Leadership is a hot topic in the NHS. Lord Darzi mentions it no fewer than 50 times in High Quality Care for All. Why is it then that many clinicians are reticent about leadership and how can leadership training help?

When I embarked on a year-long leadership programme run by the Royal College of GPs and West Midlands strategic health authority, I was propelled by curiosity and a need to understand the culture of the NHS. As a rural GP, I had managed to avoid leadership and management training in the NHS, but had worked in management roles in other organisations. NHS management appeared obscure, documents relating to commissioning or change seemed to be written in code, I felt like an outsider. I wanted to understand what I was missing.

To me, clinicians and primary care trusts seemed to exist in parallel universes, with management and leadership failing to coalesce into a unified strategy to motivate, inspire or promote the values of the NHS. From a slightly outside viewpoint, this felt bizarre, especially as I believe the outstanding thing about almost everyone in the NHS is their clear focus on high standards of care and the needs of the patient.

Key benefits

Participants on my course set out to pin down the strengths of the course and how it had helped us. Two key themes were that it was:

  • multidisciplinary - people from a wide array of professions, backgrounds and approaches all confirmed a common list of leadership problems and anxieties;

  • permissive - we were all allowed to "have a go", experiment and test theories of emotional intelligence and impact. We were all fostered in a safe learning environment.

For me personally, the programme has demystified the NHS's different voices and cultures, bridging the divide between clinical work and management. Working with clinicians from across the West Midlands has opened up the mysterious world of the NHS and laid it bare. This has allowed me to regain confidence in shared direction and in helping transform services through more joined-up thinking.

The West Midlands leadership programme: nuts and bolts

  • 60 delegates from across the West Midlands, including GPs, podiatrists, pharmacists, opticians, midwives, nurses and other allied health professionals;

  • a series of study days and conference days exploring leadership and management through theory and practical activities;

  • small groups and mentoring sessions;

  • workshops on a range of skills and subjects such as public relations, commissioning, presentation skills and dress sense;

  • course participants have identified a personal project and are using theoretical models and experiential learning from the course to work on this project;

  • a time commitment of about eight hours a week, including biweekly evening meetings, personal study and personal projects.

To read more on the programme, go to www.rcgp.org.uk