Are you an ambitious BAME manager? Wondering how to prepare for your next promotion? Join a Board!

I recently had a telephone call from a friend who’s the Chief Executive of a small but national charity. She was desperately looking to recruit a new Treasurer for her Board and was very keen to use the opportunity to increase the diversity of her Board by attracting applications from BAME candidates. She had used the usual recruitment channels, but they had only yielded the same types of people; recently retired, mainly men and…exclusively white. She was not criticising the experience, knowledge or commitment of those who were expressing an interest, but she just wanted to attract a wider group of candidates! She rang me to ask whether I had any ideas about how she could bring her vacancy to a wider, more diverse audience. During our discussion, I suggested that perhaps she might look to bring her vacancy directly to the attention of BAME staff in the NHS by contacting a few Trusts and asking them to share the vacancy amongst their middle managers.

careerHaving coached and mentored a number of ambitious BAME middle managers who all wanted to understand what they needed to do to develop and advance their careers, I had suggested to a few that joining the Board of a charity would provide them with exposure to high level organisational strategy development, the opportunity to build their confidence by engaging in ‘top table’ debate and discussion, having their voices heard and seeing how CEOs and Directors operate and conduct themselves. Taking part in Board Away Days, attending Charity events and conferences would provide great opportunities to learn, think strategically, build networks and help them prepare for their next career move up.  I know that many large corporates actively encourage their senior managers to join Boards, so why not the NHS?

housing associationSharing these thoughts reminded me of why in 1989, while working for a north London local authority, and living in Hertfordshire with a young family, I applied to join the Board of a small south London housing association. This was of course pre Congestion Charge and I recall crawling through London’s rush hour traffic after work to attend Board meetings that went on long into the evening. But I was ambitious and wanted to extend my thinking beyond the boundaries of a local authority. Within a year of joining the Board we decided to seek a merger with a much larger housing association and I was asked to join the small group overseeing the merger and working through the legal, financial and operational issues. The merger went through and as part of the ‘deal’, the larger housing association agreed to a small number of Board members from the joining association sitting on their Board, and I was invited to take up one of the places. I remained on that Board for over 8 years, sat on a number of Committees and even chaired a Committee.  I learnt so much from that experience, but I also know that I brought a lot to the Board.  Joining that Board gave me my first taste of being mentored as one of the most experienced Board members took me under his wing.  It led to me wanting to extend my experience and my contribution further and over the last 30+ years, I’ve sat on the Boards of NHS Trusts, universities, housing associations, charities and sporting National Governing Bodies.  I’m now the Chair of an NHS Hospital Trust.

I’m absolutely convinced that my executive career would not have developed the way it did, leading to over 25 years working at Chief Executive level without the experience I gained as a Board member.  It’s arguable that that I would not have been appointed as an NHS Trust Chair without that experience.  Yes, it was hard work and sometimes very challenging, but it was hugely rewarding because I felt that I was making a difference and contributing to improving people’s lives. It was even fun at times.  I learnt so much. An example was sitting on the Board of a charity set up to support black people living with HIV/AIDs at a time when I knew little about the virus, condition and its impact.


So, if you’re an ambitious BAME middle or senior manager, looking to develop your career over the next few years, why not think about joining the Board of a Charity or ‘Not for Profit’ organisation. You’ll be helping them, but it will also help you. If you’re tempted now, I know a national Charity looking for a Treasurer!

Time to Join the Dots. Then we’ll see the Whole Picture!

join the dotsThe heinous murders of George Floyd and Ahmaud Arbery and the disturbingly sinister Amy Cooper video hit our screens during the Covid-19 crisis just as America was questioning its leadership led to the resurgence of the ‘Black Lives Matter’ movement and America asking even more questions of its leadership.  Together it lights the blue touch paper and reopens old wounds about race and racial inequality.  Meanwhile, at the same time, on this side of the pond, we’re also battling Covid-19, checking our eyesight and questioning our leadership. Not exactly a George Floyd moment to light our blue touch paper, but what we do have is a growing awareness on the disproportionate impact of Covid-19 on BAME communities, and in particular BAME NHS staff.  Mindful of the risk of opening old wounds about race and racial inequality here, our leaders commission a ‘Review’ by Public Health England.  When published, it’s received with a collective rolling of the eyes by those in the trade.  Does it tell us anything we don’t already know? Some even call it ‘tepid’.  Talk of a missing chapter that has all the answers occupies the media for all of 24 hours but then we move on!

But then, too late! The blue touch paper is lit, over there…and over here!

blue touch paperI’ve been thinking about what’s been going on in recent weeks and talking to lots of people via social media and through the daily webinars on the subject. What does it all mean? Is this really a turning point?  Are our leaders really listening?  Do they have the commitment needed to set out a new way forward and deliver it?  How can we reach a non-party political, national consensus?  Can our great institutions finally grasp the racial inequality nettle?  For a moment I reflect on the Macpherson report and I’m compelled to revisit his definition of ‘Institutional Racism’. It reminds me of a report that I wrote to my Board at the time saying that his definition could equally apply to many institutions and organisations.  Is that still the case today, over 20 years later?

