The leadership challenge

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Many often ask what I mean when I say that the NHS needs to face up to the ‘leadership challenge’. It’s a question that I try to answer by referring to the wider context by painting a picture of the current situation the NHS finds itself, how leadership is key to delivering the change we need, and what I think good leadership looks like.

No one can deny that the NHS is operating in a world which is changing at a scale and pace we have never seen.

We are serving an increasingly older population with complex and enduring healthcare needs.  We are working in challenging financial circumstances, and yet our patients, quite rightly, have high expectations of the NHS and the quality of our services.

While all these changes are happening around us the NHS itself is changing too, with more devolved and clinically-led decision making. We have new ways of working and brand new organisations charged with shaping the healthcare of their localities. Our leaders have done a fantastic job over the last ten years.  But the last ten years was a different place to the one we’re in now.

The challenges we face in delivering an NHS fit for the future will not be fixed by incremental changes or tweaking around the edges. We need industrial levels of innovation – and it is outstanding leadership that will help deliver this for us.

Everyone out there working on a ward, in a clinic, in an office, in a surgery, or in the community will know a good leader at various levels. We all know them when we see them in action. They encourage us, they support us, they direct us, they become a role model and we want to behave like them because we see the results they get. And it is these incredible people who are leading our service, which we’re all hugely proud to work in, who will need to steer us through the challenges we face ahead.

It might be that you’re a chief executive of a small hospital who has to start a courageous conversation with your staff and patients about something which they might instinctively push against. And you make this happen, whilst coping with the inevitable media interest and public pressure that has always been a fact of life for the NHS whatever the economic or political background of the day.

You might be a mid-manager who has a vision for a governance system which could better protect vulnerable adults from abuse and harm. And you make this happen. Despite needing three organisations to do things differently.

Or you might be a clinical lead who believes their team are not delivering the outcomes for patients you think they should. You make this happen by changing your approach and empowering your staff to work differently, despite years of doing things in a certain way.

And of course leaders can’t be leaders if people don’t have the strength to break from the norm and follow them. If you see someone trying to change things help them, support them, follow them.

There’s a direct link between good leaders, engaged staff and satisfied patients. And I’ve seen organisations transformed as a result of great leadership, at all levels.

The NHS Leadership Academy will work to produce and inspire outstanding leadership at all levels in the NHS, with a continual focus on improving people’s health and their experience of the NHS. We will set the standard for what good leadership looks like so we all know what’s expected. We will support the development of local leadership capability and link to local programmes. We will, in essence, professionalise leadership.

Please take time to explore this website for more information about our areas of work and programmes.

One thought on “The leadership challenge

  1. Thanks for this refreshing glance at leadership, and I agree with you – some of the skills we have today may be out of date when it comes to transforming the NHS. Hopefully with this at the back of our mind we may habitually keep looking for different ways of approaching that task. It could also mean that, time has come to re-train our ears to reach out for some of those small voices hitherto ignored but who live and work in the NHS. After-all, wasn’t it a canteen lady who blew the cover over the Mid-Staffs situation? I believe there are Nurses, therapists, support staff whose stories are pending in the cue, not simply to blame or point fingers, but with potential options to move the NHS forward too.