The Power of Believing That You Can Improve

By Neil Taylor

“Misery always finds a mate.”

I can’t remember where I read this quote, but it seems apt to think through how we may change the way we do things this year, how we may approach our leadership role in a different way, focussing on the strengths of our staff, building on what people can do, as opposed to what they can’t do.

I found the quote so poignant in that it reminded me how easy it is for us to be taken ‘down our spiral,’ not least because of the short days, our propensity to catch lingering colds and a general weariness at the end of the year.

So how do we respond to the challenge of motivating people and, as importantly, ourselves? One way would be to believe that there is always a better way to manage our staff, deliver services, respond to carers and families and enhance the quality of care. Martin Simon, the founder of Timebanking in the UK, talks about the ‘inventory of misery’ (that word again) when he describes the deficit model we apply to service provision. That, as care professionals, we are predisposed towards the view that ageing is a problem, as opposed to recognising that everyone has a contribution to make to the health, well-being and safety of others – an ‘asset based approach’ instead.

As quoted in the Demos Commissions report into the future of Residential Care, Hans Becker, the founder of Humanitas, (an apartment based care home in the Netherlands) described his philosophy as moving from a focus on cure and care which creates ‘inlands of misery’ to a focus on happiness. For individuals, happiness focuses on ‘agency and control,’ supported by a ‘yes’ culture in which staff are not allowed to say no. For the community, ‘the collective focus is on belonging, forming groups to reflect interests, creating common links that start conversations.’ Most significantly, rather than using the language of personalisation, the emphasis is on self determination and self reliance for the residents and the staff. I believe this is a far more aspirational philosophy to pursue and requires us to think differently about the notions of autonomy, decision making and collective empowerment. The language of self determination has more often been used by liberation movements in their battle for the right to independence – how powerful would it be for us to apply it to our work with the communities we serve?

I recently watched another TED lecture by Carol Dweck on the power of believing you can improve. She enthuses about the education system in Sweden and the ‘power of yet’ in which students are marked on having achieved their targets in terms of ‘yet ‘and ‘not yet.’ On the other hand, she bemoans the ‘tyranny of now,’ the pressure of requiring constant validation as opposed to the potential rewards of praising wisely and focussing on the process students follow, the effort they invest, their resilience, persistence and perseverance and ultimately the progress they make. She describes how it transforms the meaning of effort and difficulty and reflects on the positive and proven impact of the approach on performance and achievement. I wonder what implications this has for our staff management and leadership!

“Life is not an easy matter … you cannot live through it without falling into frustration and cynicism unless you have before you, a great idea which raises you above personal misery, above weakness, above all kinds of perfidy and baseness.” (Leon Trotsky)

Neil Taylor is Director of Care & Community Services, Jewish Care, UK.

Cross-posted on the Leatid Blog