Leadership has become the new mantra of the modern NHS. It underpins everything that is central to the direction of the service: every new initiative is accompanied by the codicil that strong and effective leadership is vital to its implementation.
The new Leadership Centre is charged with delivering 'a new generation of managerial and clinical leaders' as promised in the NHS plan. In addition to the modern matrons, the local service champions and clinical governance leads, the aim is to make leadership fundamental to every part of the service.
Modernisation Agency chief David Fillingham has a vision of tens of thousands of leaders providing support and encouragement for local change. The sort of leadership talked about in 2001 is a far cry from that promoted a decade or so ago, the macho management days of the early internal market.
The modern leadership mantra also includes terms like 'enabling', 'supportive' and 'visionary'. The new centre will have the task of making this kind of leadership real, showing people what it can achieve for patients and for carers.
Leading the centre itself, pulling together existing programmes and delivering new ones will be an enormous task. The person appointed will need to get the culture right and be the very embodiment of modern NHS management style. The fact that most of the shortlisted candidates are women may say something about that style, but just as significant is that it may be a step towards redressing the gender imbalance at the top tier of NHS management.