An Ordinary Blog

At some stage in the future I want to write something on: (a) social media and narcissism (I’ve been posting like a mad thing and want to see if this is a sign of personality decline); (b) deconstructing academic job adverts (which will be hilarious… but since I have a few of ours out now I’d better delay that for a while); (c) the “other”, fictional Patrick Leman (again, I’ll resist any descent into narcissism as best I can); and (d) I’ve something brilliant lurking on gender stereotyping in different areas of psychology (but that requires some analysis of statistics, and as ever I’m short of time to do that this week). So time, energy and a deficit of creative juices does not permit any of these insightful and rib-tickling pieces this week. But it’s good for me to write, and they will come in the future. Stay tuned. And, incidentally, any ideas for future blogs will be very gratefully received…

In fact, it has been such a spectacular week at the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience (IoPPN) that it is hard not to write about these. Plus this week sees the arrival of a new cohort of students and the return of others – a new academic year – and I’d also like to share some reflections on that.

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Let’s begin with a review of a magnificent week at King’s and specifically the IoPPN. It’s not every day you get to meet Jeremy Hunt, particularly if you’re a junior doctor and he takes the back route through the long corridor next to the fire exit door to avoid the chance of any unintended encounters. But I’m not a doctor, at least not the type currently finds he is allergic to, and it is slowly dawning on me I’m not that junior any more. While I, and colleagues, successfully engineered our way out of a dreaded photo op, we did manage to exchange words and see him off the premises without him taking back the £66 million he promised to fund our Maudsley/IoPPN Biomedical Research Centre. Ours was the country’s first mental health BRC and by far the largest award in the area this funding round. At the same time, Guy’s and St Thomas’s Trusts were also awarded a similar amount making a total of £130million to King’s, the second largest amount in the country and more than Oxford, Cambridge, and Imperial.

The BRC was not the only bit of great news. We also heard that a colleague has been named as the ESRC Mental Health Leadership Fellow. This is an important award, to be announced in a couple of weeks, to spearhead the Council’s work in mental health – an area that has been widely trailed as it funding priority for the government. That also the Institute has had significant success with the Wellcome Trust recently makes it clear that the IoPPN is Europe’s leading centre for research and education in psychology, psychiatry and mental health. (Of course I do have at my disposal a stack of statistics… And I am not shy about using them when circumstances recommend it. But I’m not going to do that here. Let’s just enjoy the moment?)

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This week we’ve also marked the departure of Prof Shitij Kapur from the Institute with a party, speeches, and it truly brilliant Bollywood style tribute video. I have worked and have many friends in departments in many institutions. i wish them all well. Each has its strengths, each its own identity, and I have been lucky in my career to have worked in all of them. Some are doing great, others… Anyway, I can say with honesty nowhere has the warmth, collegiality, and respect among students and staff alike that I find at IoPPN. All of that was evident in the video as was a talent for direction, humour, and dancing! A link to the video isn’t available yet but we very much hope it will be soon. As I have said before leadership is a moral task. And, in a similar vein, it is also a human task. Shitij, as all the speakers noted, is an exceptional leader and a very kind human being. The emotion felt at his leaving party was of the very best type. He will be missed.

With the future comes a renewed BRC, a renewed cafe diner (and it’s looking good!) and a new group of students. This week I will be meeting new and returning students and I have to say I always look forward to this time of year. There is something great about new starts and the sense of opportunity and anticipation that comes with them. I feel it, now and when I was a school child and student myself, every year. I feel it before my own children return to school and that’s not just levels of stress ratcheting up in the Leman household. If there wasn’t a sense of anticipation it wouldn’t be a new start. And this year the wind is in our sails more than ever thanks partly to our huge successes that build our self-confidence as a global leader. So I make no apologies for an ordinary blog this week. Normal business will resume, don’t worry, next week. But for now to all of us: well done and good luck.

Introducing the Leman

This week I have to thank my father for passing on a link that offers opportunities for self-promotion that are simply too good to ignore. The UK government may be grappling with the difficulties presented by Brexit, but at least one thing they won’t have to worry about is whether or not to change the currency. So the Pound will certainly remain and, as long as we continue to do business using small bits of paper and different sized coins, our reigning monarch will continue to glare at me every time I pop into Boots for a bottle of Hedrin or an emergency Oyster Bay at 10.59pm from the offie on Mayflower Way.

But friends, there is an alternative. And it comes to us courtesy of the canny Swiss. You may remember, I’ve already declared an affinity with the Swiss – who, in 2012, were officially the sixth best sporting nation in the world (REF/GPA). If it was at all possible, I’ve started to warm to them even more. You see, while the official money of Switzerland remains the Swiss Franc, and while the Euro is also accepted and widely used in the country, a new currency will be launched there on 18 September this year. I’m not talking about some glitzy online thing, nor about any wacky barter arrangement. No, this is just your regular banknote and coin malarkey. But, superbly, the currency is to be called the Leman.

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The new Bank of Leman, conveniently situated on the family lake…?

The currency is available in denominations of 1, 5, 10 and 20 Lemans and it will trade 1 to 1 with the Swiss franc (which is pretty much $1, €0.90… or £0.77, at least at the time of writing). The Leman is being launched to make a serious point as part of a cross-border festival of concrete alternatives to climate change. The idea is to introduce a new form of money to help promote local businesses and to encourage more local exchange of products and services. It’s a form of mutual credit that will reduce the costs, particularly for those living close to the borders with the Eurozone, of financial and trade transactions. It is similar, but not the same, as ideas floated both for Venezuela and Greece when both countries experienced extreme financial and economic challenges. Of course the context for the Leman is markedly different. Switzerland is not in any kind of economic crisis and the motivations behind the currency’s introduction of far more positive. As the website EvaGeneva.com points out, “the Leman is a WIN WIN WIN!”

