Everything is going to be alright, as long as we lead the way

July 18th 2011

Earlier this week I found myself listening to a debate about the best way to care for our elderly citizens – and was immediately struck by the similarities between good social care homes and good nurseries.

In our experience, a good nursery needs to be warm, clean and comfortable.  It needs to be run by caring, friendly, empathetic staff who like children and want to give them a great experience.  Good homes for older people need to be much the same, and the recent shameful reports about unkindness, callous and hard-hearted behaviour are not dis-similar to horrid cases of poor nursery practice that are presented by our ever helpful press.

It strikes me that we should really join adult care with childcare, so we can learn from each other rather than try to sort the issue out in two silos.  However, we have the usual attitudes to overcome – including entrenchment across government, local authority departments, large organisations and charities that have a sole focus on adult care.  What we really need is to find the right person in one of these services to lead a new way of doing things, so we can get social care businesses that deliver high quality.

Elsewhere this week, I spent a few interesting days enjoying the Georgian splendour in Edinburgh.  It was a trip tinged with sadness, as it reminded me of Vicki Whitfield, our late HR Manager who died suddenly in 2005. Vicki was brought up in Edinburgh and often told us hilarious stories about many of the places I was visiting.  When in need of a password, she often used Auchtermuchty, which I discovered is a real place; another Balamory!

During my visit, I mixed business with pleasure, and spent some time working with a Scottish group of nurseries on leadership.  It proved a lively session, exploring the challenges of leading high quality childcare and education so that business success is central to the process.  I was relieved to discover the problems we face – getting our nursery leaders to understand and then ensure the three strands (business, care and education) weave into a strong fabric – are the same north and south of the border; it seems we all struggle with the need to lead and manage quite complex processes to ensure success.  However, these processes draw on such a wide set of skills, behaviour, attitudes and knowledge that each nursery leader needs to be a truly special individual to manage this effectively.  What those at the top have to then understand is how to balance the importance of each of those strands and communicate the expectations very clearly and at every level.  Interestingly, this supports what I discovered when researching my own book on leadership, which was that the business side of leading nurseries as a feature of good leadership is much ignored; yet without it we will not have sustainable nurseries which are critical to roll out the Government’s childcare agenda.

LEYF team race for life

Finally, I joined a merry band of LEYF staff on Sunday morning to run the Race for Life in support of our friend and colleague Barbara, who is very bravely and stoically fighting cancer.  April, Lucy, Yasmin, Gill, Gill’s young daughter (and LEYF graduate) Maya and I joined 11,000 determined women wearing pink to run 5km around Hyde Park in record time.  Pinned to everyone’s T-shirt was a sign telling the world who they were running for – and I was struck by how many people have direct experience of cancer, with either friends or family members who had died or survived.  I particularly liked the statements about survivors, and the many women who were running for their children’s future.  It reminded me of two neon signs outside the Edinburgh Museum of Modern Art; There Are No Miracles Here balanced by Everything Is Going To Be Alright.  After today, I am going with the latter.