How can we learn to rise to the contemporary challenges we face in a troubled organisation?

This article characterises the leadership challenges faced by leaders of troubled organisations. It resonates because the issues described are observable, palpable and present in the NHS today.

So what can we learn from this example to help us rise to the contemporary challenges we face?

Leadership and culture

Two important themes derived from this example are leadership and culture. It appears that there really is nothing new under the sun. The issues concur with those described by Francis, Keogh and Berwick in 2013.

In particular, problems relating to financial deficit, lack of patient (customer) focus, regulator concerns, frequent changes of leadership and a negative culture.

There are valuable clues in the narrative that illustrate Clare’s effective leadership behaviour. She skilfully used both hard and soft data to understand the problems and take decisive action.

Her inclusive, values based, authentic approach engaged people and connected them with her vision to create a better world for disabled people.

Karen Castille

‘Busy NHS leaders frequently choose the easier but less effective option of restructuring’

Her compelling narrative paid attention to the all important issues of people, purpose and priorities – reiterating what was important and role modelling this, demonstrating high emotional intelligence.

Increasingly, there is good evidence that many women have these skills in abundance.

Culture is a much talked about, incalculable and an immensely powerful construct. It is hard to measure or change, and attempts to do so require unyielding and enduring effort.

Busy NHS leaders frequently choose the easier but less effective option of restructuring. This rarely captures hearts and minds or achieves culture change.

So, how can the NHS stimulate new and different perspectives on seemingly intractable problems?

There is no one best way, but one known, yet unused, lever is to increase the diversity of NHS leaders. The gender of NHS leaders neither reflects its 80 per cent female workforce nor the people it serves.

There is good evidence that women are more inclusive, persuasive, open, results focused and empathetic than their male counterparts, and they more consistently build positive relationships and learn from failure.

Moreover, there is compelling evidence from FTSE companies that better gender balance at senior level improves performance.

The thoughts and actions of NHS leaders can and do make a difference. Lessons learned from inspirational accounts such as this present both opportunity and optimism for a brighter future for the NHS.

Karen Castille is associate director at NHS Confederation

The woman who banned the f-word