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3 November 2022
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By Peter Lees

FMLM Chief Executive

"Do not go where the path may lead; go instead where there is no path and leave a trail." Ralph Waldo Emerson

While this is my final editorial as CEO of FMLM, I do hope to see many of you at the International Conference next week, for the opportunity to discuss some of the biggest leadership challenges in healthcare.

I know resilience is on the minds of so many colleagues. Throughout my career, I have found solace in several ways. Here, I offer, hopefully as light relief and not to trivialise, the power of the cleverly constructed saying and humour as a free form of sustenance. I marvel at those with the ability to pen, elegantly and succinctly, something of deep meaning which I find profound or amusing - or both - and always helpful in the darker moments. I thought I would share a few favourite quotes from my 380-strong collection, plus a few cartoons which is tricky without pictures which might infringe copyright!

To begin, I am intrigued how comments from previous centuries can have such strong resonance today. In 1862, Abraham Lincoln said: “The dogmas of the quiet past are inadequate to the stormy present. As our case is new, so we must think anew and act anew.” How apt, although a recent UK Prime Minister may have taken this too far? I think it fair to say they were not guilty of Marshall McLuhan’s observation:  “We drive into the future using only our rear view mirror, or the anonymous: experience is a wonderful thing: it enables us to recognise the same mistake when we’re just about to make it again.”

Many of these observations focus on success and failure, often cleverly linking the two. Winston Churchill offered sound advice: “Success is not final; failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.” Courage seems under-rated as a leadership attribute in today’s complex era of overbearing scrutiny and blame.

The NHS added in its ’An Organisation with a memory’, published in 2000: “…the best people can make the worst mistakes.” And….? We are left to reflect. Another of my cartoon collection comes to mind, it depicts an individual, pondering the settings on a washing machine, the choice being ‘spin’ or ‘hang out to dry’.

George Bernard Shaw wrote: “Success does not consist in never making mistakes but in never making the same one a second time.” Would that I had been able to follow such sage advice. And Charlie, the astrophysicist in Top Gun, said: “Being the best means you make mistakes, then you go on.”

The American author and playwright William Saroyan adds another favourite topic, wisdom: “Good people are good because they’ve come to wisdom through failure. We get very little wisdom from success, you know.” Tony Abbott, as the Australian Leader of the Opposition, is alleged to have said (in 2013): “No-one, however smart, however well-educated, however experienced, is the suppository of all wisdom!"

On the subject of wisdom,  I refer you to a cartoon in the Harvard Business Review, which described to a hapless candidate that the organisation wanted to appoint someone with the wisdom of a 50 year-old, the experience of a 40 year-old, the energy of a 30 year-old and the pay scale of a 20 year-old. Experience can be over-rated but so can group think at scale, courtesy of impressive modern technology.

To conclude, I dedicate to those who are blind to the writing on the wall, and senseless to the smell of coffee, (by definition you don’t know who you are) the humour of the 18th/19th century and my all-time favourite quote, from the Reverend Sydney Smith, referred to as the Irreverent Reverend by the New Statesman: “Take not my flippancy for foolishness and I will take not your gravity for wisdom.” And my favourite leadership cartoon, Bestie’s Moses at the parting of the waves, expressing great frustration to the assembled throng: “What do you mean it’s a bit muddy!”

Time for me to say au revoir and thank you to so many of you who have made these past twelve years so incredible. I leave the last, somewhat flippant words to Oscar Wilde: “Some people cause happiness wherever they go …and others whenever they go!”

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