The Francis Inquiry report highlighted the importance of “visible, receptive, insightful and outward looking” and effective leadership for a flourishing NHS. In this week’s guest blog, Jan Sobieraj, Managing Director at the NHS Leadership Academy, gives an update on all their work to build the capability of current and future NHS leaders and bring more clinicians and external talent into senior leadership roles.
I was once asked in a job interview, ‘What are you most proud of?’ It was an obvious question and one I should have prepared for. Yet in the midst of some slightly bizarre analytical questions (‘How would I set about estimating the numbers of maternity beds in England?’), it took me completely by surprise. What sprung to my mind first was not any of the various policy documents I’d been involved in over the years (though both the Stroke Strategy and Every Child Matters would have been worthy contenders). Instead, I was struck by the experience of working with the leadership team at The King’s Fund to set up and run new courses for clinicians working to improve stroke services, attended by roughly equal thirds of doctors, nurses and allied health professionals.
The courses were intense and demanding. Each cohort undertook two short residential sessions, six months apart. The first module focused on individual leadership style, the strategic context and influencing skills, after which participants went back to their hospitals with a plan of what they were going to change to transform patient care. At the second session, they reflected on what had been achieved, how to overcome the obstacles they had faced, and on developing the next phase of their plan to improve services.
Why did this experience have such a lasting impact on me? It was a privilege to watch talented, committed, and compassionate NHS staff build their confidence, skills and resilience, and to hear about the real improvements they had made to patients’ experiences and outcomes following the course. It was fascinating watching the different health professions come together with a shared ambition but strikingly different levels of confidence in their leadership abilities.
In short, I met and learned from an extraordinary group of people, who demonstrated in spades the “list of qualities required of leaders in healthcare” that the Inquiry highlights:
- ability to create and communicate vision and strategy
- understanding of how to prioritise and protect patient safety and provision of fundamental standards within available resources
- ability to be viewed as a role model
- listening and learning from patients and colleagues
- inspiration and motivation of colleagues
- willingness to challenge
- ability to judge and analyse complex issues
Courage is perhaps the right note to end on. As the Inquiry report notes, “it is a tough environment in which to succeed”, which is why the work of the NHS Leadership Academy to ensure that leaders at ever level have both the right skills and the right values is so critical to improving care for patients.