Bead-counting alone doesn’t tell the story

Young patient, Chichester Hospital

Young patient, Chichester Hospital

I had  a “craic’ing” time in Liverpool last week.

As someone with a passion for the sea, and interested in industry and history, it is pleasurable to spend time in place which brings all three together. 

Sadly, Liverpool’s industrial record is also largely historical. In common with other cities that flourished during the industrial revolution, the shift from manufacturing to a service-based industries in the UK yanked the economic rug from under the city’s feet. Jobs left, crime arrived, the wealthy departed. At the of the 20th century, the city lolled. The once gorgeous Georgian townhouses overlooking the port epitomised the decline; broken windows staring out like the eye sockets of a Hamletian skull

But the Liver bird is replacing the Phoenix, and the city is rising again. Property developers have invested heavily and Liverpool is the third most visited city in the UK. Plans are underway for further development along the River Mersey with Shanghai as the model.

But commercial re-birth will be stunted if the progeny are mostly fashion stores and coffee shops. To thrive, local companies need to generate value which they can exploit far beyond their immediate hinterland. Last week I worked with one such company, local in its roots, global in its operation. 

The experience was fizzingly refreshing. And here’s why. 

The leader had self-esteem.

At this development event we had a selection of the 50 executives, and the leader was an active participant. Now I’ve run courses where the CEO decides to be with ‘the tribe,’ and her or his physical presence often dampens deep discourse. This results in mumblings during the day, and rumblings in the bar at night. 

How invigorating, therefore, to find a CEO who has inculcated a culture of openness and honesty, and thus allowed forthright discussions around people, culture, customers and businesses. 

Contrary to popular belief, many business managers lack self-esteem; they are fearful of dissent, and it bursts through their leadership style and binds the psyche of the organisation. 

Here are some tell-tale signs. If you see a large organisation that;

  • was once a leader but is devoid of competitive advantage
  • is diverse in population but not in thinking
  • hails investors yet hides from customers
  • tries to control rather than shape the future
  • put numbers before narrative

then you have senior leadership with lacks self-esteem.

Numbers before narrative?

Yes. As I was reminded earlier this week, the highest performing, most successful leaders start with narrative then move to the numbers. 


Because the key questions in business (where will we play, how will we compete, what is our business model) are answered first by narrative. 

Narrative sets the context for analysis.

It is narrative, not numbers, which recruit others to our cause.

Here is a case in point.

In 2004, Jean Baruch started a programme, Beads for Courage, at a children’s oncology department in Phoenix, Arizona. A child would receive a bead for every medical intervention, and the form and colour of the bead would represent the detail of the intervention. See below. The initiative is now deployed in 60 children’s hospitals across the world.

Certainly, we can lay out the number of patients, the frequency and type of treatment and perhaps some measure of their discomfort or pain each intervention has caused by auditing the number and style of the beads. 

But this data, neatly formatted and tabbed doesn't tell the story. No doubt it helps in planning and allocating resources but it doesn’t answer questions. 

Jean Baruch didn’t start the initiative so that the planners could budget resources. She did it so that children could tell the story of their journey. This gave sense and purpose to hospital staff who, in turn, planned the most effective use of the resources. 

In tough times, you need fortitude, resolve and self-esteem to look at the necklace first before counting the beads.

Confidence comes not from always being right but from not fearing to be wrong.
— Peter T. McIntyre