The good leader

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The word leadership simply and easily trips off the tongue doesn’t it? These days, we talk a lot about leadership and usually it’s on an intellectual level. We rarely stop and think about what bonafide leadership feels like, how it can change things and make a real, lasting and significant difference in lots of ways and in all kinds of situations.

When we think of great leaders we think of people like Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Churchill and how they changed the world, how they managed to get thousands of people to believe in and follow them. We say with the utmost confidence and belief that good leaders are necessary and act as the difference between patients receiving poor quality care, and high quality care. Seeing that kind of leadership in action, feeling it and experiencing it is something else. When you are in the presence of, or led by, a great leader you can really feel it.

Being part of the NHS Leadership Academy (something of which I am enormously proud of) we, more than most, are conscious of the pressing need for the NHS to have good leaders. Indeed the very essence of our work is to ensure colleagues in the health service have ample and varied opportunities to develop into outstanding leaders, to be the best they can be. As someone that has worked in the service for many years, I’ve experienced all manner of leaders; leaders that micro manage, leaders that are laissez faire, leaders that are task focused, some well-meaning, some not. This doesn’t mean I’m an expert on leadership theory, but I do know what it feels like to work with a great leader. Leading disparate teams of people in challenging and changing times takes tenacity, energy and drive. It means being able to understand the needs of the service and enable, empower and encourage team members – team members from diverse and varied backgrounds to work with you and each other to successfully meet organisational objectives. This consists of having the ability to get the very best out of people, this is a skill that cannot be underestimated and I often stand back and marvel, mouth agape and in total awe at people that can do it, and with seemingly consummate ease.

Leading a team, that is old and young, black and white, gay and straight, fat and thin, to move in the same direction happily and determinedly is no mean feat. It takes maturity, insight, credibility and patience.  So what does being led by one these people feel like? In short it feels great, it makes you want to sing, to skip and laugh out loud.  It makes you feel that you as an individual are valued and valued highly, not just for what you do but for who you are. It feels safe to be yourself, to share thoughts and ideas that are perhaps not always palatable. It means leaving work feeling good about yourself, and more importantly, about others. A great leader makes you feel pleased to be part of something and in turn encourages you to want others to feel the same. It makes you want to be the best that you can be to justify their faith and belief in you. In short, it makes you feel included, an important part of something special. In return, you hold them in high esteem and want to emulate them, woe betide anyone that says anything even remotely negative about them in your presence – your loyalty to them is unshakable and absolute. I have been fortunate enough to have worked with truly good leaders in my time in the NHS and they all have similar qualities; integrity, honesty, vision, empathy and self-belief. I often wonder how these people have developed into such well-rounded and generous human beings, yes, great leaders are always generous, generous with their time, their knowledge and experience. I want to know their secret.

There is a humility and self-effacing quality in these people – they never blow their own trumpet. My current leader is one of these people. He has all the ingredients that make up a truly great leader. This is not only good news for me and for other members of the practice team, but for the NHS Leadership Academy as a whole. With leaders like this in senior roles, it bodes well for the success of the organisation, for the NHS and ultimately for all our patients.

Dave Ashton, I salute you.

4 thoughts on “The good leader

  1. thanks Yvonne, we spend so little time celebrating what we have in abundance. We have so far to go in genuinely representing any kind of diversity in any aspect of health leadership – I recognise Dave’s contribution with you.

  2. Thank you Yvonne. That is a really good and inspiring article. However readers may want to review their perception of Gandhi and Churchill as great leaders. We all know what they achieved but…
    Gandhi – racist attitude towards black people when he was in South Africa, and he used to enjoy sleeping wih his niece.
    Churchill – responsible for the Gallipoli fiasco, uncaring attitude towards the miners during the General Strike, allowed millions of Bengalis to die of famine and allowed Cossacks to be “returned” to the Red Army to face certain slaughter.

  3. Robin, thank you for a) reading the article and b) taking the time out of your schedule to write a response. The point I was trying to make was not so much that the individuals I named were perfect leaders, nobody is ( at least I’ve not met them yet!) Whilst writing the piece I toyed with the idea of naming someone that was a good leader but was responsible for what we now term the holocaust. The fact that his vision was inhumane and racist doesn’t detract from the fact that he was able to lead people,in fact a whole country, to share his vision. We know that many leaders are flawed, I could identify and I bet you could to a few people in the recent past that are great leaders but have issues they’d rather not share with the world at large. The point of the article though was to highlight what it feels like to be led by someone that possesses the qualities that lead people to be loyal, motivated and inspired. Again, many thanks for your comments, what do others think?

  4. It’s nice to read these comments about Dave – he was my boss many years ago and I recognise all the qualities Yvonne has mentioned above. It’s reassuring to know that nothing has changed and he still leads, supports, includes, motivates, values and treasures his team with the ultimate goal of getting the very best out of them.


    (PS Dave – hope this is ok and you can give me that tenner later!)