I have just thrown yet another leadership conference leaflet in the bin. Thinking back over the past year, quite a few similar fliers have followed the same trajectory.

Either I am being targeted or there is an awful lot of clinical leadership training being made available.

Creative imperative

The reason I love going to work is because from the outset it was made clear that I was being employed to think creatively.

As I complete my first year with Nuffield Health, I recall that at the start of this new challenge I thought I would spend some time engaging with leadership development. We've all seen the courses, the motivational speakers, names of leaders we respect, but there is always something in the content that makes me think, "no, this isn't what I'm looking for".

Clinical leaders

The Darzi vision as a strategy rightly makes a big play for clinical leadership, developing quality frameworks and embedding improvement. Political strategies, Department of Health frameworks, college publications and strategic health authority guidance actually share a wide consensus on the topic.

Clinical leadership has become like apple pie and motherhood, undeniably a good thing.

But as I dust off my job plan and personal objectives, it doesn't take a genius to realise clinical leadership is at the core of what I get paid to deliver. The fundamental problem for me is that you can't teach creativity, rather it gets knocked out of you by having to conform.

No recipe

Creativity will always be more about imagination, freedom from constraint, thinking outside of hierarchy and fundamentally the ability to get things well and truly wrong. Sure, great leaders will have compelling stories of success or electric presentation styles, but I'm not convinced you can put these in a recipe book.

The fundamental issue of any leadership role is how to direct the resources and the efforts of the organisation towards opportunities for economic or quality results of material significance. Management guru Peter Drucker always pointed out two mistakes:

  • most time, effort and energy go into fixing problems;

  • and, even with a spectacular fix, the overall impact will be minimal.

Having stepped sideways from the NHS, the missing ingredient for me is for clinical leaders to have operational responsibility. Day-to-day incidents, complaints and errors quickly become surpassed by projects to manage wider underlying contributing factors. Business objectives become rocket propelled when aligned to a clinical proposition.

For me, creativity should be more important than learning. Perhaps only Einstein could put it like this: "Imagination is everything. It is the preview of life's coming attractions."

Fundamentally, it is time to put the smart back into health.