How to lead, care for, and inspire great work in a social work team. (hint-probably works for all teams!)

A recent Social Work Essay was invited by the Recruitment Company-Liquid Personnel with a £1000 first prize so I entered.  I was not shortlisted but here are some of my less bizarre thoughts on the subject below.
“The average ‘career lifespan’ of a social worker is just 8 years.  What can be done to increase engagement among social workers and keep them in the profession for longer?”
My title is:
How to lead, care for, and inspire great work in a social work team.

Mirror a loving family under pressure.
Train, support, develop, stretch, and trust.
Use authority with great care and sparingly.
Continually recognise and celebrate good work and achievements.
Make lots of space for laughter.  Share food a lot.
Make lots of space to meet and share.
Continually emphasise-service-to service users and each other.
Resist cultures of overwork and presenteeism.
Always accompany a negative criticism with a positive solution.
Insist that negative feelings are shared and talked through.
Continually emphasise personal and professional safety.
Grow and invest in your workers over time.
Be clear about the team’s Mission Statement.
Have whiteboards everywhere-magnetic ones!
Encourage familiarity and pleasure in research.
Create the practice of always cascading training.
Insist upon loyalty to the team as a basic expectation.
Sometimes play music in the office.
Shared lunch is positive but never obligatory.
Encourage your social workers to take breaks and go for walks.
Have regular group supervisions on complex cases.
Train your social workers to be at ease with authority in safeguarding cases and to project it with confidence but also with compassion and understanding.
Make supervision an exciting, challenging but ultimately affirming experience.
Be a leader-servant.
Encourage the keeping of a professional journal and file-including all training, qualifications and Continued Professional Development hours.
Treat all bullying and disrespect, racism, sexism and oppression as if it were a disease from whatever source.
Have Friday lunch together in the pub regularly.
Treat all students as custodians of the future of the profession.
Create gold stars and Employee of the Week Awards but with much humour and laughter while subversively celebrating outstanding work.
Stand up for Social Work as a profession for heroes and wounded healers.
Have at least one suit for court-the best you can buy-Navy blue is best.
Teach yourself and your team to become the best possible writers.
Read and critique each other’s written work.  Remember the best writers are always the best readers.
Always, always carry a notebook and pen.
Learn to be and teach everyone to become, great note takers.
Become expert in using technology.
Use Evernote.  Scrivenor.  Devonthink.  Ulysses.  Todoist.  Wunderlist.  Word.  Mindjet.  Pages.  Powerpoint.  Keynote.  Excel.
Always ask for the other point of view, likewise advice.  One of the most common things to hear in a social work office should be ‘what do you think?’  Director or Social Worker-No matter what your role.
Meditate every day.
Physically exercise and take care of your body through fitness and nutrition.
Every social worker of eight years experience should be a highly trained and confident-
·     Meetings chair
·     Minute-taker
·     Report writer
·     Counsellor and therapist-Child or adult or both
·     Events organiser
·     Coach
·     Trainer
·     Presentations specialist
·     Theoretician
·     Self-organiser
·     Possessor of brilliantly developed interpersonal skills
·     Court Expert
·     Mediator and negotiator
Pessimism is not a good mind-set for a Social Worker.
Practice the facial expressionism of a good actor so that from the back of a Court you leave a judge in no doubt of your feelings.
A successfully managed worker is one who is excited about coming to work in the morning.
Be proud of being a Social Worker.  Encourage pride in the profession.
Consider your Senior Leadership Team as having the best of motives.  Understand the hugely difficult decisions they must make in this time of Austerity.
Senior managers!  You need to communicate Austerity much more effectively.
Be a master and mistress of Email courtesy.
Too high caseloads mean low quality work-understand it is an inevitable equation that will lead to the loss of good people.
Review all your professional priorities at least weekly.
In order for doing to be effective it must be preceded by thinking and planning.
Never sign your name to anything you don’t believe in.
If anyone ever tells you Social Work is about covering your arse, they don’t understand it.
Regard vulnerable children and adults as priceless works of art are regarded by museums.  Not problems but the reason for your professional existence.
Avoid management-speak like the plague.  Use language to be clearly understood.  Avoid acronyms and abbreviations.
Social work skills are gradually accrued over years of practice and study.  At about eight years a social worker is coming into their power to make excellent independent decisions.  If they leave the profession at this point you lose not only them but all the knowledge that is in their heads when they walk out the door including the mysterious value of their intuition.  It is irreplaceable and to lose it is to fail as an organisation and as a profession.  Staff retention needs the profession’s best minds. NOTE: staff retention needs a better title more descriptive of its various elements.  How about- ‘The joy in the job Project?’
Social Work is not about processing forms-it is about transforming lives.
Regard an Ofsted Inspection as an opportunity to show off!  Celebrate it!  There’s nothing worse for social workers than to be contaminated with the fear of a Senior Management Team on the brink of an Ofsted visit!
Let us articulate as a whole profession what we see as our future role in our society.  Let’s be a bit more pushy about it!
Join the British Association of Social Workers (BASW).  Get involved!
We don’t do this bizarre and wonderful job for the money.  Certainly not for the prestige.  Not for the popular acclaim!
Maybe we just want to do something valuable and worthwhile? To give back something?  Maybe we love humanity?  Maybe we have traces of brokenness in our own lives that spurred us on?
A myriad of reasons and maybe no reason we can articulate yet.
But it’s a damn fine thing to do, this Social Work!  We should be proud of ourselves!  We should be proud of each other!
Quite simply, when we speak the truth of what we do, that is how we will keep on doing it. 
Go well, and shine brightly!

