The best NHS chief executives adapt and develop a leadership style that fits the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead of them, says Gavin Johnstone
Next month we are publishing the second report in our Insight for NHS Leaders series What makes a top chief executive? We have spoken at length to about 30 NHS chief executives and are carrying out a joint survey with HSJ.
The results of our conversations are not unexpected.
Three-quarters of these chief executives said the NHS was the toughest sector they had worked in and yet the same proportion said it was the most enjoyable. Almost two-thirds of chief executives in the health service rated their job satisfaction at eight out of 10 or higher.
‘It is critical to have the emotional intelligence to connect and engage with people’
This helps us understand the challenges they face and the reward, but what makes a chief executive stand out from the crowd? How do the best chief executives operate? What sort of management style do they adopt and how do they lead?
The answers are varied, but the message is clear. There isn’t a single leadership style that works in every situation and the best chief executives adapt and develop a style that fits the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead.
Qualities and behaviours
As for the qualities and behaviours exhibited by top chief executives, they must have the ability to communicate and connect with people whether it is staff, patients or regulators. This means it is critical to have a good communication style and the emotional intelligence to connect and engage with people.
Resilience is also important because the challenges do not abate and certainly when a trust is on the wrong side of the inspection regime, being able to make improvements in the face of external criticism requires inner strength and belief.
Top chief executives also have to be able to reconcile the fact that the vision for their trust may be compromised because of what needs to be delivered in the coming days and weeks. Maintaining control while moving to new ways of working with providers in primary and community care is a tricky balancing act and one that the best chief executives are able to manage well.
Our latest report provides an in-depth view of these themes and helps to build a better understanding of what makes a top chief executive. What makes a top chief executive? is coming out next month.
Gavin Johnstone is managing director and founder of Hunter Healthcare