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  • The art of wobbling: Part 1

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    In her latest blog, Sally Howard, Topic Lead for the hub, sets out five tips for conquering fear, building resilience and realising your own power in the quest for continuous improvement.


    If you are of a certain generation you may remember Weebles, the roly-poly toys that wobbled but didn’t fall down. Tipping an egg-shaped Weeble causes a weight located at the bottom-centre to be lifted off the ground. Once released, gravity brings the Weeble back into an upright position. This blog is the first of two, where I’ll be discussing the 'art of wobbling'. 

    weeble.jpg.fd6a40268dabb611238280a1bfaa69c7.jpgWe all have a wobble now and again. A lack of confidence in our own abilities and what we have to say. Unsure whether we should say anything or concerned we won’t get our points across when we do. All of which is not helped by other factors that may be outside of our immediate control.

    So, what triggers our wobbles as we take forward improvements in our service? And what are some of the go-to strategies you may want to have in your back pocket to help you get up again?

    Research over many years, led by Amy Edmonson, Novartis Professor of Leadership and Management at the Harvard Business School, identifies a recurring theme of ‘self protection’.[1] Don’t want to look stupid? Then don’t ask questions. Don’t want to look negative? Then don’t criticise the status quo.  

    One of the most common themes I come across through coaching is genuine fear. Fear of not being listened to, being misunderstood or no longer being part of the main group. Sometimes a genuine fear of saying anything because it’s just expected that we keep quiet and carry on. Well, that takes us down the rocky path of missed opportunities – opportunities for prevention of harm, learning together and continuous improvement.

    Taking that first step can be the hardest part but people often don’t realise the power they have. Power isn’t just from formal positions. We all know people who we value because of what they bring to the table. Back in the 1960s, French and Raven identified six sources of power.[2] Yes, there’s legitimate power from formal positions but there’s also expert power, derived from knowledge and experience and personal power (when others believe you have desirable qualities and traits). You have more power than you think. The trick is in how you use it… and that takes practice.

    So, here’s my starter for ten:

    • Build yourself a network of trusted confidants and go on the journey together. You may not be the most senior person but you have your experience and knowledge – it’s too good to keep to yourself.
    • Be curious. It’s rare we know everything – check what may be missing. This puts any fear on the back bench. The more curious you are, the braver you’ll become. And as you get curious, listen with your biggest ears. The attention we give is key. As Nancy Kline says in her brilliant book ‘Time to think’,[3] get interested and listen.
    • Be really clear about what’s expected of you and whether it’s actually possible. It may not always feel safe to speak out but sometimes you must do so to get that clarity. Once you have this you can start to focus your time on the key things that will make the right difference.
    • Look after yourself. You cannot push a few boundaries without getting a bit of push back. Steven Covey in ‘The seven habits of highly effective people[4] says we can be ‘response-able’. We all have the power to choose our response. It’s not what happens to us but our response to what happens that hurts us. But it doesn’t have to. Don’t let those knock-backs disable your brilliance, learn from them.
    • And lastly, back to those Weebles. One way to keep upright  is to do some preparation and build resilience (resilience is a mixture of personal characteristics and learnable skills). The Robertson Cooper I-Resilience tool[5] is great for this; it’s also free and easy to use. Give it a go, talk it through with your boss or a colleague, identify and work on two or three things that will help build your resilience.

    So, expect surprises on the journey – some good, others less good but this is all about practice. Celebrate the good times, learn from the not so good.

    "The greatest glory of living lies not in never falling but in rising every time you fall": Nelson Mandela, 1998.

    Happy wobbling!


    1. Amy Edmonsaon. Video: Building a psychologically safe workplace. TEDxHGSE. YouTube. 2014.

    2.  Video: French and Raven's Bases of Power. YouTube. 2017.

    3. Nancy Kline. Time to Think: Listening to Ignite the Human Mind. Ward Lock, 1999.

    4. Stephen R. Covey. The seven habits of highly effective people. Franklin Covey, 1990.

    5. The Robertson Cooper I-Resilience tool.


    About the Author

    Sally has held national and local leadership roles within the NHS in a career spanning more than 30 years. A respected leader, passionate about improvement and inclusivity, she is trained in quality improvement methodologies and has spent the last 20 years in their practical application.

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