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Cicely Saunders - Success and LeadershipCicely Saunders - Success and Leadership


Cicely Saunders (1918-2005)


English founder of the modern hospice movement for dying people

She launched it in 1967 with the opening of St. Christopher’s Hospice in London.


Why was she a great leader and successful?


1. Vision and determination

 Cicely Saunders - Success and Leadership

a) her vision

Aged 38, she qualified as a doctor (pictured right), so that she could achieve her dream of compassionate treatment for the dying and their loved ones.

She believed that dying should:

  • enhance life
  • be dignified and pain free (so that “constant pain needs constant control”, she said).


b) her determination

She had to sell her ideas to an unbelieving medical profession through lots of presentations.

This didn’t come easily to her (she was naturally shy and had a lifelong back problem), but she was determined to succeed.

 Cicely Saunders - Success and Leadership

2. Loving her customers (patients)

She did what her patients wanted and so always listened to them.

Her inspiration to set up St. Christopher’s Hospice came from her first love, a Polish Jew, David Tasma (pictured right), who was dying of cancer.

He told her there were three things he wasn’t getting in hospital which she dedicated her life to achieving:

  • effective pain control.
  • friendship.
  • psychological and philosophical help to die contentedly.

From these patient needs she developed the idea of “total pain” that includes spiritual and emotional distress as well as physical pain.

She once asked a patient what he wanted most. “To understand me” was the reply.


3. Patience and perseverance

It took twenty years of planning and money raising to open St. Christopher’s from the time of David Tasma’s death in 1948.

He gave her all be had (£500) for the hospice.

 Cicely Saunders - Success and Leadership

4. Lifelong learning

Saunders (pictured right as a young nurse) was a voracious reader but she learned most from her patients, particularly about valuing life right up until death (which is why she strongly opposed euthanasia).

One patient remarked:

“The trees are so beautiful. Did I really have to have a terminal illness to know how beautiful they are?”


5. Religion

She was:

  • a devout Christian.
  • inspired by the belief that she was doing what God wanted.


6. Leadership

She was a great leader because she:


a) had a clear vision and purpose for St. Christopher’s (pictured right below)

(based upon the happiness of patients)Cicely Saunders - Success and Leadership

She clearly communicated this vision to all her employees.


b) valued the skills and values of employees

- because, she said:

“A hospice isn’t just a building – it’s an attitude”.


c) was a democratic autocrat

She told people what to do, but she always based her decisions on the advice of patients and employees.

She was a great listener.


d) had the humility to accept her limitations and her dependence on other people

She believed that the enemy of success is the failure to challenge leaders' views.  


Key quotes on love

Life is all about learning to love.

Love is certainly as strong as death if not stronger.


Key quote on stress and pain

Suffering is only intolerable when nobody cares.


Key quotes on death

You matter because you are you, and you matter to the last moment of your life.

The last stages of life should not be seen as defeat but rather as life's fulfilment

We do best in life if we look at it with clear eyes, and I think that applies to coming up to death as well.

A society which shuns the dying must have an incomplete philosophy.


Key quotes on success

There is a place for sheer bloody-mindedness; it does give you strength.

I think you achieve things by looking at what is possible, step by step.


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