work you’re having other do. It gives you the opportunity to set a high standard and shows your respect for the job.
- Have regular gatherings to build ‘esprit de corps’. These could be informal lunches that allow workers to speak freely outside the office. Or they could be special holiday or anniversary celebrations that let employees relate to each other as people rather than only as colleagues.
I don’t imagine there is much here that we’d disagree with and one of the messages that comes through strongly is the value in periodically breaking down hierarchical barriers and getting to know each other in a different way. I think ISP’s Thursday lunches and other social gathering are really good in this respect.