Sir Hugh Orde’s thoughtful interview raises the obvious question: “How alike are the leadership challenges in healthcare and policing?”
I have recently had to think hard about healthcare leadership as I leave West Hertfordshire Hospitals Trust to be chief executive at Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children Trust. GOSH is an example (extreme, perhaps) of the NHS truth that the brand is a lot bigger than the leader. The leader’s role is about safeguarding and enhancing the brand: about quality, cohesiveness, competence and shared values; first among equals, a marshaller, enabler and catalyst. But you can only do that if you can make sense of the big picture and shape direction to match it. People want and expect you to understand the business. They are anxious that your expertise won’t be full or specific enough because they are having, and want, to trust you.
As I prepare to move, I feel guilt in response to expressions of warmth, gratefulness and concern because as a trust chief you really do belong to the organisation. This is because leadership in the NHS is pitched in human values and personal relationships. The importance of openness has also struck me. On the one hand it has been cheering to be told you did what you said you would. Yet I see the question written across everyone’s faces at GOSH: will you be who you say you are? Will you repay our trust?
Much that Sir Hugh said aligns with what I have said but two important differences strike me: firstly, his emphasis on bravery. This is needed in more metaphorical terms in the NHS, where it is about support, understanding and empathy rather than the literal bravery needed in policing. Secondly, healthcare is a business of unsurpassed complexity where leadership involves understanding and blending the incredibly varied skills, intelligences and motivations of this most heterogeneous of workforces.
So there is much in common but I am forced to conclude I couldn’t do Sir Hugh’s job and I don’t think he could do mine - and that’s fine!Outside the Box is our series of interviews, in association with Circle. Each month we will talk to a high profile business leader, thinker or “disruptive innovator” who has lessons that could help the health service deliver efficiency savings, innovate and prevent illness more effectively. We will also pose questions directly from senior health service figures that will test how the thinker’s ideas could be applied to health.