Helen Bevan

Make change happen – Top Tips for leaders

By Helen Bevan.

Click here for the video summary.

Read the review by Dr. Mohammad Ali Merchant.

Chief Transformation Officer

NHS (England) Improving Quality

(Leadership Resilience in Emergency Care Workshop, Leeds)

Reviewed by Dr. Mohammad Ali Merchant, Clinical Fellow Leeds Teaching Hospitals

Biography of Helen BEVAN

Helen Bevan has been a leader of large scale change in the National Health services, England for more than 20 years. She has been acknowledged globally for her expertise in these changes and the ability to translate it into practical actions and deliver outcomes. She provides guidance and trainings on transformational changes to leaders of health and care systems all over the world. In 2008 she has been recognized as one of the 60 most influential people in the history of NHS.


  • Developing mental resilience
  • Being a change leader
  • Learning to take refusals positively
  • Bringing about a change in an organization
  • To do the right thing to do without regards to the consequences
  • Understanding the REBEL attitude.
  • Becoming a sustain agent.

Learning to Rock the Boat and Stay in it

Helen Bevan talked about various ideas of bringing about changes in the modern world today. She shared her vast experience on ‘How to rock the boat and stay in it’.

She also tells us how sometimes the right things we do brings about the most rejections from people. Doing the right things and the need for them be done in the right way in modern world can be the toughest when, radically seeking to change and transform. Mental resilience is the forefront when being a change leader and generating new ideas to improve systems. She defines the characteristics of a REBEL in a totally new form and differentiates them from troublemakers. She supports her talks with researches from various fields of science.

Talking about how she has been a change leader in her world for the past 26 years at local and national levels and bringing about changes in any system, decisions being small or big can be the toughest and the hardest thing possible. Although it may be the most difficult things at time, but when the right thing has to be done one should not worry about whether people will dislike these changes or not. These change initiatives have to be taken. There are more chances of their ideas being rejected in the first instance than be accepted. One has to embark on the journey being fully equipped with the armour of resilience.

She credits the idea from AVAN KATZ’s study about, ‘All his ideas are battles’.

She has never had anyone ever say, “That’s a great idea” at the first instance.

Evidence from the Researchers

Helen quoted Thomas Huxley, the evolutionary biologist,  talking about the ideas of Darwin about natural selection as new truths begin as heresies. Most of the time, people do not enjoy hearing new truths. They are unable to digest new ideas being brought to the forefront at the first instance.

She mentioned Gary HAMEL, who according to the Financial Times, is one of the major change leaders in the world. According to him, changes always start at the fringes and it is the activists who initiate them. Hence we live in a world where the change either starts at the centre or from the borders, but nevertheless things happen in many different ways. Every one of us, no matter what or who we are, has the potential to be a leader in our own way and lead our teams.

Change of Powers

It is very helpful in today’s world to think about the older and newer powers. We in this world believe the most dominant form of power is older power rather than bringing about a change. Old power systems tend to be closed systems and are transactional which means, it’s logical that its mechanistic.  One is told to do this because it is so yet not comprehending why are we actually doing it.

Whereas, new powers are like current and generate energy. New power is made by many people coming together and is an open system in which everybody becomes part of that system because they want to by choice rather than they have to. Hence we have to be activists and leaders in change. This is not the easiest of routes and most of the pathway is a zigzag. Reflecting on the success of The Leeds Way to bring in new powers and changes was one of its recent examples.

Helen  highlighted BATTILANA and CASCIANO, researchers from Canada who published papers on organisational systems, and studied the British National Health Service. They explored the question about what does it take to be a change leader? They explored 68 change initiatives but they observed that, for the people to bring about changes was very little to do with positional powers. It had much more to do with networks, connections and informal powers. She also quoted a study by Leonardo HERROERO, which found that people who are highly connected have twice as much power to bring about change as compared to people with positional authorities.

She then talked about her own experience with a large number of frontline workers in the health care system, who didn’t feel they could even bring about small changes in quality, as they didn’t have the connections and/or the system didn’t allow them to bring the changes they wanted to.

In order to bring about effective changes in the new era of today’s world, it needs incremental changes. Although we have to have cohesion and quality controls but we also need diversity. If we bring in diverse people together in a system, they make better decisions. We need different challenges and the people taking on these challenges to bring about these new changes are referred to as REBELS. These rebels are people who take on change initiatives or call to action. These are the champions who don’t wait for a push, but instead take the first steps themselves. They walk the fine line. They are not like unguided missiles but are responsible people, and doing what they are doing because it’s the right thing to do. These rebels play a key role in organizations, because they highlight different important things which are essential for success of the system. They have a tough life, but are full of mental resilience. They rock the boats and yet stay in it. These are change agents who are different and yet fit in.

‘Without rebels the story line never changes’

They conform and rebel. They like to work together and not alone. They are not destructive. They are not only optimistic but also like creating a new future, generate new energy levels, attract others and highlight potentials, but above all work together in a team. That’s what rebel resilience is all about. Sheemphasised the fact that we need these MAVERICKS in every organization in order to grow and bring about positive changes.

Ability to differentiate between a REBEL and a TROUBLE MAKER

She compared and contrasts REBELS and TROUBLE MAKERS.

According to her a rebel is the one who creates a different future and is passionate about what he/she does, optimistic about change and generates energy with people around them and makes a difference. Whereas a trouble maker is typically a person who whinges and complains a lot, and the focus is self-centred. They have a pessimistic approach about changes. They possess low energy levels and hence alienate other members of their team, and if a REBEL comes along to bring about a positive change, a trouble maker can come up with a hundred reasons why to not do so. As a result they are left alone.

Becoming a Sustain Agents

Helen then gave the audience  top hints about being a sustain agent.

She mentioned that it is very  important to understand that one will get lots of ‘No’s’ when presenting a new idea or a proposal. One has to learn to accept ‘No’ from people.

Remember it’s nothing personal, they aren’t rejecting you, rather the idea gets rejected. One should not go into a cocoon but rather take it as an opportunity to understand how can the idea be improved and made better. They should actually make the NO as an initial achievement target. Hence, No never means never.

She highlights the fact that we also need to learn from salesmanship experience. Research shows that only 2% sales are actually made on the first contact whereas 80% sales made on the second to fifth contact. This shows that majority of the salesman have received or expected to receive a NO at the first contact. If they take this personally, they would be unable to sell their products at all. Therefore they become sustain agents in order to be successful.

She then described that it is a known fact that, scientific scholars who were Positive deviants or Mavericks in their own fields, in order get their articles published in peer review journals, were mostly rejected at the first attempt. Researchers followed this up longitudinally and found that those who got the most ‘no’s’ were the ones who got the most published articles and citations.

Take home Message and what I enjoyed

Helen BEVAN emphasised  that we should remember that, if it is the right thing to do, one should do it –  Be a sustain agent, work with mental resilience and remember the REBEL approach.

I enjoyed the talk throughout. It was one of those captivating talks that kept the the audience engaged throughout. The take home messages for me were very clearly laid in eye catching slides. I really liked the way she put the message of persistence  to the audience. She redefined the concept of a REBEL.

She reinforced that to bring about change was tough and generated turbulence but was not impossible. I particularly appreciated the emphasis laid on developing more mental resilience and not taking rejections personally. The key is  to refine the idea further and to stay on track with determination and persistence.


Leave a Reply