I am proud Zenon has reached the ripe old age (in consultancy years) of 10 and I am delighted that at last month's NHS Confederation conference we had many clients, colleagues and friends celebrating with us.

We were all reflecting on the last 10 years - and five other decades - of the health service, particularly given the speeches by chief executive David Nicholson and director general of workforce Clare Chapman on the new values in the system.

Since 1948, Nye Bevan's aim to ensure "good healthcare should be available to all, regardless of wealth" has been ingrained in all our hearts.

The new values of "compassion, respect and dignity, commitment to quality care, improving lives, working together as patients and everyone counts" are admirable and I wholeheartedly agree with Mr Nicholson's recommendation "...not [to] look at the past - we need to 'bank' that and look to the future".

But how do NHS organisations convert these principles into enthusiastic implementation of tangible outcomes in excellent patient care, finances and people management?

There was a real buzz in the conversation when I discussed this with fellow delegates. Optimism was high and one suggested there was a "realisation that a corner had been turned" and that people "had a stronger belief that they were empowered and able to take real, timely action".

It has to be said that the doom and gloom of the last two years were definitely missing and there was, to share another delegate's feedback, "something really exciting in the air".

We need to regenerate this excitement in the service. Leaders at all levels need to reflect on and know what the values stand for, look at how they can be embedded in everyone's day-to-day activity and work out, with staff and patients, how they can be made a reality.

Behaviour that mirrors these values should be modelled from the top. Leadership is crucial in transforming organisations. Leaders' energy, enthusiasm, reputation, personal brand and style cannot be underestimated.

The key to these principles is to build, manage and nurture relationships - something we all need to consider and work towards.

The truth is that a recent poll suggested many NHS managers have little focus on work-life balance for their staff, and less than 25 per cent of staff feel senior managers communicate effectively and involve them in decisions that affect them directly.

This is recognised by Simon Pleydell, chief executive of South Tees Hospitals trust and an NHS Employers policy board member, who spoke at the conference on the "missing leg of total quality management" - in other words, the quality of day-to-day relationships.

No values can truly be lived and breathed unless that quality of everyday relationships is not just good, but excellent.