Strength and vulnerability in leadership

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I was struck by a post this week by workplace and leadership blogger Matt Monge noting how we all have our fears and failings, and how we all need reassurance at times of vulnerability.

What people appreciate when dealing with the health sector is honesty, openness and, most importantly, humanity. Coming to terms with our own vulnerabilities is important to ensure we bring out the best in ourselves and in the people we manage. Effective leadership is often about finding that balance between strength and vulnerability … while remaining open and transparent at all times.

The NHS is changing rapidly – and change often forces people at all levels to put up the shutters. It is a natural human response although, in the past, NHS leaders have also adopted a style of leadership which has not always made it easy to engage as effectively with the people they manage or patients and the public. But now is not the time for retreat; it is the time to advance.

It is the time to embrace change and, as leaders, we must show the way to our teams and help them to continue to deliver quality services in difficult circumstances. Effective leadership is at the heart of change management and effective communication should be a core competence as part of the process. A good leader should be at ease with personal communication, build strong infrastructures and relationships and have a high standard of ethical behaviour. Patients and service users across the health sector need to feel confident we are able to look after them and their loved ones in the right way; the responsible way.

Recently my wife has been preparing for a minor operation which took place earlier this week. It’s something thousands of people experience every day of course. I’m pleased to say all went well, but when it is someone you are close to who faces a general anaesthetic and time in hospital, you inevitably get caught up in the usual cycle of nervousness and uncertainty that accompanies such life events. Even though I’m very familiar with hospital routines I still found myself wanting to put up my own shutters in response to the situation. But we sought and received the reassurance we needed from the people we met in the NHS on the run-up to the operation and throughout the day itself. It was fantastic to know that we were in the hands of a great team delivering compassionate care.

The recent stories in the media about abuse of vulnerable people in care have only fuelled anger towards a system people trusted. In the face of difficult cases like these, it is even more important we are honest and upfront in everything we do and say. It is effective engagement, both internally and externally, which is crucial to avoid such cases reoccurring in the future. We should have the courage to share our thoughts with colleagues, being supportive to all, giving out difficult messages when necessary and praise wherever and whenever it is deserved. At the heart of this approach should be a culture rooted in and clearly demonstrating our humanity. If we can achieve this, it is that human voice that will speak most authentically to all those who rightly demand high standards of care and gaining their trust will be the reward.

Follow Jan on Twitter @JanSobieraj