When Andy Kinnear recently lost a trusted and long-term colleague, he began thinking about legacy.
Here, he outlines three things that are more important than status, salary or office size, and why we must always see working for and with the NHS as a privileged opportunity to help others.
I went to the funeral of a dear friend and colleague yesterday. Kerrie was my HR manager and trusted counsel for many years. She saved me from treading on the thousands of HR landmines buried to catch newly appointed NHS managers with a working-class northern background and a bad habit of plain speaking. Over the years she became a friend, confidante and a source of ‘wise counsel’ on many occasions. Two years ago, she got pancreatic cancer and last month this awful disease took her life. She was 56.
In recent weeks, I talked a lot with Kerrie about her legacy. Her fabulous family, especially her two sons Josh and Jake, feature top of this list. But we also talked about her impact in the NHS. The hundreds of people Kerrie had helped down the years. First-time managers desperately trying to navigate the labyrinthine world of NHS HR rules. Members of staff facing personal crises in work or at home seeking advice and support. Often traumatic, these situations demanded expert handling but not in a cold controlling autobot ‘by the book’ fashion, but with care, tenderness and profound humanity.
We talked about how the skill in our jobs was to try to be the perfect combination of professional expert skilled in our chosen discipline, and caring human being understanding the trials others are facing and doing our best to help. This stuff is complex and nuanced. Rules are rules for sure, but their application requires shrewdness, sage wisdom, savvy and nous. Our legacy is created in the way we apply these soft skills for these are when we have most impact and will be most remembered.
I am 55 in December and, these days, I probably spend as much time looking back as I do looking forward. It is cathartic. I have reached a trillion conclusions but my thoughts about legacy often centre on three things:
Firstly, craving legacy rather than craving status is sanity-preserving thinking. ‘Status’ is often naively related to position on a structure diagram, job title, salary package or size of the office you occupy. All of that is largely fake and irrelevant. In truth, your status is a direct result of your behaviour, your approach, your attitude and, crucially, the impact you have on those around you.
The NHS thinks it is a hierarchical construct with status defined by tiers on an organogram. But, in reality, it is the network of connected people that drives so much delivery, and your status is achieved by your impact in that network far more than anything else. Our legacy therefore becomes the impact we have through this network of connections and the positive change we drive as a result. Being motivated by wanting to create such a legacy is far more rewarding than seeking fancy titles or bigger offices.
Secondly, only the good people count. I have worked with some massive egos, conceited twerps, and self-appointed experts with PhDs in blabbering who have often been awarded honours for their services to the hot air industry – I know this because they tell me they have, repeatedly. At the time, I sometimes thought they counted and managed to find deference through gritted teeth. But now I realise how painful and irrelevant they were. The only people I remember now, those who have created a legacy in me, are the good people. The honest, caring, committed, kind and patient people who are working for our cause, our mission, our care professionals, patients and public. Their legacy is cemented in my head and heart, and I am grateful to them for it.
Finally, and most importantly, I am constantly struck by the most obvious statement of all – We only get one go! We get one chance at this gig, one era to make our mark, one time to call our own and one opportunity to create our legacy. It is so easy to believe there will be another chance or that we will get to do that thing one day.
Just stop for a second and think about this. In our working lives, we are amongst the most blessed in our society. We are the people who help to design and create the future of our health service. And not just any health service; this is the NHS, the proudest creation our nation has ever bestowed upon itself. I will not pretend what we do is easy, without challenge or complexity, but we should also recognise the privileged position we find ourselves in and appreciate the opportunity to create an amazing legacy. We really are very lucky.
As I talked with Josh and Jake at their mum’s funeral, two young men I was meeting for the first time despite ‘knowing’ them for 20+ years, I used the word legacy a lot. Kerrie was a wonderful person who left an amazing legacy in the NHS. We all have a chance to do the same and that makes us very lucky, I would say.