Here today..

Please note that this post is a personal reflection on the experience of bereavement.

I did not originally intend to use this blog to post very personal material.

I set out to discuss different aspects of leadership and change and, in particular, the role values play in good leadership. This subject matter can involve relating some personal experiences and personal reflection, but this is not the prime purpose of the blog.

However, my family has recently experienced two bereavements in quick succession. My 55th birthday also fell in January; I don’t think I have ever been more aware of my own mortality.

So I have decided to give in to a desire to post something about my recent experiences, although I am not completely certain that it’s the right thing to do.

In doing so I do not wish to in any way compromise the dignity of those who have passed away, or of other family members who are still mourning them. I therefore say nothing very specific about the lives and circumstances of those concerned, and concentrate instead on the thoughts and emotions their passing has provoked in me.

When someone dies, and knows that they are going to die in advance, they face an inexorable journey to their final moment. They cannot pre-arrange this final moment (unless they opt to take their own life) but neither can they escape the harsh reality: their life is coming to a close. ‘The experience of living near the end of life’: the words of one of those who recently passed on. Surely it has never been more succinctly expressed.

For the rest of us, staying sufficiently sane to get through the day means we view our own demise as a distant and almost theoretical event. So distant, we can pretend it isn’t going to happen.

Such pretence is no longer available to the terminally ill. They must live their last days with the full knowledge that their time is running out. And so must their nearest and dearest, for whom the knowledge is, if anything, harder to bear. Death tortures friends and family with this knowledge and then besieges them during the merciless process of mourning; it merely kills its principal victim.

The dignity and bravery with which some people face their demise is quite awesome. Their example poses some awkward questions; could we be that brave in similar circumstances? When a condemned prisoner enters the death chamber, we cannot be certain whether there will be a last-minute, undignified begging for mercy, or a simply a stonewall of silence.

Does it matter – is one reaction better than the other? I don’t know the answer. But having recently witnessed someone ‘face down’ their own fate, I do know that dignity and bravery in the face of death are both inspiring and deeply humbling.

Rudyard Kipling sums up the challenge of facing one’s own death in ‘If’:

‘If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster

And treat those two imposters just the same’

The triumph of cancer remission is sometimes followed by the disaster of its return. For sufferers, like recovering alcoholics, the ‘all clear’ is a treacherous ally, to be trusted one day at a time. The unbridled joy of the first event is matched only by the abject dismay of the second.

But if we can truly see both events, and the responses they evoke in us, as impostors – a vision requiring huge spiritual strength – it seems we can genuinely react with something other than abject dismay when the prognosis is terminal. Friends and relatives might go to pieces, despite their best intentions, whilst the person on the final stage of their journey exhibits a remarkable graciousness.

The poet Gibran recognised an essential connection between joy and sorrow:

‘Your joy is your sorrow unmasked.

And the selfsame well from which your laughter rises was oftentimes filled with your tears.

And how else can it be?

The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain.’

Some people respond to another’s imminent death very well. They seem to know exactly what to say. They comfort without ever being patronising. They can even share a joke with the person who is soon to be deceased.

Others are effectively dumb-struck; it’s as if the passing away is such an unspeakable event that they can no longer even converse with the person they will shortly be mourning. This has the sad effect of squandering those last few precious opportunities truly to communicate.

And when it’s all over, what then? The body of a man once celebrated as a hero, now shrunken and diminished by illness, and left almost unrecognisable by death.

How sad it is to see a life full of adventure, endeavour and achievement reduced to a single box of faded possessions: The musical instrument that will no longer play to its master’s touch; the photographs of past exploits that no-one can now illuminate or explain; the last administrative dealings, which now seem almost absurdly and insultingly irrelevant.

Is this what it comes to?

Not quite. In the telling of stories, the man lives on. He lives on as the vital, strong, flawed and fully rounded human being he once was, not as a shell or a husk. His presence is felt, even as the stories are spoken; old laughter and sorrows reawakened, shared and felt afresh.

How can you cope with the death of someone close to you?

In the manner of your living. Each day offers the chance to fashion new stories, the telling of which will one day be the celebration of your own life. Fill each page of the book to the brim.

