Wednesday, September 3, 2014

All hail the leader

It's been fun recently..deliberately raising some provocative questions to see the responses but more importantly perhaps to showcase that there never is a black and white answer to anything..as ever..without any puns intended...they all are but shades of grey. However, one topic stood out..a topic which threw open all sorts of comments...the question was whether "Leadership" was now a cult,an industry and it's been fascinating to see not only the views but the folks who have contributed to it....the question has been in my head recently and it was intriguing to see so many agree.

I must admit to getting a bit confused nowadays...as everyone around me knows..I am a big fan of folks "stepping up to the plate" but recently..I genuinely can't understand any more some of the language used. Here are some terms..."Moving forward"; "Working in synergy";"distributed leadership";"empathetic vision"...and let's not forget "patient centred care". As someone commented on twitter...how many other types of care is there? Now before I get condemned to being someone who just needs to attend some courses on leadership, my question is what actually defines a leader. I have heard things like insight, determination,empathy..I have even heard that actually everyone is a leader. Well, here's a newsflash..I know plenty of professionals who actually don't want to be a leader...quote unquote.."just want to do my job well..and go home". Does that make them less of a person? Nope..I know them..and would have myself treated by them..eyes closed because they are grade A professionals. So what is leadership now? A tag? A title? Something which makes us all feel important? Is it about who shouts loudest? Or is it about someone who has shown outcomes which have improved patient care?

The explosion of social media has created a lot of keyboard leaders..a natural progression from the keyboard warriors..the ones who have an opinion about anything from Wenger's transfer policy to Obama's healthcare in 140 characters or less. And its interesting to hear them...because I don't understand some of the words used. I have been doing management for 5 years now- so the question is ..am I a leader? Well I am a member of FMLM..so am I? I work with the Kings Fund, does that make me a leader? Or is it because I have won awards and made a few lists...that makes me a leader? Or is it because I drop hints on twitter that I am bloody awesome? Or is it because as the lead of a team, we have something in place which is the envy of many? Either way, never done any leadership course or degree..so what does that make me..a freak? Someone who isn't part of the leadership cult..or does that disqualify me?

All interesting questions..but you know what? It rarely matters..as most of these leadership courses can teach you little..because most of the speakers have actually done little bar move from one post to another..with debatable improvements in patient care they have achieved. If you want to be a leader and make a difference, here's my tip..do good to the person in front of you. Start small...learn from folks, even outside the NHS, who have succeeded and see what they brought to work that made them and their team successful, delivered outcomes..and learn one simple thing about any leader you respect. They are all grey characters..persona with strengths and flaws..whether they be Churchill, Gandhi, Alex Ferguson or Shankley. Don't try to attend a course and be told to be perfect...that leaders must be pristine, have all the skills at the same time..No.if you do that, you put on a pretence which people see through. Rather find some others who complement you- and build your team. That, my friends, is what distributed leadership is about...it is about working as a jigsaw together and being accountable together.

So the next time a list comes out, look at it and think why they are there. As for me, I always ask one thing? If I am not on the list, is it because I upset someone by being forthright..as my ego and cockiness would just be surprised that  I am not there...OR if I am on the list, then is it because someone had to tick a box on ethnic backgrounds to make up the numbers and show how diverse they were? The sad bit? I am genuinely not sure any more.

Next week: The Cherry pickers of the NHS 

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