Then, out of the blue I received an email from a former colleague.  In it he said, You have been much in my thoughts over the last week because of the health burden of Covid and because of events in the US. It makes me realise how hard it is to be a black person in this world and how much expectation and responsibility you must personally carry around with you all the time’. I had to read it twice. I knew this colleague was extremely compassionate, empathetic and committed to equality and fairness, but for him to reach out to me like this, at this time? I was deeply touched.  I replied to him as follows:

‘…You’re right, it is difficult to be a black person in the world right now, but it’s always been difficult. It’s something black people have lived with since slavery in the US, and here since mass immigration started in the early 1950s.

Black people have always had to deal with racism, and racists. How we’ve dealt with it and responded to it has been different through the generations. My parents, who came here in the 1950s drummed it into me that I should not respond, and the way to survive it and get through it was to integrate as much as possible. My parents were insistent that I speak ‘properly’, dress ‘appropriately’ and not challenge authority.  That led to me subconsciously denying my heritage and my roots, accommodating and assimilating. Without doubt this helped me in my career and in my relationships with white people, as I was seen to be non-threatening.  I see that now, but didn’t then.

Over the years, fewer and fewer black people have adopted that strategy as a way of getting through life. You see it through the different way many black people choose to speak, how they choose to dress and the growing adoption of more passive aggressive approaches to their interaction with authority and their lack of trust in institutions.

You’ll recall Macpherson’s description of the Metropolitan Police as ‘Institutionally racist’, and the furore that caused at the time. I believe that his definition is still relevant today, and can be ascribed to most, if not all of our major institutions. My sense is that this is what black people are responding to at the moment, brought about by seemingly unconnected events on both sides of the Atlantic…’

He appreciated my response. We’ll keep talking!

So, let’s have a go at joining up the dots. We have ‘Snowy White Peaks’ in virtually every one of our organisations and institutions, we have inequality in physical and mental health as well as life expectancy, in educational outcomes through to university level, in levels of income, in employment, in the judicial system, in fact in most places you care to look. But it’s only when we stop looking at a collection of random dots, we start to see the picture that’s emerging.  So what do we do about it? Well maybe the first step has been taken.  The blue touch paper has been lit. dream to reality1

Reality Strikes!

dream to reality1You believe that you’ve got your s**t together! You believe your future path is clear. You know it is. You’ve planned it, worked for it, you’re on your way! In fact, you’re making good progress.  All’s good! Then…you get an email and that email changes everything! That email starts a chain of events that makes you, forces you and challenges you to think about what you really want.  After much soul searching, you realise that you have to follow your heart and change direction, no matter how challenging you know the road ahead is going to be.  This is what you really want to do.  This is what you’ve been preparing for and working towards for over 30 years, without really realising it, until that email arrived…and I took action!

It’s not where you start…it’s where you finish!

cropped-c-1-1.jpgI was asked by Portfolio People to write a guest blog for their website about my journey to a portfolio career.  I thought I’d share it here

Whenever I’m asked to share my story, I ask for just a moment or two to contextualise everything that follows as I feel it’s really important, so I hope you the reader will indulge me, and more importantly as you read this, I hope you will agree.

My career story started before I was born in 1957.  How so?  Well, my parents came from Grenada, in the West Indies in 1955, during what could be described as phase 2 of the Windrush Generation.  My father arrived first, and my mother followed 6 months later.  Like many who arrived during that period, my parents felt honoured and privileged to be here and despite the many daily personal challenges they faced and through sheer hard work, they built a very good life for themselves and us, their three children. I’ve described my father many times as a ‘Sunday afternoon philosopher’ as Sunday was THE family day, when we attended church together, eat together and the one day of the week when we children were allowed into the front room.  Sunday was the only day of the week that my father would allow himself to have a scotch, sit in his chair and share his thoughts on life, the universe and everything with us!  His messages to us of ‘Get a job, keep a job’ and ‘Being as good as (a white person) will not be good enough’ and ‘You have to give back and make a contribution to the country that took us in’ were repeated again and again, reflecting his world view, values and experiences and without doubt shaped my career path.

