Reflections from the Safe Space #1

Last night I had my first ‘safe space’ conversation with a small group of managers and leaders to reflect on their responses to the current crisis, to share lessons learned and to think about the possibility of change. In a series of short posts I’d like to share a few of the insights we explored in the hope that you might find them helpful.

If you would like to join us in a future ‘safe space’ you can book your place here.

Insight 1: Learn from your heroes

Heroes are out in force.

It seems nearly everyone is making heroic efforts and enormous sacrifices, to ‘support patients’, ‘support the frontline’ and ‘keep the business going’. But heroism is a difficult thing to sustain. We can’t keep on sacrificing, without a burden of debt building up to what has been sacrificed.

Inside every hero is a human being, fragile, beautiful, sensitive, exhausted.

So when you notice individuals and teams being ‘heroes’, before you jump on twitter to offer them your thanks, take a good look at what they are actually doing, the behaviours that earn the label ‘heroic’ and ask:

  • Why do they have to do these super-human things?
  • What are the demands on them?
    • Working long hours?
    • Exposing themselves to risks because of a lack of PPE?
    • Quickly re-wiring the operation in the fly?
    • Deploying and learning new tech for working remotely
    • Making enormous efforts to get to work
    • Sacrificing time with their own loved ones to keep things going

Once you are clear on what the demands are that create these heroes, do everything you can mitigate them. Just like the rest of us, heroes tend to break sooner or later. And this is a marathon – not a sprint.

Reflect on what it is about your planning that creates the space that can only be filled by heroism. It will almost certainly point to a weakness and some important learning. Unless of course you always planned on sustained heroism and sacrifice to see you through. In which case you might want to check your ethics.

Also reflect on whether you have taken lean and efficiency too far. We used to run our hospitals at something like 85% occupancy, and valued the notion of ‘redundant staff’ (staff who were on shift but not directly on the front line – who could be drawn upon if there was a surge in demand or some other shock to the system. These days occupancy is up at 98% and often higher. The conversation is about enough staffing to be safe with business as usual rather than enough staff to cope with a surge. Organisations that run on skeleton staffing struggle to run marathons.

So recognise your heroes. Study them. Learn from them.

And improve your planning and resourcing so that we can move towards ‘no more heroes’ – just human beings sustaining the kind of compassionate and creative work that humans do best – especially when the next crisis hits.


If you would like to join one of these safe spaces for reflection and learning please do get in touch. I run them regularly online using virtual conferencing and they offer you the chance to step back, draw breathe and learn.

What does it cost?

I am committed to a Pay If You Can – Free is Fine model hoping that we can find a way to support those that can’t pay as well as those that can. So don’t let money stop you getting the reflective space you need. Just sign up now and I will be in touch.

We have a couple of slots set aside each week for the foreseaable future.

You can book your place here.

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