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Leadership, and Individualized Care vs. Custodial Care. Part Two: Chris Lee on Michael Kendrick’s Recent “Inspiring Possibilities Through Innovative Leadership”

June 30, 2010

Michael's new book, Letting in the Light. We have several copies available at our office or you can order it directly from the publisher.

If we ask these questions, we can begin to move away from what Michael calls a “custodial model of care”.  This model of care is connected to an institutionalized way of thinking in that it relies on the notion of protection or guardianship over someone else.  In contrast to this, an approach that places the ‘growth’ of the individual at the centre is integral to fostering ‘self-designed services’, where the starting point to any service design is an individual’s life.  So, for example, instead of assuming from the outset that an individual needs to be ‘protected’, which easily leads to restrictiveness and over-protection, safeguards need to be carefully matched to the growth of the individual being assisted.  In other words, his or her priorities should be central, not others.  Too often in human services we fall into routine patterns that affect our ability to see an individual’s potential and act towards nurturing it.  What is needed, Michael says, is a critical awareness of whether our actions are helping or hindering the situation.  This means challenging ourselves to “Imagine better” and expanding our vision of another’s potential.


            The overall theme of the two days was ‘innovative leadership’, and Michael gave us an interesting take on leadership to ponder.  When we think of leadership, we often think of people in positions of power.   However, Michael made a distinction between ‘leader’, which is a role people fill, and leadership, which he defined as being “Expressed through actions to establish direction and purpose.”  Now this definition is somewhat wide-ranging, but it suggests importantly that leadership occurs in many ways and can be accomplished by many different people.  In fact, most leadership, Michael noted, is expressed informally.  We can see what this means in the ways many people act to uphold the dignity of people who are devalued in society.  It could be something as simple as holding back and not jumping in to order a coffee for someone who never gets a chance to order for herself.  Here, the conscious action to stand back is done with the explicit aim of fostering the independence of another.

            What ultimately defines leadership choices are the values we bring to it.  For example, the idea of ‘self-designed services’ reflects a value that all individuals have a capacity to develop their potential and be in socially-valued roles.  Choices made with this value in mind will influence all aspects of service provision, from encouraging more discussion, attention and action on a person’s dreams, to including all those who care about the person, to focusing on capacities and personal interests instead of disability and limitations. 

It also raises the important matter of measuring our success.  Leadership is not about dispensing slogans, but rather a purposeful achievement of results and a commitment to seeing valued goals come true.  So, if person-centredness in an agency is a goal, how do we know it is being met?  As Michael reminded us, simply using a planning tool isn’t evidence.  We have to look to other things, like how an agency responds to a person’s needs and wants over the long run, and whether it is partnering effectively with families and other natural supports and resources.  It also means clarifying one’s goals and evolving one’s visions and values on a regular basis – i.e. asking is what we’re seeking and doing benefiting people’s lives?

Concluding Thoughts

            Authentic change, Michael told us, can’t be imposed.  Education, persuasion, dialogue, consciousness raising, and informed and voluntary consent for change are all necessary.  In this sense, change is collective and takes time to build.  But the key message Michael left us with is that change starts at the individual level.  Innovation happens on a very small scale and the question is who is going to act on it and bring it forth.  Leadership thus begins with a commitment to one’s values and, to paraphrase Judith Snow, “Doing what’s really worth it (and figuring out how to do it)”.

For more on Michael Kendrick, visit

One Comment leave one →
  1. Ernie Baatz permalink*
    July 1, 2010 3:29 pm

    The publisher of Michael’s book is on the web at:

    I think this review captures the essence of the book:
    “The book challenges us to think deeply about human nature and human potential. It works with the deep complexities of service and its many flawed impressions, but mostly it provides a practical agenda and guide to assist thoughtful people to be actually helpful; a guide for truly working and being and living in ways that nurture and enliven human possibility.”
    Anne Cross

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