Sharing is caring: A mother’s and son’s journey

Rachel Whittal-Williams, Hywel Dda University Health Board

I was very pleased to be accepted to present a ‘show and tell’ at the International Conference for Enhancing Practice 2018 in Basel, Switzerland (August 2018). The conference fell during the school holidays so I decided to share, what turned out to be a very special experience, with my oldest son. I think it was safe to say we were both excited but nervous leading up to the event!

I had spent the early part of the summer creating my show and tell. I gave my creation the title of ‘Unravelling Facilitative Leadership – A Personal Journey’ (Whittal-Williams, 2018). The presentation tells the story of the growth and development of a nurse new to the role of leadership as a Practice Development Facilitator. The work was based on an earlier project which I had led on ‘Let’s talk about miscarriage (Whittal-Williams and Jones, 2017), supported by the Foundation of Nursing Studies (FoNS) in partnership with the Burdett Trust for Nursing through the Patients First Programme. The project had gathered ten women’s stories of the lived experience of miscarriage. The main aim of the project was to communicate the stories back to health professionals involved in delivering miscarriage care.

The show and tell display used a hand-crafted blanket to describe how a stray thread within practice, miscarriage support, was picked up and pulled on. The analogy outlined the messages of facilitative leadership development by attaching the messages to the threads throughout the blanket. The blanket symbolised a common vision when it was whole. Unravelling the blanket symbolised the unravelling of the workplace, staff and ultimately the author herself as a facilitative leader. The plan then was to hand out these messages to the audience to hold and embrace the message.

The show and tell revealed a journey of self-belief, embracing individuality and recognising self-worth. This personal journey of facilitative leadership aimed to show how:

  • Facilitative leadership brings together the different strengths of individuals
  • Facilitative leadership makes things easier and gets things done
  • Facilitative leadership engages everyone to set agreed actions, empowering motivation.

Facilitative leadership ensures working towards a shared common vision, working towards a continuous process of improvement, building person-centred care by reflecting the perspectives of patients and most of all keeping it real, by embracing the emotions of the process (Dewing, McCormack and Titchen, 2014). The messages incorporated the five practices of exemplary leadership (Kouzes and Posner, 2012) and the presentation aimed to show the connectivity we can have when we come together with a shared vision, as the audience is connected together by the thread of the unravelled blanket.

The journey began with a very early morning car drive to our local airport, followed by two short flights via Amsterdam to eventually arrive in Basel, Switzerland. What an amazing city! Everyone we spoke to greeted us in several languages until we responded. The people of Basel were most friendly and welcoming. We had arranged to stay in a beautiful bed and breakfast where again our host was very friendly and helpful. My son enjoyed travelling on the city tram network where we made full use of our Basel Card which gave us free access to public transport.

The show and tell was very well received at the conference. I had to adapt my original plan to hand out messages to people as the presentations were assigned tables. Members of the audience were very intrigued as to why I was unravelling a beautiful blanket. It was really interesting to see how different nationalities responded to what I was doing. Notably the local people of Switzerland could not understand why I would unravel such a beautiful blanket and found it destructive. Once I explained the concept in more detail, they began to understand the need to take something apart to build it back up again. The messages attached to the thread acted as an excellent conversation point and helped the audience gain a deeper understanding.

My son was made to feel very welcome by everyone. The original project was on miscarriage and I believe having my son by my side brought an extra sense of humanity and realism. The journey into leadership for me was very much about exposing myself, finding myself and navigating new experiences. It was a very humanising experience, growing both personally and professionally.

The highlight of the conference was to be approached by Professor Brendan McCormack, Edinburgh University, who congratulated me on an excellent concept and abstract. My son’s highlight of course was the free chocolate.


Dewing, J., McCormack, B. and Titchen, A. (2014) Practice Development Workbook for Nursing, Health and Social Care Teams. Wiley Blackwell: Chichester.

Jones S. and Whittal-Williams, R. (2017) Let’s talk about Miscarriage. Project report. FoNS/Burdett Trust: London. Available online at:

Kouzes, J.M. and Posner, B.Z. (2012) The Leadership Challenge: How to Make Extraordinary Things Happen in Organisations. Fifth Edition. Jossey-Bass/imprint Wiley: San Francisco.

Whittal-Williams, R. (2018) Unravelling Leadership – A Personal Journey. Available online at:

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