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Back in Blighty the Bank of England is seeking to up its game by introducing a new plastic £5 pound note and, next year, and a new £1 coin. The new notes are more durable, more hygienic, and more difficult to roll up and use for other purposes. The £1 coin is changing shape to a 12 sided affair which will make counterfeiting more difficult. It resembles the old threepenny bit which will delight leave voters and Daily Mail readers who hanker after the good old days when you could leave your door open without fear of theft, a pint (not a litre) of milk cost eleventy bob and six, Russian linesmen didn’t have the benefit of goal-line technology, and 200 million families watched Stuart Hall sniggering at a man from Tenby dressed up as a giant parrott on It’s a Knockout on a Saturday night.

One of the arguments in opposition to adopting the euro back in the 1990s was that giving up the pound was tantamount to losing a fundamental pillar of our national identity. Never mind that we have moved from systems of currency multiple times in our British history – so far as I’m aware we have now gotten over the loss of Danegeld and no one outside horseracing talks about guineas any more – or that we coped perfectly well with decimalisation in the 1970s and that plenty of other countries gave up their currencies when joining the euro and retain their national identities. The pernicious nostalgia that led UK to Brexit holds us back in many ways and a static view of our currency system is just one example of that. (Another, not so much holding us back but sweeping us backwards in a time machine, is the proposed reintroduction of grammar schools.)

Me, I’m hoping for a call from Geneva about becoming Governor of the new bank, or maybe a photo shoot for the new notes? In this capacity I’d like to reassure the Swiss that they won’t feel any less Swiss with the Leman. The world moves. National identity, like a currency, is never static. Like personal identity, it is influenced by our own actions but also by the actions of those around us. These days, everything connects, and money is just a tool for us to use, not the defining feature of who we are. Although I am a little bit delighted it’s called the Leman!

Leadership

Nick Clegg’s memoirs are being published and, it turns out, he thinks that Cameron and Osbourne are a little bit shitty. He regrets backing the plans for £9k tuition fees and sitting on the front bench at PMQs squirming but unable to contribute, and he started smoking and stopped exercising in response to all the stress. However, he doesn’t see what all the fuss was about when Miriam accused Samantha of serving roast chicken with Hellman’s mayonnaise. Ghastly! I’m team Miriam on mayonnaise-gate…

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Nick, I’m afraid, comes across as rather naïve in all of this. Really, was there not the slightest suggestion that Cameron and Osbourne were rather shifty characters who came from and focused on propagating a world of division, wealth and privilege? When one of them said, apparently, that we shouldn’t build more social housing because we’d simply be creating more Labour voters, was Nick genuinely shocked? Really, Nick?

He may protest that he did good by softening the blow but Nick, in the end, was enabler-in-chief of Tory policies. Like a lot of political memoirs I suspect I’ll find myself grinding teeth in frustration at the feebleness of it all. Hindsight is a great thing, but I suspect in life many people find themselves in positions where they fundamentally disagree with someone’s values, beliefs and methods. I’ve been there in my past.  It is hard sometimes, of course it is, but in such instances you have to hold some principles and a morsel of human decency, stand up and press the case.

I’ve been around long enough to see all kinds of leaders, both in politics and in everyday life and work. I’ve experienced terrible ones. But I ought also to say, with no creepiness at all because (as I’ve said before) I doubt many people read this blog, I have been lucky to see from many colleagues truly exceptional leadership since coming to King’s.  I hope I learn, and I feel I have made and hope I will make a decent fist of leadership myself.

In the end, we get the leaders we deserve. If you don’t stand up, you fundamentally share responsibility for the bad things. It goes without saying that you cannot win every argument or right every wrong. I don’t know if Nick did – I’d like to give the benefit of the doubt that he probably tried – but he was out-gamed. To me at least he seems like a decent enough, but naïve man. Maybe he fought behind the scenes and lost. In which case, he should have come out to the front of the stage. If you lack moral fibre and the strength to stand up you are part of the problem because you let the bad guys dominate.

And really bad leaders don’t listen. They are rarely good at any job apart from promoting narrow self-interest. In academia and in politics, sometimes, whole careers are built on that. Such people think they already know everything already anyway, and so they have nothing to learn because they can never be wrong. Often they bully. And invariably they’re disastrous at their jobs because, when self-interest is the only focus, others are to blame as the lines on performance charts head south.

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We want and need political leaders who have values and principles and communicate them, but are flexible enough to listen and develop or change their thinking when counter-arguments are persuasive or a situation compels it. We need leaders who stand up because, while competence is essential, fundamentally, leadership is a moral task. In that respect, good leaders never forget the human consequences of their actions, and never see a spread-sheet rather than a person. They don’t exploit people. Good leadership is not a balance between having principles and listening: you should always do both but recognise your personal biases and limitations and never stop making the argument. Those who try constantly to please or fail to stand up may be pleasant enough but just end up enabling the bad guys. They pursue a different kind of self-interest and you can never really be sure where they stand. Personally, I prefer my friends to be vertebrates.

So what about the future? I’m not sure what Nick’s planning to do now. A position at Hellman’s is probably a non-starter, but maybe Heinz will come calling? Not many universities will be rushing to give the fall-guy for £9k fees an Honorary position. Strictly is beckoning…