Carl Ashcroft

carl ashcroft

It was a pleasure to talk to Carl. A warm, funny, but tough man, with a huge amount of experience and laser focus on evidence and numbers. An early career in science (with a particular interest in statistics) followed by teaching, led to service improvement roles within the NHS and taking on responsibility for four services providing talking therapies. He is now working with a small and expanding health and care organisation where he is responsible for governance and performance.


What is the book (or books) you’ve given most as a gift, and why? Or what are one to three books that have greatly influenced your life?

The book I give out most is Autism In Adults by Dr Luke Beardon.

Neuerodiversity is slowly becoming better recognised and understood by the general population. It’s a good thing and means people are ready to learn more about it. It’s often grossly misunderstood.  There are a lot of autistic people. The chances are you often come in contact with such people and the more we understand each other the better. The book is just a hundred pages long. I give it out, lend it and leave them out in public places for people to pick up and read. 

L’Assommoir by Emile zola. The only novel that I’ve read twice. It’s about people, their aspirations, conflicting ways of being and fallibility. It’s about how things can go badly wrong be that due to matters within or outwith our control. What was it that Sting sang, how fragile we are? I try to bear this in mind and to be grateful!. 


What purchase of £100 or less has most positively impacted your life in the last six months (or in recent memory)? (Brand and model, where you found it?)

Prescription sunglasses are a real luxury, I love them, but they are a bit more than £100.

I’ve recently bought electronically heated insteps. Perfect for the hybrid, winter, worker at home with the cost of heating a house. only £9 a pair, a bargain.


How has a failure, or apparent failure, set you up for later success? Do you have a “favourite failure” of yours?

Early on in my career I had to talk to someone about a restructure that meant he was losing his job. It wasn’t my decision, but the guy had to go. I was nervous about it and I tacked it on to the end of a conversation with him in a toe curlingly bad way. It was shocking. It didn’t go well as you’d expect and he was very pissed off. 

That stays with me and I’ve never got it wrong like that again.


If you could have a gigantic billboard anywhere with anything on it —metaphorically speaking, getting a message out to millions or billions — what would it say and why? It could be a few words or a paragraph. (If helpful, it can be someone else’s quote: Are there any quotes you think of often or live your life by?)

All you need is love. 

(You could say compassion, but there’s something inherently positive about love). If more people led with this, the world would be a better place.


What is one of the best or most worthwhile investments you’ve ever made? (Could be an investment of money, time, energy, etc.) 

Two things:

Time with my children.

My house. It means I don’t have a landlord. It gives me security and stability.


In the last five years, what new belief, behaviour, or habit has most improved your life?

In the past year I’ve made myself pause more often and think laterally in relation to getting things done, rather than taking my usual head-on approach. When faced with no and reasons why not, more and more I think sideways and ask, what other way can I get that done? Doing it this way, I don’t always get the credit for the things I’ve done, but the job is more likely to get done. It’s a win.


What advice would you give to a smart, driven student about to enter the “real world”? What advice should they ignore?” 

Soft skills are so important: communication, leadership, teamwork, ownership, adaptability, problem -solving, critical thinking, time-management.

My door is always open and I make sure folk understand that I am happy to help and support.


What are bad recommendations you hear in your profession or area of expertise?

Not a recommendation as such, but over the years I hear a lot of reassurances that things are getting done to improve things, such as reducing patient or service-user waiting times, but it’s not thought through. Really, you’re being told don’t worry about it, that it’s in hand, but is it? Often I think people are just trying to feel good about it just by acting in some way, but that way hasn’t necessarily been planned well in terms of evidence-base and impact.  


What frustrates you the most about your industry and the way companies are run in it?

The primary task gets lost sometimes. People can get caught up in all sorts of detail, but you have to remember why we are doing what we are doing.


What does a balanced life look like to you? Has a work or a project you have been focused on caused you to neglect other areas of your life? 

I’m in my fifties and I don’t want to retire. I work part-time now and am happy to flex hours up or down a little, depending.

Balance for me is also spending time with my kids, while doing meaningful, rewarding work which makes a difference.


When you feel overwhelmed or unfocused, or have lost your focus temporarily, what do you do? (If helpful: What questions do you ask yourself?)

I’ve learned that I’m not always good at looking after myself. I should exercise more! Perhaps make time to just do nothing?


What does leadership mean to you?

I think leadership is about holding on to uncertainty and anxiety and to an extent acting as a buffer; colleagues shouldn’t be kept in the dark but don’t always benefit from knowing everything. Filtering information and managing the boundaries. It’s having agency, authority and credibility.

It’s also about helping people with their job, so that they can achieve.

It’s about making sure that any work done aligns with the primary task, organisational mission and values. 


Which people have most inspired you in your life and why?

My children. Their positivity, their courage, their ability to find joy.


What do the words principles and values mean to you?

If you don’t know what you want to achieve, and or how you want to go about it, then why are you doing it? What the hell are you doing!? When it comes down to it, values are what’s important to you. Should you really have to park them outside the building when you get to work?  I’m fortunate enough in recent years to to work with organisations that ethically and morally are striving towards a destination together. 

Having said that, I always meet these words, principles and values, with a degree of scepticism. They are too often lost in the pipework. 

Often I think, even if good intentions are there, because the people setting out the values are too far away from the front line, things get diluted and lost on the way. 


If you had a forum to speak to 50 leaders, what question would you pose to them, to get them thinking about and being better leaders?

Do you know what your primary task is?


What one thing could you do that you aren’t doing now, that if you did on a regular basis, would make a tremendous positive difference in your personal life? What one thing in your business or professional life would bring similar results? 

In my personal life, it would be taking time for myself. I don’t stop and do nothing. I must try taking it easy sometime! 

In my professional life, it would be more of what I do already; be open, be receptive, initiate conversations, chats. It’s often at the end of conversations that people become more relaxed and disclose the things they’re worried about and that’s useful for everybody. 


Have you ever engaged with self-help, mentoring or coaching? If so, how?

I’ve always wanted good quality mentoring but not had much throughout my career.

Topic: 50 in 50