I am aware that you may not know me and therefore an introduction might be helpful…
At a deep level I’ve always been OK about being a bit different. Not quite fitting into the mainstream, appreciating my own headspace. Not that it has always been easy or without cost. But the alternative of somehow being someone I wasn’t was a worse option…
So I’ve walked through decades of not quite knowing who I am – because I didn’t fit into a neat box professionally or socially. Sometimes that was OK because I was forging a new path and could see where I was going. Other times it just felt like a weird wilderness.
Four years ago I started writing a personal blog – SueWaterside – and found that I kept returning to the question of finding our true voice. The sense of the timeliness and importance of this question also kept coming at me from all sides.
Fortunately, the things I was reading and listening to gave me hope that this wasn’t a futile exercise. And from my personal experience – of business challenges, family trauma and then being diagnosed with a rare form of breast cancer in 2018 – meant that I had no hiding place. I had to stay with the question, rather than get absorbed in daily activities.
Struggling to make sense of a complex and diverse life, I put these words together as my introduction to a new online group – the Right Company, with Bernadette Jiwa – in early June 2018. Suddenly I saw that the thread, present in various guises throughout my life, had a name!
I have always been a creative, forward thinker. Pushing the boundaries. Being curious about what happens when you unconventionally mix things together. Feeling passionately about the walls that keep injustice in place. Or the huge consequences of lack of forethought, especially amongst those who hold positions of leadership.
In my decade as a chief executive in the NHS from 1999, in England and in Wales, I pioneered new models of care, often connecting ways of working across traditional boundaries. This included mental health, children’s care, chronic conditions such as diabetes, and emergency access.
Of course, I didn’t do this on my own. I also created the environment for people to work together in new ways, holding the reins that were too hot for others to handle, and kept the vision alive.
Since then I have worked with many different people. For example, with leading scientists and professionals to hold creative conversations that broke through existing ways of thinking and created powerful, ongoing synergy. With academics, architects, designers, directors, artists, engineers, clinicians…
People are also now in leadership roles – some very senior – bringing new dimensions to their sector or industry because I worked with them to find their voice. And encouraged them to step out beyond their existing boundaries and work with others more collaboratively.
And in my early work on rural development, I was doing groundbreaking research on farm diversification. Years before it was fashionable.
Sounds good, but it also came at a cost.
I offended those who were wedded to the status quo. To those who did not want their perspective, or way they held their position, to be disturbed. Who were uncomfortable with bigger questions for which they had no answer.
There, when the usual tools of control didn’t work – because I wasn’t playing that game – I experienced a variety of means of being bullied or shut down.
And I was isolated.
Sure, I had plenty of learning to do – wisdom and insight are honed by mistakes and failure. But I knew that there was a better and more authentic way of leading that could produce better fruit.
And yes, it’s taken years in the wilderness to come to today with something to share.
Thanks for reading…