Mayvin_NHS leadership

Can the NHS really empower its leaders to succeed?

Mayvin Director Martin Saville responds to a Guardian article about the need for new approaches to leadership in the NHS

I read a great article last Monday in The Guardian’s ‘Views from the NHS frontline’ series. The writer, an anonymous executive coach to senior NHS execs, was arguing that most senior leaders in the NHS were recruited as ‘empire-building business leaders’, better suited to a time when NHS Foundation Trusts were competing with other Trusts for business. Meanwhile, the writer suggests, the world has changed. What is now needed is a new breed of leader: emotionally intelligent, politically skilled, engaged with front line staff, patients and service-users. The problem is that recruitment and development practices have yet to catch up.

It’s a compelling perspective, much of which I go along with, though the distinction between ‘then and now’ feels overdone. As I read, I also found myself thinking, ‘and thank goodness for the NHS Leadership Academy’. This national organisation fosters precisely the kind of leadership that the Guardian writer argues is so desperately needed – leadership that speaks directly to the NHS Constitution and Values. My connection with the Academy is as one of around 35 faculty members; I work on the ‘Nye Bevan Programme’ for leaders, clinical and non-clinical, across the NHS who are on track to become Executive Directors.

The programme is transformational and ‘not a walk in the park’, as the Academy’s website puts it. As well as benefiting from world class teaching and learning experiences, participants are required to reflect deeply on who they are as leaders, giving and receiving feedback on ‘what it is like to be on the receiving end of me’ and holding each other to account for making changes. At the end of the year-long process participants are asked to assess themselves and each other on whether they have demonstrated they are ready to take on Executive leadership roles. The criteria for making this assessment would please the author of the Guardian article, and not everyone makes the grade. Those who do will have the future of healthcare in the UK in their hands.

These are extraordinarily testing times for the NHS; we all know that. But when I spend time with the men and women I work with on the Nye Bevan programme I can’t but feel optimistic.