Gentle Method: from actor training to culture-change leadership

Draft, please only cite the published version in the May 2015 edition of the International Practice Development Journal (www.fons.org)  when it comes out. Last September I presented a keynote on healthcare and culture change at a Practice Development conference in Toronto. On the day before I left I spent an entire day auditing a marathon six-hour session at Miriam Laurence’s Integrated Acting System studio. I was grateful to experience a working studio before setting up my own, which I did in January 2015. I established the Hummingbird Actors Studio in Bangor, Northern Ireland, because I love acting, theatre, and film. Another reason is because we need to start experimenting with new ways of thinking about leadership training for long-term culture change. As I’ll explain, actor training is for me one of the best places to start reimagining what helpful training might look like. What strikes me while watching actors in training is the emotional courage they bring to performance, their commitment to vulnerability in the cause of learning. I taught for 17 years at university level, and the height of expectation for students was always that such levels of courage and vulnerability might be a destination for them. Possibly. Occasionally. Hopefully. For

Frog Soup

The most significant unhelpful changes in any environment aren’t usually heralded by drumrolls or the sound of trumpet fanfares. Although it would be terribly helpful if they were. Frog soup. It is widely reported that if you take a frog and drop it into a pot of boiling water it will immediately jump out of it before it has achance to say “rebbit!” However, if you were to put a frog in a pot of cold water and slowly raise the temperature of the water in increments, the wee frog will swim about quite comfortably in the water, not noticing the subtle changes as the temperature rises, until such time as he’s not noticing anything at all, having been boiled alive. I’m guessing this story may not have been tested under laboratory conditions, or even have been certified by the Humane Society, but the meaning of it is hard to ignore – if changes and escalations are small, slow, and subtle, it is very easy to miss the woo d for the trees and not be aware of the bigger picture, that conditions can become harmful to us without us even noticing. If we’re going to be frogs we need