Leadership as the journey

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As part of the Academy’s two year story, we have asked a range of people from across health and social care to share their own stories and experiences of what leadership means to them.

Great leaders are not driven to achieve targets. Great leaders don’t necessarily ‘do’ very much.

The danger with targets is that the work becomes hitting the target instead of improving performance. Hitting targets is at best a matter of management rather than leadership. If management is about the climbing the mountain right then leadership is about climbing the right mountain, since the former is pointless without the latter.

In any set of results, a bell shaped distribution will occur with a few (good and bad) outliers and the majority close to either side of the average. Focusing work effort on a) hitting an arbitrary point along that distribution and b) punishing those who fall short is a waste of energy. Too much effort may be spent on deciding on ‘where’ to draw the arbitrary line. Fear of being seen as a ‘bad’ outlier can drive the wrong behaviors. Being the best may be the greatest impediment to becoming better as complacency gets in the way of improvement.

Understanding relative performance is a great opportunity to learn from exemplars.  Awareness precedes choice and choice precedes results. Great leaders focus work on stealing shamelessly and sharing seamlessly so that performance is improved.

Removing fear of failure is essential. A culture of learning and controlled risk taking is required so that colleagues are encouraged to experiment and innovate within a safe environment. This enables the art of the possible to be stretched beyond existing boundaries. Absence of failure may be symptomatic of an absence of learning.

Better than being a slave to targets is an understanding of reasonable expectations and the definition of breakthrough ambitions. Work is then focused on moving the entire performance distribution in the desired direction.

Great leadership is not about having all the answers or about doing the work personally. Great leaders inspire people at every level to demonstrate leadership qualities themselves; to make personal ‘stands’ on those things that they have a passion for.  They enable a safe environment where failure is not punished, but rather expected as an outcome of relentless effort to improve. They create a culture where excellent consistency leads to consistent excellence, where everyone does the basics brilliantly, every time and where innovation is encouraged, recognised and rewarded.

Being a leader is the destination some may aim for. I see leadership as the journey I am, and always will be, on.