Traditionally leading is from the front. The modern leader is visible and vocal; they have learnt the power of social media, blogs, newsletters, visits, speaking at events and answering questions honestly. They know the importance of walking the floor, listening to staff and engaging with them at a human especially during a period of change and uncertainty.

Most importantly they have realised that you can’t just do it once but that you need to do it consistently. This is leading staff from the front but this is only half the story.

‘The aim is not to use contacts to advance your career but to form an alliance in shaping the thinking and influencing the decisions of the wider group’

To be effective, the modern public sector leader works internally and externally to shape thinking, influence decisions and nudge things in the right direction. Leading from the front is about saying, “I am in charge and with your help this is what we are going to do.” But what about when you’re not in charge? When you are working in a multi-agency group with those who represent bigger organisations, with bigger staff groups and larger budgets?

It not just the work with external agencies that requires a different leadership approach within the organisation, you sit with other leaders (be it in the senior management team or the board) and attempt to shape the conversation and decision making. This is not leading from the front, it is leading from behind. It often takes place outside of formal meetings and is less about the agenda and more about establishing a personal rapport with another key player.

Influence across the board

Some people call this networking, which it is, but the aim is not to use contacts to advance your career but to form an alliance in shaping the thinking and influencing the decisions of the wider group.

Why is it that innovation happens in some places and not others? Is it about having the right strategic plan? Is it about a shared vision, a common set of priorities; or is it to do with budgets? Why is it that if all these pieces of the jigsaw are in place it still only happens in one locality?

‘The NHS needs leaders at every level in the organisation but who work across organisational boundaries’

In my experience the answer is leadership; not the “I’m in charge follow me” type, but the type of leadership that seeks to influence and is open to influence − what happens when two people develop a rapport.

This explains why an integrated health and social care dementia service was established in one locality within a very large local authority and not within other localities. It explains why one hospital has successful funded an intermediate care service for older people, yet three other hospitals covered by the same social service department haven’t.

The NHS needs leaders at every level in the organisation. Leaders who can not only inspire their staff and engage with them on a human level but who work across organisational boundaries and work in partnership with other organisations to shape and influence. To lead from the front and from behind the scenes.