My career started in the London Borough of Camden’s Housing Department where I stayed for 14 years, progressing to a 3rd tier senior management role.  Not quite ‘Get a job, keep a job’, but staying with the same employer for 14 years was pretty close!  But after 14 years, I knew I had to leave as the spectre of becoming a ‘Local Authority Lifer’ was starting to loom large on my horizon. But by this time, I was totally committed to public service, and ‘giving back’ as my father described it, and while my career path led me to the dizzying heights of becoming CEO of a housing association and then social care organisations, all were in the ‘Not for Profit’ sector, where the term ‘shareholder value’ has a very different meaning to that within the private sector.  Looking back on my career, I can now see that the ‘Being as good as…’ mantra from my father led me to becoming a workaholic, the result of a subconscious belief that I had to keep proving myself, to the point that for many years, my role became my identity.  I saw myself as a CEO first and foremost, above being a husband, father, brother or son.  Work was everything to me.  Then, in early 2016, my wife almost died and my whole world, along my view of what was important changed! Since then, it’s been all about balance, priorities and listening to my heart not my head, which has led me to a portfolio career of remunerated Non-Executive roles, running my own consultancy and coaching practice.  Yes, I earn a lot less money than as a CEO, but I’m happier, more relaxed and more complete.  I spend more time with my wife, family and friends.  I enjoyed my CEO life, but I love my life now. I love coaching as I’m able to help people be their own difference makers.  Coaching is perhaps the most personally rewarding of what I do now.

At the time, my father’s advice was right on so many levels, and I’m sure if he was alive today, he’d be proud of how my life has worked out, what I’ve achieved and how I’ve at found an inner peace through my portfolio career.




80 days…and Counting!

new years resolution2

Well?  Come on! You know the questions I’m going to ask!  It’s been 80 days since you made that New Year’s resolution, or if you were really tipsy on New Year’s eve, more than one resolution.  How are you getting on?  Have you quit?  If you have, how long did you keep it going for? Can you even remember what your New Year’s resolution was?

Come on! I really want to know!


So, have you reached that moment?

One of the most powerful quotes I use in my coaching conversations with clients is ‘Real change only occurs with the cost of not changing outweighs the cost of the change’.  Usually, but not always, this will be in the initial Discovery meeting, when we’re talking about whether we’re a good fit to work together.  One of the things I’m looking to gauge during is whether my potential client really wants to change some part of their life and to create a new future for themselves, be that professionally or personally, or not.  I’m trying to gauge whether they have reached that ‘Cost of Change’ moment, or how far away they are from it, because by understanding that, I’ll get a very early sense of where they are on their journey.

change-sameWhat do I mean by a ‘Cost of Change’ moment? Well, imagine you’re a life-long smoker.  You’ve tried to give up many times before.  You’ve used patches, tried hypnosis, bought books and chewed gum but nothing has worked for more than a few weeks, or even days.  Then one day, you’re rushed into hospital having suffered a heart attack. Thanks to the great staff at the hospital, you pull through, but just before you’re discharged from hospital, the Doctor pops into have a chat with you.  The Doctor explains that whilst there are a number of causes of heart attacks, smokers are twice as likely to have a heart attack as people who have never smoked!  But, he says with a broad smile ‘it’s never too late to give up and the risks to your heart health reduce considerably soon after you stop’.  After he leaves, you start to reflect on life.  Not they life you’ve had, but the life you’ve not yet had. You realise that life is indeed too short there are still so many things you want to do in life, how you want to see your youngest walk down the aisle to get married, you want to see your grandchildren grow up and that you want to take the cruise with your partner that you’ve always promised yourself.  At that point, and that precise moment you become an ex-smoker!  doctor

That becomes your ‘Cost of Change’ moment.  Nothing you’ve tried before to stop smoking has come from that moment of absolute clarity.  It hits you like a cold shower and you know it will stay with you forever.  You just know it.  Yes, this maybe an extreme example of a ‘Cost of Change’ moment, but I use it because it’s a real life example from one of my clients.  It became the catalyst for them to change virtually every aspect of their lives and I was so happy to help them change their lives.

oldManDancingFor most of us, our lives do not take that dramatic path thank goodness.  We don’t end up in hospital reflecting on the life we still want to live.  Generally, our lives are kind of OK.  We might hate job and would love to do something very different, but it pays the bills and at least we have a job.  Or, we feel that our relationship with our partner has stagnated, and we intuitively know our partner feels it too.  It’s OK…ish and we still love our partner, but we’re struggling to communicate our feelings and over the years, the communication has become superficial. Or, we’ve lost sight of who we are as individuals after years of caring for others and putting the needs of others before ourselves.  For many years, it would be rare that these examples, or perhaps the ones that we all have learnt to live with would be enough to result in a ‘Cost of Change’ moment in our lives.  But that seems to have have changed.  More and more people are coming to, or creating their own ‘Cost of Change’ moment as they look at parts of their lives they want or need to change.

In 2016 I had my ‘Cost of Change’ moment! Was it really a moment in time?  Yes it was.  Can I tell you exactly where I was when I had my ‘Cost of Change’ moment and how it made me feel?  Absolutely!

Have you reached a ‘Cost of Change’ moment in any part of your life?