Leader-ment or Manage-ship?

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Leadership is ‘in’. I am pleased – I run the East Midlands Leadership Academy and work closely with the NHS Leadership Academy. I have run and led services in the NHS for many years, I really believe leadership makes a difference, so you’d expect me to be pleased about the importance of being placed on leadership development- and I am, but…

Paul O'NeillThe NHS is accused of having a target culture, creating an environment where the target must be achieved no matter what, where the achievement of the task matters more than the people, staff and patients, who are achieving it or are on the receiving end of it. Those with a more compassionate viewpoint are currently enjoying the limelight and people are genuinely interested in how to lead with compassion in the future.

The idea however that targets, measurable outcomes or whatever the current phrase is has gone away is false and here’s the thing, they shouldn’t go away either. I believe having measures of success and a clear objective are important. I believe in efficiency, effectiveness, and timeliness. I want to work in an NHS that is high performing, delivers things right first time and to a really high standard. When I’m a patient I want my appointments to be on time, in the right place and free from confusion, hassle and waste.

I am concerned about a hidden backlash to leadership development. That those people who bother a lot about the task and delivery think that all this concentration on the ‘softer’ side of things, on human relations and on looking after each other risks a lack of focus on targets and delivery.

I don’t believe these are mutually exclusive, in fact, I think they go hand in hand. But here’s my message to the pacesetters and target achievers; you are absolutely right to be concerned about delivery, and the best way of achieving that is to – first and foremost – engender a culture that teams can perform well by, looking after them, treating them kindly and engage them in the discussion of ‘how best do we get this right for our patients’.

I have sometimes said when I have been working with emerging leaders that we need a new word – either ‘Leaderment’ or ‘Manageship’- and maybe if they didn’t sound so contrived or clunky they’d catch on. My point is, as leaders, clinicians and managers we need to be technically competent at things like project management, budget setting and planning and just as good at setting a vision, creating a consensus, supporting and developing others.

More than anything else, we need to look after ourselves, treat those around us with care and consideration and allow teams to flourish, the performance will to a large extent, look after itself – but do keep an eye on the measures and ask the team you are in or lead to help with the solutions when things aren’t quite going according to plan.