Leadership Academy

Being Michael West: Leadership in today’s NHS

Posted by: Tim Swanwick - Posted on:

It was an absolute privilege to work with Professor Michael West on the following film.  Michael is an expert on leadership within the health service and his research on the impact of team working on patient care has iconic status.

Tim Swanwick
Tim Swanwick


Michael has also been, and continues to be, highly influential in the way we approach leadership and leadership development within the NHS and was one of the architects of our national strategic framework for leadership, ‘Developing People – Improving Care‘.  At the heart of the framework is compassion, and in our film Michael not only provides a clear exposition of what compassionate leadership actually means, but also how important it is to the health and well-being of both patients and staff. Michael describes four behaviours that really make a difference; attending to staff and colleagues (listening with fascination), understanding the situation they face, empathising with their distress and helping (taking intelligent action to alleviate their distress).  Simple isn’t it?  If we all did that, the NHS, and society at large would be a better place in which to work and live.


As well as a founding principle of compassion, Michael also summarises five evidence-based interventions that create cultures in which high quality care can flourish; a well articulated vision, a handful of clear and aligned objectives, exemplary people-management, support for continual innovation and improvement and effective team working.  The latter also extends to the leadership team and Michael points us to the international for collective approaches to leadership, something that is more important than ever as the boundaries of health and social care organisations break down, merge and reform in increasingly rapid cycles of change.


This is a short film, and the messages within it delivered quietly to camera.  But within it Michael West summarises a wealth of research and encapsulates a lifetime of experience.  Wise words from one of our foremost leadership thinkers.


6 replies on “Being Michael West: Leadership in today’s NHS”

  • This is an amazing insightful and profound talk from Prof Michael West. Thank you.

  • Simply brilliant video. Knowing Michael, I am not at all surprised how good this video is.

    However, the real challenge is delivering such a leadership when the whole NHS culture is one of naming, shaming, blaming, discipline, bullying, harassment, victimisation.

    Sadly racism, sexism and homophobia which is so rife in our society and NHS reflects what is happening in our society!

    Uni-cultural Britain had uni-cultural leadership and sadly today Britain is multi-cultural but the leadership is uni-cultural! Roger Kline has written about ‘Snowy White Peak and still NHS continues to be Snowy White!

    We are a divided society and we got to unite as a society. NHS and Social care devolution is our best opportunity to unite and show the nation and the world how to create a safest and the best society by creating a great sense of belonging!

    Culture is how we do thing when no one is watching us. Culture is how we treat each other with respect, dignity, kindness, compassion and caring when no one is watching us.

    Sadly, in NHS leaders and the Boards focus on finance and targets rather than patient safety or quality or staff well-being or culture.

    Here is CQC Board presentation as to how in my previous Trust we reduced harm to patients by 90% and improved staff happiness from bottom 20% to the third best place just in 4 years! It was achieved by working with staff and defining our purpose, our values, our culture and appointing many value based leaders and good governance and excellent staff and patient engagement.

    Unless NHS leaders realise the impact of culture on staff well-being and daily suffering of many staff and that too Black and Minority Ethnic staff in NHS and today’s society, we will not transform NHS.

    NHS is a great Institution and it has many hard working sincere staff who would do anything for their patients and today many are working hard under very difficult circumstances. Sadly NHS has very poor governance and accountability for seniors who bully staff or create a culture of unhappiness and corrosive energy.

    Some good leaders do give me hopes and Wigan has shown how to transform culture in a short time and benefit to patients, staff and to the Trust.

    NHS leaders must focus on patient safety and quality and staff well-being and staff happiness. NHS leaders job is to create a culture of staff happiness. Happy staff – Happy patients.


  • Enjoyed this video, as I have enjoyed my encounters with Michael. His research and experience are compelling and powerful. Thanks for curating Tim, hope you are well.

    I agree with Umesh that inclusivity is a core requirement for effective leadership, and it follows that compassionate and collective leadership will incorporate this. In Scotland’s NHS we are clear that ambition and (technical) ability are no longer enough. Values and insight must also be evident in our senior leaders. As Michael’s research has shown, their influence on leadership style, and hence culture, is pre-eminent so getting it right at “the top” is essential to getting it right everywhere else.

    Tom Power
  • This superb presentation reminds us all of our shared vision…not just HEE, not just trusts, not just individual clinical teams, but the vision created for and with the entire country. It has certainly fanned the flames of my original passion and has galvanised me into action. Thank you

  • I saw this a year ago and have just revisited it again now. It is a wonderful talk about compassionate leadership. Superbly delivered, full of excellent points and advice.

    Humphrey Scott
  • I have just revisited this presentation having seen it a year ago. It is a superb talk, full of excellent advice and points regarding compassionate leadership.

    Humphrey Scott

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