There has been an unprecedented level of change in the structure and function of the NHS in recent years. There could not be a more critical time for strong and visible leadership in nursing at all levels in the system. At the QNI Annual Conference this year, I asked delegates to consider an excellent leader they have worked with in their career and why this leader was the one they selected.
Knowledge and skills in leadership can, arguably, be learned in theory and in practice. But the application and successful deployment of knowledge and skills will be dependent on the attributes of the individual.
These include clarity of purpose and vision, and a delivery plan constructed with the team to realise the vision. Importantly too, leaders need to have a clarity of purpose for their own role and an understanding of their own motivations which must not be about self-aggrandisement and status, but rather about flexible, confident, inclusive, resilient and purposeful leadership. A leader who is willing to take calculated risks and to learn.
Another key attribute of an excellent leader is integrity. Followers need to trust their leader to lead the team, the service or the organisation, because they have patients, families, children and carers at the centre of all they do, at all times. Their behaviour and their values – being highly professional at all times, with a consistency at all levels in the organisation – are critical characteristics of leadership.
Communication is vitally important in the leadership role. A good leader will keep the team well informed about activity, the main issues impacting on the service being delivered or managed. And, more than that, a good leader will also ask their followers’ opinions and listen to what is said, ensuring that decisions are fully informed by the experience of the team.
Lastly, emotional intelligence is a key and often understated quality required for good leadership. This includes an excellent understanding of how to build relationships and adapt styles of management and leadership in accordance with the circumstances and the needs of the people they are working with.
If this list of attributes describes you, might you be a future leader of our health services?
Crystal Oldman, chief executive, Queen’s Nursing Institute