Fires, Fishbowls and Faith – A Week of Leading Dangerously

Fires, Fishbowls and Faith – A Week of Leading Dangerously

Guest blog from Clare Armstrong, Academy Project Manager, Health and Social Care Alliance Scotland. The Health and Social Care Academy is a programme of the Health and Social Care Alliance (the ALLIANCE) and is a cross-sectoral platform for transformational change in health and social care using the voice of lived experience.

The Academy is holding a series of events in 2018, around the theme of unleashing courageous leadership at every age, and the next event will take place on April 24 from 5-7pm at the Grassmarket Community Project in Edinburgh. If you would like more details, or to find out more about the Academy and our work, please email academy@alliance-scotland.org.uk .


Faith in people. It’s not a theme that surfaces a lot these days. With all the political turmoil at home and abroad it’s easy to sink into despair at the world; unable to see beyond the next story or scandal. By the Year of Young People’s definition I am apparently still a young person, however I must confess that with each new news alert on my phone I feel like five years is added to my age!

IMG_0258But this is what made the Fire Starter Festival this year such a welcome breath of fresh air. The past weeks have been an opportunity to step out of this familiar bubble of gloom and have a little faith in the world. Not cautious, tentative faith with footnotes and caveats – but a bold faith that always sees the best in people and demands that their voices be heard and listened to. Themed around young people, this series of events has not skipped over the challenges that the future holds for all generations, but has placed faith in our collective ability to empower one another and make a difference.

The Festival started in Kelvingrove Museum, with a quote by Megan Whitley that perhaps best summarises my takeaway from the week overall:

“Sane leadership is the unshakeable faith in people’s capacity to be generous, creative, and kind.”

Later, as I wandered around the museum listening to a series of speeches through a pair of headphones, I reflected that this was certainly the type of leadership on display here. Whether it was Johanna Holtan recounting a challenging time in her youth when her mother had asked her “So what are you going to do about it?”, or Katie Slavin reminding us to “always, always be humble”, these were leaders that believed in the people they were helping, and saw themselves not as heroes swooping in to save the day – but enablers standing shoulder to shoulder with others and trusting them to help themselves.

IMG_0253The next day, my team at the Health and Social Care Academy had our own experiment in taking a leap of faith, at our Unleashing Courageous Leadership event. Having heard speeches from five inspiring young people, we had opened up the discussion to the audience through a “fishbowl” format (something completely new to us!), with four chairs in the middle for those who wished to speak – always with one free chair so that other participants could swap in and out of the discussion throughout. We held our breath slightly, hoping that the audience would want to share their views… and were rewarded with a stimulating and enthusiastic discussion around what courageous leadership really meant. In fact, we were so overwhelmed by the number of people wanting to share their views that we didn’t even get around to answering our last question!

IMG_0248After worrying that our fishbowl might be met with awkward silence, the event was a necessary reminder of the importance of trusting people and giving everyone a platform to voice their opinions. In the words of our speaker, Rachael McCully, “if you help young people be leaders, you’ll learn more from them than the other way around”. Well, I certainly learned a lot, and look forward to continuing this conversation at our next Courageous Leadership event in April.

My Fire Starter experience was wrapped up a couple of days later, as I headed to the ‘When Open Government Met Co-production’ discussion. Knowing nothing about Open Government beforehand, it was encouraging to hear of the steps being taken to build “an outward looking government which is more open and accessible to Scotland’s people than ever before”, and the progress that has already been made elsewhere. Who knew that in Norway, 1 in 70 people will hold public office in their life, compared to 1 in 3000 in Scotland?! Clearly we have much further to go, but the passion of the speakers and the examples of co-productive decision-making closer to home gives me confidence that we can get there.

No doubt, Scotland and its young people face huge challenges, and this Fire Starter week did not shy away from the tough decisions involved in pushing for progress. But the overwhelming message was not to let these challenges stop us from having unshakeable faith; in others, in our communities, and ultimately in ourselves. The best vision of our future involves more fishbowls, more fire-starting, and more faith in each other. So, whatever the challenge is that we’re facing, let’s all have a quiet, determined voice in our head saying – what are you going to do about it?

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