Last month, MPs debated a motion relating to accountability and transparency in the NHS. The following motion was passed unopposed:
‘That this House believes that in the wake of the Francis Report it is clear that accountability and transparency are of paramount importance to patient safety and trust in the NHS; and further believes that across the NHS individuals found to have breached those principles should face the appropriate consequences.’
If I look closer to home, I’m leading the design and implementation of what is likely to be the world’s largest leadership development intervention. This is about establishing leadership as a professional imperative across the NHS and truly raising the quality of leadership experienced by staff in the world’s fourth largest employer.
To launch these programmes we have project governance structures to ensure the right people are doing the right things. We have a steering group of wise and often senior people adding a strong dose of rigour to our work and financial controls and contracting experts securing value for money.
However, it’s not the accountability and reporting mechanisms that make me work so hard at this job – it’s the dreams of achieving something important and impactful. It’s the bond I have with my peers that I’ll deliver for them. It’s the co-creation with colleagues and team members, the fun we can have along the way, and the joint aspirations and shared values that hold us together, drive us, and make us work so very hard.
I’m reminded of the apocryphal story of a group of visiting dignitaries being shown round the NASA launch site during the Apollo moon programme in the early 1960’s when they came upon a caretaker sweeping the floor. When they asked him what he was doing, he answered ‘I’m helping to put a man on the moon!’ His answer demonstrated a common goal embedded throughout the organisation irrespective of role or position. Whether the story is true or mythical, it’s generally toted out to encourage leaders to provide an aspirational and motivating goal, a vision for people to buy in to.
But I’m thinking about this caretaker in a different way. I’m wondering who his boss was and how they worked? My guess is that she operated not just as a visionary, engaging the team in the space race with stories of future glory and global acclaim. My guess is also that she had high expectations, set high standards, monitored performance and held the caretaker to account for the cleanliness of his floor. I also imagine the boss was emotionally aware, empathetic, encouraging and appreciative, open and approachable.
When I was 22 I was more than good at accountability. So good in fact that I made two of my staff cry on the same day; coincidentally, they were both called Rose. I’m not proud of this fact – indeed I’m embarrassed and saddened – but I am proud of my boss at the time, a manager called John. John took me into his office and spent three hours mixing all the talents I’m talking about here. He held me to account for my impact and actions. At the same time, he was sensitive and empathetic to handle, indeed to nurture, the naïve and ambitious me. He lit a fire within me that day for self exploration, learning and leadership development that has been in no small way a part of my personal vision ever since.
I was chewing over these reflections with a friend who prides herself on strong project management, governance and accountability. This week she’d been at a 3 day conference and noted that the biggest impact on her and her peers, in terms of their practice as colleagues, clinicians and especially as leaders, came from a three minute video called Empathy: The Human Connection to Patient Care.
I agree with another blog I read this week which discusses the cult of accountability, proclaiming “The problem with accountability as a management precept is clear: it misframes the relationship between a leader and their team. Excellence is sacrificed for mediocrity.”
My commitment therefore is two-fold:
a) to operate personally as a leader not just finding a balance between the three pillars of accountability, vision and emotional engagement – but to maximise all three, and
b) to ensure the core professional development leadership programmes are designed and delivered in such a way that fosters leaders with the courage to hold people to account, the passion to engage teams with inspiring purpose, and the emotional skills, empathy, and self awareness to nurture their people and deliver the level of care our communities deserve
And finally, if anyone knows a woman called Rose who worked in Tunbridge Wells WH Smith two decades ago – just tell her, ‘Chris is sorry.’ My youth was no excuse for the crassness of my behaviour. Thanks to John, and to the colleagues and friends that followed who have had the courage give me the feedback my development feeds off. I hope I’ve learned something since.