Productivity, optimism and innovation are all qualities that will fire up your teams to overcome obstacles. How do you measure up, asks Georgia McHardy

In early October, BBC business editor Robert Peston wrote in his blog that while there is broad consensus that economic recovery is under way, opinion is divided as to whether it will be sustained.

Do you challenge the status quo? Trailblazers are savvy: they know which rules need to be followed and which can be bent, or pushed to the limit

No doubt the experts will continue this debate, but even as they do the NHS, and other public services, will have to deal with the effects of the downturn. This will mean doing more with fewer resources. Driving up quality while driving in efficiencies will be a significant challenge. In its report Dealing with the Downturn the NHS Confederation threw down the gauntlet when it advocated the need for “strong leadership” and “courageous decisions”.

If extensive reshaping of services is part of your plan, you may be wondering what personal reserves you need to draw on to get the results you want. Just what is “strong” leadership and what constitutes “courageous” decision making?

Determined to discover whether those who successfully drive transformation in public services are characterised by common traits, we interviewed 30 leading executives from public sector and not for profit organisations, including the NHS.

As we analysed the data, an exciting conclusion emerged: there is indeed a distinct “trailblazer” profile characterised by drive, energy, vision, tenacity and a genuine understanding of how to inspire others and galvanise their efforts towards ambitious goals.

Measuring up

The research has revealed characteristics that could now be in much greater demand as organisations seek to drive change forward. These are characteristics that could help you face difficult circumstances arising out of the push for transformation and tackle them with the determination needed to achieve better quality outcomes.

So, how do you measure up?

  • Are you more productive than your peers? Trailblazers tend to be more productive, working harder and longer than their colleagues.
  • Do you challenge the status quo? Trailblazers are savvy: they know which rules need to be followed and which can be bent, or pushed to the limit, as they search for more efficient ways of doing things.
  • Are you optimistic by nature? Trailblazers have faced setbacks and significant challenges. This has caused them to dig deeper and has forged in them above average levels of tenacity and persistence. They believe there will eventually be sunshine, no matter how hard the rain.
  • Do you empower others? Trailblazers trust and value people. They develop those around them, but they will also proactively challenge poor performance.
  • Are you investing time in really getting to know people? Trailblazers try to understand people; they work out their hopes and fears and use these constructively as a platform for influence.
  • Do you demonstrate a clear appetite for responsibility? Trailblazers are more likely to take charge, favouring action and rapid decisions over lengthy deliberation. They will back their own judgement and seize chances when they arise.
  • Do you know what you want? Trailblazers have powerful vision. Imbued with a tangible desire to help others and make a difference to people’s lives, they focus on the future, see the bigger picture and mobilise and align resources behind their overarching vision.
  • Can you innovate? Trailblazers show an ability to grapple with complexity, prioritise ruthlessly and innovate constantly to cut a path through the detail that often entangles others.

If you recognise these characteristics in yourself it is likely you have a clear sense of vocation, a desire for responsibility and the tenacity to overcome obstacles. You will act in line with your values, even though it might be easier to do otherwise. You will see clearly what you want to achieve, yet you will also demonstrate humility, attributing success to the collective efforts of your colleagues and yourself.

If you recognise some of these traits, but need to build up others, you can work on:

  • developing confidence in your own judgement
  • increasing your efforts
  • testing existing boundaries or setting new ones
  • innovating and improving
  • creating a vision for what you want to achieve
  • inspiring and empowering others
  • challenging poor performance
  • seizing opportunities to make a difference
  • staying optimistic, focused on improved outcomes.


The research was carried out by consultants Wickland Westcott, supported by Manchester Business School. For a copy of the original report email