I can’t work with you any more

I can’t work with you any more.

These were the words uttered to me by a colleague that I have warmed to over the past few years.

He had come across my website and enquired if I had anything to do with it.

I can’t work with you any more.

He said those words in relation to things I had written about a specific unsafe piece of equipment that I am trying my damnedest to have removed from hospitals.

He did provide another avenue however – writing to the TGA (Therapeutic Goods Administration) – and asking them to review the situation. Why had someone else not already done this if this was the appropriate path to take?

I’ve done it myself now but won’t hold my breath. Every time I’ve mentioned the TGA to someone I’ve been met with exactly the same remark: ‘they’re a law unto themselves’. Surely this has to be a concern. They are ultimately in charge of the products that we interact with every day.

I can’t work with you any more.

The phrase kept reverberating in my head. I won’t deny it was upsetting.

My mind was torn. Here I am desperately trying to do what my conscience tells me is right and just – strive to provide a safer environment for my colleagues to work in so we can provide the best outcomes for our patients. At the same time I’m obviously pissing people off.

I can’t work with you any more.

It was my 42nd birthday and later that night I shed tears. I turned to my wife for comfort – she was great.

My saviour though was a friend. We went for a bike ride together and, when the moment was right, I relayed what had been going on. He listened intently and then then set me straight.

He mentioned that I should read about leadership – in particular Adaptive Leadership – the kind a guru in this field called Ronald Heifetz knows all about.

I was hesitant at first. I don’t want to be someone in authority – it’s doesn’t suit my character. I was concerned that it would stunt any momentum desperately needed to drive safety solutions. I didn’t want to become enmeshed in the quagmire of frameworks that haunt the healthcare industry – surely that’s the only direction a book on leadership could send me.

How wrong I was. Heifetz is right on the money. I’ve only just started reading his books but I can see there’s much to benefit from. He quickly makes the distinction between leadership and authority. He points out that the path of adapting a group to a new goal is usually a painful one where conflicts will rise along the way. We need to strive to avoid making these conflicts personal. People are resistant to change, to give up the old they know well and take comfort from. They need to be sold on the gain that will come from adapting to the new.

It’s not going to be easy. My aim is sure, my journey is not.

Watch out workplace hazards I’m coming to kick your ass.

5 thoughts on “I can’t work with you any more

  1. Excellent piece of writing, mate.

    I just watched an interview with Ronald Heifitz. Fascinating stuff, particularly the important distinction he makes between authority/leadership and technical problems/adaptive challenges.

    On the pissing people off thing, at the end of the day there’s only one course of action you can take: the one your heart tells you is right.

    PS. I can’t remember if I’ve ever mentioned this, but there’s an advertising guy called Dave Trott whose blog I think you’d get a lot out of. Have a read of this one and, if it floats your boat, read some of the others. He’s always inspiring because he always talks what I see as radical common sense: http://davetrott.co.uk/2013/07/act-dont-react/

    Keeping on keeping on bro.

    Ant x


  2. 14 years ago when we set out to launch the Organic Expo, we were met with a lot of resistance from the Organic Industry. It turned out to be hugely successful, not only bringing the entire industry together but it became their annual meeting place. There was a quote from Mahatma Gandhi which I loved and used often during those early years which kept me going and reminded me not to give up. ” You must be the change you wish to see in the world”


  3. A great post, and I’m pleased you are getting some use out of Heifitz and Linsky’s work. The key thing is keeping yourself safe and partnering with people, particularly those who have got a lot to loose. I admire Mahatma Ghandi, but I don’t want you to be assassinated like him, professionally or otherwise. When you speak out, you become a target, when you undertake courageous and vulnerable acts, you are at risk, it’s important that you protect yourself as much as you can, doesn’t mean you don’t do it, but you need to be really clear on purpose and delivery.


  4. You are not doing anything wrong ! As doctors we are taught to look at the evidence, which should include research on our organisational psychology and behaviour. I gained a lot by reading books by Atul Gawande, especially ” Better” and “Complications”.


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