Our Leadership Way

The Heart, Head, and Hands icons of Our Leadership Way

Co-created with thousands of our NHS people, Our Leadership Way sets out the compassionate and inclusive behaviours we want all our leaders at every level to show towards us as individuals and our colleagues.

Every day our NHS people do amazing things in difficult circumstances. Our best leaders promote the health and wellbeing of those around them and inspire all of us to do the best we can for our patients and service users. We should all experience and demonstrate consistently healthy leadership behaviours.

Complementing our NHS People Promise, Our Leadership Way formalises the approach our NHS leaders should take. Our Leadership Way sets out the compassionate and inclusive behaviours we want leaders at all levels to show towards us as individuals and our colleagues. It introduces how leaders at every level across the NHS can help raise the standards of leadership by committing to compassionate and inclusive leadership, supported by a culture of lifelong learning and development. It describes how we can operate at our best and is a tool for leaders to use to consider how their behaviour impacts on the cultures they create.

The 6 principles


The heart (compassion)

  • We are inclusive, promote equality and diversity and challenge discrimination.
  • We are kind and treat people with compassion, courtesy and respect.

The head (curiosity)

  • We aim for the highest standards and seek to continually improve harnessing our ingenuity.
  • We can be trusted to do what we promise.

The hands (collaboration)

  • We collaborate, forming effective partnerships to achieve our common goals.
  • We celebrate success and support our people to be the best they can be.

The Heart, Head and Hands of Leadership


We are Compassionate

We are inclusive, promote equality and diversity and challenge discrimination

We learn from the lived experience of the people around us and work to promote equality, diversity, and inclusion so everyone feels they belong in the NHS and within a broader family of caring communities.

We celebrate diversity and respect everyone’s experience.

We lead by example, enabling the voices of those affected by discrimination to be heard.

We speak up when we see behaviours that aren’t inclusive or don’t promote diversity and equality.

We support our staff when they courageously speak up about poor behaviour they have witnessed or experienced.

We actively seek feedback to inform how to improve things and move forward.

We seek diverse views when making decisions because we understand how important they are for securing the best possible outcomes for patients, service users and staff.

We are kind and treat people with compassion, courtesy and respect

We treat everyone as they would wish to be treated, whoever they are and whatever they do.

We never underestimate the physical and emotional impact that work in the NHS can have and offer support to those who need it.

We don’t forget the little things like saying ‘please’ and ‘thank you’.

We create psychologically safe environments that enable open, honest, and fearless conversations.

We are easy to talk to because we listen and act.

We work to ensure our patients, service users and staff do not experience intimidation, abuse, or bullying.

We accept responsibility for our behaviours and strive to take steps to improve.

We take actions to improve the health and wellbeing of our teams.


We are Curious

We aim for the highest standards and seek to continually improve harnessing our ingenuity

We constantly aim to deliver high-quality care and experiences to patients, service users and staff.

We are not afraid to try new things. We encourage creative thinking and champion the innovation that leads to continuous improvement and new solutions.

We empower our staff to make improvements to the way care is delivered and the way services are run.

We can be trusted to do what we promise

We aim always to deliver what we promise. We acknowledge when we cannot and communicate what we will do in a clear, engaging and transparent way.

We are visible as leaders. We engage with staff and listen to each other, our patients and service users.

We communicate clearly to prevent misunderstanding, taking time to check that people know what is being asked of them, as well as appreciating what they ask of us.

We acknowledge when things have gone wrong and act in a way that creates a fair and just culture.


We are Collaborative

We collaborate, forming effective partnerships to achieve our common goals

We all act and behave in ways that promote collaboration.

We foster strong teamwork and take care to understand what matters to patients, service users and staff.

We are clear on our responsibilities and contributions and make the best use of the expertise we and our partners bring.

We are optimistic and ambitious and are not afraid to step out of our comfort zone when working with others.

We value open, respectful, thoughtful debate with our partners. When our partners’ priorities differ from ours, we negotiate in a respectful way, focusing on our shared goal of providing high quality care that improves population health.

We are consistent in the way we communicate our views, being respectful and honest to all who we are talking to.

We take time to celebrate successes and achievements

We acknowledge the effort and contribution of the people we work with.

We support people to develop their skills and progress in their careers so they can help the NHS, health and care partners deliver high quality care and improve population health outcomes.

We help people to achieve their goals and work with them to identify opportunities for development where it is needed.

We proactively address identified disparities in recruitment and progression.

Putting Our Leadership Way into practice

10 ways in which Our Leadership Way can be used:

  1. Publicise these principles to encourage the right leadership behaviours in your organisation or system.
  2. Review any existing ‘leadership standards’ documents in use in your organisation or ICS against Our Leadership Way.
  3. Where organisations don’t have a framework in place, develop a local Leadership Way document, using this document as a guide.
  4. Re-engage with staff at all levels to understand what Our Leadership Way means for them.
  5. Consider using the six core principles as headings in job descriptions and assessing/ shortlisting candidates to judge how well their experience and commitment match these areas.
  6. When interviewing for senior leader roles, consider basing questions on these principles and behaviours.
  7. Build these principles and behaviours into appraisal conversations to understand how well leaders are doing in these areas and how they can do better.
  8. Organise your leadership development activities and interventions around these principles and behaviours, to help leaders learn more about what these model behaviours entail.
  9. Use these principles to review how meetings have gone. Ask yourself whether all participants demonstrated the desired behaviours.
  10. ‘Call it out’ – when leaders behave in ways that are inconsistent with these principles, bring this to their attention. This can be difficult, but we are all on a journey to improve the leadership behaviours and culture in the NHS.

Why have Our Leadership Way?

Our Leadership Way is about promoting the right behaviours and signalling that leadership success is not just about what we deliver but how we deliver it. This is a tool for leaders to use to consider how their behaviour impacts on our NHS People Promise and the culture they aspire to create. Good leadership:

  • Enables individuals and teams to perform at their best
  • Makes people feel valued and
  • Provides better, safer more effective patient care.

How will Our Leadership Way be measured and implemented?

Our Leadership Way does not add layers of regulation or oversight, but NHS England, acting on behalf of the wider system will look at existing information collection methods such as the NHS Staff Survey, Well-Led Reviews, Workforce Race Equality Standard (WRES) and Workforce Disability Equality Standard (WDES) data to assess how well leaders are adopting the behaviours we all need to see.

We will also work with organisations and systems who fully embrace Our Leadership Way and create case studies to share best practice.