Values and collaboration were at the heart of the judges’ considerations for HSJ’s Top Chief Executives 2023

Judging HSJ’s Top Chief Executives is a task that is both challenging and fascinating. In large part that is because the understanding of what makes for a great trust leader is ever-evolving.

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That evolution has perhaps been particularly rapid over the last few years, with the exceptional pressures that have been wrought by the pandemic and by the growing elective care backlog. Where once a chief executive could legitimately consider his- or herself to be in direct competition with other local colleagues, now the ability to collaborate and form relationships is central. That requires a different skillset to the one that might previously have enabled a career to flourish.

This shift to collaboration reveals itself in the increasing number of chief executives that head more than one trust, and is one which has now become underpinned by the statutory basis of integrated care systems.

It meant that collaboration was a key theme of the judges’ deliberations this year. We were seeking leaders who see themselves as an active part of a wider ecosystem. We wanted to recognise those who are striving to deliver benefit for the entirety of their local health and care economy, not those whose sole focus is on their own organisation.

It is no coincidence that Angela Hillery, our number one chief executive, led NHS efforts to support a struggling independent mental health provider this year. Her belief that action had to be taken to avoid destabilising an entire health economy and affecting patient safety is the very embodiment of a collaborative approach.

It is also indicative of values-based leadership. This was another key part of the involved and thought-provoking discussion that the judges had in deciding on this year’s list. Our desire was to highlight chief executives whose work is grounded in unshakeable values – of compassion, of helping others, of inclusivity. The values of the NHS, in other words. With a workforce naturally exhausted having faced unprecedented demands – and in some instances taking industrial action – this becomes all the more important.

Judges were struck by the correlation between leaders who role model NHS values and those who run organisations with high staff survey scores. Where a chief executive clearly demonstrates the NHS ethos, it seems that their colleagues are more likely to recommend care at the organisation.

All of this reveals something important about what a good NHS leader looks like in 2023. It is someone who is collaborative, someone who is compassionate, someone who lives their values, someone dedicating to building relationships and connections to deliver the greatest possible benefit to staff and service users alike. The 50 people who are on the list this year all demonstrate just these qualities.

Read the full list here

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