Anthony Dougan 
December 2016


Some tips for effective living from a recent article on Tim Ferris's new book-Tools of Titans

  • Listening to Tara Brach’s “2010 Smile Meditation” first thing in the mornings, as many icons do;
  • Drinking pu-erh tea with one or two tablespoons of coconut oil for sustained energy;
  • Using apps and programs to take control of your digital life like Jumpcut (to manage your clipboard) F.lux (to manage screen-induced insomnia), Emailga.me (to get a hold on email overload), or Freedom (to block Internet access), and more;
  • Testing out The 5-Minute Journal for a week, five minutes in the morning and five before bed;
  • Consider the Chilipad device for sleep, or a simple pre-bed cocktail for insomnia: two tablespoons apple cider vinegar, one tablespoon raw honey mixed in hot water.


Character perspective from Nico Lee's novel 'A good lie ain't easy' due to be published March 31st 2017. Its brill! Thanks for letting us share it here!

A lovely little piece from my online author mate Nico Lee.
It reminded me of my own Isle of Thanet tale when I was contracting down there.  My first week was spent in a very strange hotel in Ramsgate where I briefly met a young male receptionist who appeared to emerge out of darkness and then I saw no other human being for the rest of the week, merely hearing shuffling and moving about in various rooms and was highly disturbed by an unfeasibly long pubic hair that was pinned to my pillow.

And then a week in Margate where I remember walking down a street of high-rise hotels with frontal areas full of dark eyed and squat Albanian men screeching at each other excitedly and burning rubbish in metal dustbins with thick black smoke hanging in the air like some convention of medieval blacksmiths.
I later got a flat in gentile Broadstairs but it all ended badly 5 months later and even now I always inwardly curse the fates when I think of Kent.

This is a short piece written from the perspective of one of the characters from ‘A Good Lie Ain’t Easy’- my first novel, which is out on March 31st 2017 and is available on Amazon:


He’s a bit of a grumpy git here, attacking one of my favourite spots in the world, but I’m sure we’ve all had our bad days.
Anyway, hope you enjoy- Nico Lee