To paraphrase Gibran, the emptiness of your death is only the fullness of your life unmasked.

In memory of MT & ASM: I salute you both. I hope I can do half as much.

Transparency & Tuition Fees: An Update

Andrew Hickey’s comment on the Tuition Fees post yesterday was timely.

Support for the LibDems has now slumped to its lowest level since the formation of the party in 1988.

If this level of support does not improve, the LibDems would be reduced to only 11 MPs – from the current 57 – at the next election.

In a strange coincidence of themes, both the WikiLeaks and Tuition Fees posts are echoed by yesterday’s Indepedent editorial:

“Lib Dem ministers would not have been caught out by undercover reporters last month uttering criticisms of the Tories in private if they only had the nerve and honesty to say such things publicly…A bit more openness would make for more transparent government, and might save the Liberal Democrats from imploding.” You heard it here first.

Stop Messaging, Start Communicating

Happy New Year to One and All.

This post looks at what has happened to communication in the workplace. It argues that we must stop using electronic and digital mechanisms as a substitute for, or an easy way to avoid, more meaningful communication.


  • There has been an explosion in the number of mechanisms and channels we can use to contact other people;
  • The desire to avoid ‘difficult’ interactions with other people is not a product of this explosion, but it has been greatly facilitated by it;
  • We are increasingly using electronic and digital means to convey messages which should be delivered in person;
  • This is leading to relationship breakdowns in the workplace, and is helping to loosen the already frayed bonds between people and their organisations;
  • Research suggests that teenagers – the next generation of leaders and managers – already prefer texting to voice or face-to-face conversation, as they can avoid ‘messy’ and uncontrolled interaction by doing so;
  • The task of leadership cannot be accomplished if we continually avoid dealing with real people in real time;
  • Leaders need to challenge their motives for using electronic and digital mechanisms so freely: avoiding interaction with people is a negation of leadership.

I am really very interested in readers’ stories and reflections on this subject. Please email or, better still, leave a comment here for other readers to see.

Tuition Fees: Power and Promises

This post looks at promises in relation to power and leadership.


  • The LibDem leadership has spectacularly back-tracked on pre-election pledges to abolish university tuition fees;
  • Opinion varies as to whether this involves any real wrong-doing;
  • Pragmatists urge Clegg to think hard about future manifesto promises and to always shape future policy for power-sharing;
  • This implies abandoning the party’s ‘dreams’ (perhaps another word for ‘vision’?) and being ‘realistic’;
  • Idealists cannot reconcile themselves to the broken promises;
  • Moral outrage leads them to call for another election, in which manifesto promises are better scrutinised, but they struggle to muster a ‘killer’ argument against the LibDem leadership’s actions;
  • By using good leadership principles and practice as a bench-mark we can evaluate the longer term impact of the u-turn on the LibDem organisation, and on the political environment in which it operates;
  • Assessed using these criteria, the LibDem leadership is found seriously wanting, and has fallen well short of its leadership responsibilities;
  • The damaging material consequences of its actions might not be fully felt for some time;
  • Only a very short-term, self-serving view can draw any comfort from this lag between cause and effect. 

This post is presented in sections. See page 2 for a list of the main section headings.

WikiLeaks: Challenging Attitudes to Transparency


In this post the WikiLeaks saga is reviewed and lessons for change leadership identified. The main messages are:

  • The main casualty to date of the WikiLeaks affair is the US government’s careful orchestration of international perception;
  • The tension between what we say in public and think in private is not just an issue in international diplomacy;
  • In business, this tension emerges clearly in times of change;
  • Leaders often decline to tell it like it is because they prefer to avoid conflict and challenge;
  • These are not good reasons to simply play the game: ‘shadow’ change programmes develop, where all the important decisions are made and deals are done behind the scenes;
  • This does not advance the cause of best practice in delivering change;
  • Sometimes a more transparent and direct approach is simply more efficient and effective.

This post is presented in pages 1-9: please see below to navigate to specific page numbers. Headings are on page 2.

Please comment on this post whether you agree or not with the messages.