Leadership development for a new health system

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People sometimes think of a good leader as one you’d follow in to battle – the first one ‘over the hill’.

And it’s true that leadership is about being courageous enough to step into the unknown with full belief and conviction in your approach. However I believe a really great leader is one who is able to flex and change their approach to get the best out of people in evolving circumstances.

This is something leaders in the NHS must learn to do, and fast.  Healthcare provision is changing at a scale and pace we have never seen before. The question we should ask ourselves is how we should change our approach to deliver the transformation required to improve patient care.

There has been investment in leadership development for some time now, and our leaders have done a remarkable job over the last ten years. But the last ten years were a different place to where we are now. It was a place which suited a certain style of leadership; one which ensured targets were met and where the approach was one of telling people what needed to be done. And, while this worked at the time and served the NHS well, it won’t work in the context we now operate.

Part of this new context is the emergence of new organisations within the healthcare landscape. We now have CCGs, Health and Wellbeing Boards, Foundation Trusts, the NHS Trust Development Authority, Health Education England, NHS Commissioning Board and Commissioning support services.

Decision making about healthcare provision is becoming devolved and much more clinically led.

We have to help these new and young organisations and their leaders build relationships with all parts of the health and social care system. We need to develop the kind of individuals who have the courage to take the necessary risks, to innovate on an industrial scale and lead on the transformation the NHS needs.

This is a big part of what the NHS Leadership Academy is setting out to do. One of our key areas of work is equipping health leaders with the skills needed to meet the challenges of the evolving system, both in terms of current challenges as well those emerging in a regularly changing policy environment.

These programmes include our work to support the development of leaders in the emerging CCGs – including supporting the leadership assessment process as part of their authorisation. Our intention is to put leadership development at the heart of commissioning.

We are also working to provide leadership support and development to those NHS Trusts around the country who are aiming to become Foundation Trusts.

Our FT support programme has been developed to offer practical, supportive and confidential support to Trusts seeking to improve their QIPP performance.

Through supporting these organisations to make improvements during this turbulent time leadership development and support can have a real impact on improving patient care and people’s experience of the NHS.

We continue to work closely with our colleagues in public health and social care to co-design and develop leadership programmes that will create exceptional system leadership capability. In conjunction with the National Skills Academy for Social Care, for example, we have commissioned a report that provides a guide to key leadership behaviours that will support delivery of integrated commissioning and integrated care. This will be used to inform all of the leadership development work we undertake in this area.

There will be difficulties that all of us will face to meet the challenges that system change will bring. This is why the Academy is acting now to support both organisations to develop a consistent and standardised approach to leadership.