Enjoy the View

The Great British sunset has never recovered from post-war rationing. If J.M.W. Turner was to stand on the curved wharf of Margate’s front today he’d be dismayed to find that a shortage of naturally occurring salt, water-vapour and good old-fashioned English dust had resulted in a sky of a singular blue meanness. I am told that more edifying views of the firmament are to be had over nearby Whitstable, but we’re here now, so enjoy it.
Enjoy the view.
Enjoy the front, like every other rundown British seaside front, the sparkling lights of Las Vegas driven down to a miniature parody of themselves, of a desert resort that itself delights in miniature replicas of history…
Enjoy the Georgian buildings, with that sea view, mocked by the arcades and their heartfelt tributes to a far off landlocked land of spinning lights, crashing sounds… the hyperactive squeals of pensioners high on genetically modified warfarin and half-price fish suppers, everything out of scale, the doors inhuman, stunted and yet too big, with more history in a lintel than in the whole of the Smithsonian. Margate tops this with a distortion of time itself, its other, far more ancient buildings erected seemingly around the grotesque phallus of dirty concrete that dominates the skyline and whose high-rise dishevelment speaks of favelas from some far-flung future. Where is Judge Dredd when you need him? Pick up that litter citizen. I presume it’s litter? Dust-bowling, multiplying, gathering together, I am waiting for it to develop a face or bowels.
Enjoy the smells.
Those that compete with the rotting fish, that coruscating reek of rotting sea effluvium that marks this out as a heritage site of outstanding natural stench.
Enjoy the baking stone and its role as frying pan for eggy dog mess.
Enjoy the face that lunched on a thousand chips split open at the maw, enjoy the flip-top head that mirrors the concertina of the buggy that her pregnant belly is pushing, can of Trojan lager in one hand, Marlboro Light in the other. Baby Liam, a fine fellow covered in mucus and startled ennui, is ignored- though if he continues to increase his sugar intake, perhaps sucking on his head will become a welcome distraction from mum’s usual palliatives of choice.
Enjoy catching the train back to London…
Do I sound like a snob? Kent can do that to you. Although I can’t be that elitist- I didn’t enjoy the Turner Contemporary, which is situated here, either. Then again sneering at modern art is sometimes classless, not just a way of letting off underdog steam. I guess nearly all of us have a boss. You hate him? At least you have a J.M.W. Turner print on your wall and not a coffee table book full of crap like that. Whatever that is? A blob and three Albanian legs in frantic disagreement? A collection of ‘found’ bottle tops and Dutch elephant dung? You can hate that without enjoying Nascar, or whatever the British equivalent is. Which brings us neatly to why I’m completely classless, and there is a joke in there somewhere- because we do get irony… you see I’m an American. One of those people. The vicious critique of the young girl with the pram was actually provided by the English sweetheart I’m walking along the ‘prom’ with. I did contribute, I am only human, and being a Yank gives me an inalienable right to comment on all things on your side of the pond. After all I don’t have to stay around long enough to register your affront or indeed enjoy the front… we have moved further inland, holding hands, and I wonder if this marvellous idea I’d had for studying for a year in Europe could only be made more wonderful by knowing the girl I’d met over here was planning to come and see me Stateside in the fall…
I trip. Cobbles. It’s just like Harry Potter but with worse teeth. Is that it? The famous British smile is facilitated by slamming your head down onto uneven paving? Margate opens up now like a broken smile given braces. Gentrification is apace. It is a long way from San Francisco but the vintage shops are charming, in that the clothes are no older than what you might buy at home but the paint on the floor was once dribbled upon by King George VI, who was apparently the last George so far, so that’s something, surely? Also, I’m told you can now buy food here somewhere that isn’t necessarily fried, although to get the full experience I need to shut up and put battered peas the colour of Chernobyl fallout in my face. In between haggling for a pair of boots I can barely lift off the floor- because there is nothing like hobnails to convince you that hiking rules- I start to miss my brother.
No, not that one.
That’d be ridiculous.
I mean the one you can relate to.
The guy behind the counter has chest hair peeking from his shirt that reminds me of his moustache, far from insubstantial, vaguely Mediterranean. I was wondering if my older sibling had finally managed to get out from under the only girlfriend he’d managed to hold down. Last I’d heard? He said when I returned he was going to set her up with me, which was in his words ‘safe’, as she was sure to realise that was a ‘dead-end’. Thanks. As an escape plan I thought it was up there with his ever more elaborate and digressive attempts to get fired from being a tour guide at our local historical treasure, the prison across the bay. Every chance he could, he told me, he would veer from the Alcatraz script and steer hapless tourists into a quagmire of irrelevant ‘facts’ in an attempt to undermine both the death penalty and then all notions of judicial leniency. No-one on the tour could figure out what he wanted you to believe, let alone whether you should believe it. Did it matter? Exodus was paramount, even if one’s very soul was then doomed to blow away on the warm Diablo wind…

At least that’s what he told us he was doing for three years. Six years after my trip to dear old merry England I read an article that mentioned all the tours on the island were conducted by Park Rangers. My brother was no Park Ranger. Where had he been going during the day? San Francisco offers so much in the way of spiritual fulfilment. Apparently Margate does too nowadays. When I was there in the late eighties, not so much. Of course in the eighties the Turner Contemporary hadn’t even been built, gentrification wasn’t even really a word, not one in common parlance, and J.K. Rowling was thinking about moving to Portugal to teach, not counting cash from blockbuster novels, but, like I said, that great phallus of dirty concrete that stares down the Turner from across the bay, and which may be the only such (allegedly inhabited) construction in the world to be surrounded by a roller-coaster, is the epicentre of a vortex that distorts time, and from its windows? Well, I gotta tell you. Unlike what he’d think of the gallery, Turner would be proud. What a marvellous sunset.