Encounters with the Pig of Happiness – how I came to understand self-leadership

By Bernie Divall, Professional Advisor for Leadership on 30 July 2020 Maternity Services Leadership RCM Annual Conference

I came across Edward Monkton's Pig of Happiness animation when I was preparing to deliver my first ever seminar on leadership and its application within midwifery. I was acutely aware that three hours of leadership theory was just not going to cut it with a group of midwifery Masters students, and I was looking for something fun to support the idea of self-leadership and to illustrate the career narratives of midwifery leaders I'd been interviewing during my doctoral research. What stood out in these narratives was the midwives' desire to make a difference.

This was often what had brought them into midwifery in the first place, so it was no surprise to hear that their transition into clinical leadership roles was based on the same idea. Many of them, however, discovered that making the transition was harder than they had originally thought – but not necessarily for the reasons you might expect. Instead, it seemed the real challenge lay in convincing clinical colleagues that their new leadership roles had not altered their passion for midwifery, and a central theme in the analysis of their narratives was one of resilience in the face of others' negative responses. As we know, the subject of 'the management' in healthcare leadership is one fraught with tension and negative stereotyping, and midwifery clinical leaders often have a hard time clinging onto their professional identity, which remains so important to them.

So, how does The Pig of Happiness serve to illustrate ideas about leadership in midwifery? The animation tells the story of how one pig among many makes the decision to reject negativity, and instead meets adversity with a smile and some positive comebacks. Although he is ridiculed at first, he manages to spread his positivity through sheer force of effort, and eventually other animals take on his way of being. Written by Giles Andreae (otherwise known as Edward Monkton – and Purple Ronnie) in 2009, the Pig of Happiness was designed to encourage some positive thinking in society.

Showing this short animation always get a laugh, and that's never a bad thing when you're standing up to challenge some difficult assumptions. I've used it in seminars and workshops, and notably at RCM conference last year, where I applied it to our leadership offer. It's become something really useful, particularly when I'm describing the RCM's approach to leadership thinking. I've written previously about the central role of self-leadership in our work, and this is echoed in the Pig of Happiness: whatever change we want to make, it always has to start within us. I’ll be bringing the pig to our virtual conference this year, as part of a leadership workshop exploring how we can apply the principles of self-leadership to our careers, wherever in the maternity context we might be working now – or want to work in the future. So for now, go and enjoy the pig and his message, and maybe consider what relevance he has to your own working life. See you at conference!