Foundation trusts need the right expertise, skills and abilities within their own leadership - and need to use the freedom given to them in deciding how best to develop potential leaders.

But in looking at the skills their leaders will need it is likely foundation trusts will actually be developing the type of leaders the whole NHS needs. 

Planning for training, education and development in the NHS remains overly centralised

The foundation trust board has to make sure that the organisation is developing its present and future leaders to meet the full gamut of the challenges it faces. These include understanding who its “customers” are - both patients and commissioners - and what they want; strategic business planning; a deep understanding and practice of the best corporate and clinical governance; assessing and managing risk; people and team leadership skills and the small “p” political skills of developing relationships with the wide range of internal and external stakeholders and partners.

These are precisely the skills which are increasingly required across the whole of the NHS. When foundation trusts invest in developing their own leaders, they will be making a major contribution to providing the NHS leaders of the future.

Foundation trusts need to put their own needs first when developing leaders - but that does not mean they need to be insular or should work in isolation. Foundation trusts need to learn from the best in all sectors of the health economy: customer focus, good governance and commercial acumen can be learned in partnership with the private sector and from social entrepreneurs. Mutuals and employee owned businesses can teach about managing relationships and accountability to stakeholders. For this reason the Foundation Trust Network set up the FT/FTSE link for foundation trusts with FTSE companies where both parties learn from each other. We are widening this mentoring partnership to include hybrid organisations such as mutuals and co-operatives.

Foundation trusts also need to seek the economies of scale for training and developing leaders. This means co-operating with other providers as employing organisations and NHS bodies to develop appropriate strategies and share costs.

Planning for training, education and development in the NHS remains overly centralised. It feels as if the centre has not yet come to terms with staff being increasingly employed in independent organisations. There are clearly leadership roles in the infrastructure of the NHS down the commissioning line where the centre has a legitimate interest. But an overcentralised approach runs the risk that leaders created by bureaucrats will be produced in the image of an NHS of yesterday or today.

What is required is tomorrow’s leaders fashioned in a dynamic environment of innovation and change.

The entire system will benefit from more organisations co-operating with each other and stakeholders. As more trusts achieve foundation status it will move the NHS further and faster on public sector reform. Developing their leaders is one way foundation trusts are helping to make this happen.

NHS Leadership Spring Debates: Collaboration