Acts of Leadership, matters of principle

“May you live in interesting times”…. is a phrase whose derivation is one that is contested. Some believe it’s a Chinese curse played out with irony on those whose lives are subsequently of disorder, chaos and destruction. Others suggest it is a more recent invention, probably American, given a touch of mystique by a claim that it is from the Far East, rather than the Lower East Side.

We live in interesting times, that is in no doubt. Whether you consider the Trump Presidency and Brexit in the West, the rise of ISIS in the Middle East or the emergence of China as a global superpower, the geopolitical landscape is shifting. Look deeper at the underlying ecosystems of the planet and we are entering a period of fundamental change  – look at  “mother nature on the run in the 2017s “ indeed.


Closer to home and my heart, the health and care system is facing fundamental change and unprecedented pressure too. The  claims of “NHS Crisis”, “Humanitarian Disasters” and a relentless Twitter storm are a symptom of issues that we live through every day here in the NHS.


Pic: National Health Executive

Faced with all of this, one thing is clear – we need to take a principled stance in our leadership. Fortunately, there are a set of standards that govern those in public life. They cover the following:


This is helpful and important. They govern how we behave as leaders in public positions, whether politicians or paid officers. There is no wriggle room between “Strategy” and “Operational” matters, just a vital set of governing principles that inform our behaviour.

They are pretty coherent, powerful and well thought out  too:

noaln-3nolan4I particularly like 7 – as someone who tries to be a values based leader it plays to my preferences. It also plays the neat trick of completing the circle of self amplification. Live the principles and they are self nourishing and will grow stronger. Fail to do so and the whole thing collapses as flat as the JPEG on this screen you are reading.

There’s never been a more important period in which to hold ourselves and each other to these principles. They were born from an attempt to clean up the behaviour of politicians following the “cash for questions” scandal in 1994. They have guided people through 2 decades of Parliamentary, Political and Public transformation. They have been there to help good people do the right thing and to clear up when others have not. Above all, they exist and are there among recent history littered with mistakes where good people failed to stand up to those who were not.

History is a great teacher and we live in historical times. At an event with emerging NHS leaders last week, we talked about how “doing the right thing is always the right thing to do. It may take some time to prove it and it may not always feel like it.” As Confucius said in trying to amplify his teachings:

 “I do not create; I merely pass on the wisdom of those who have gone before.”

Faced with a world order that is changing fast, and changing in ways that feel highly questionable, the Nolan principles apply. Learning from history would suggest the time is right to live them and to challenge those to whom they apply and perhaps, those to whom they don’t.

Come in number 7, your time is …

“We should actively promote and robustly support the principles – of selflessness, accountability, objectivity, honesty, openness and integrity – and be willing to challenge poor behaviour when it occur

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