NHS Charities – Effective management of hard and soft leadership

NHS Charities – Effective management of hard and soft leadership
Published: 27 July 2021

We were delighted to hear from John Mark Williams, Chief Executive of the Institute of Leadership & Management, at our latest event for NHS Charities. John joined the organisation in September 2020 as the second wave of the pandemic was gaining momentum. Like other senior leaders he is continuing to juggle both the hard and soft sides of leadership. John kindly shared his experiences and insights into how, as a senior leader, you can maintain your organisation’s competitive edge and productivity whilst being mindful, supportive and encouraging of a culture that looks after employee health and well-being.

The challenge

In the past, leaders have quite possibly focused on results at the expense of employee well-being; however, more recently, through the pandemic for most, employee well-being has rightfully been the focus - potentially at the expense of results. Clearly in a commercially led world this is not sustainable. Both are important but neither are enough on their own. Leaders are generally measured on performance, results and % growth and rarely on their empathy levels, compassion, or the well-being of their teams. However, if leaders focused on the latter could this lead to a measured improvement in results, as an employee’s health and well-being are vital to them performing to the best of their ability? A leader needs to be curious about their team’s well-being and how people are feeling. It is something that needs to be done consciously and not just sub-consciously.

Creating a positive culture around well-being to improve performance

As a leader, one way to create a positive culture around well-being is to create momentum through a common purpose or a common enemy for the team. Fighting a common enemy has a sense of urgency but is not a long-term state for success; once an enemy is defeated the impetus disappears. However, a common purpose, or clarity of purpose, can lead anyone to perform better as a leader or as a team. It is difficult to feel motivated without purpose and clarity, and the simpler it is, the easier it is to stay focused. The common purpose needs to be accessible, understandable and reassuring, something that people don’t need to think too hard about, so committing to it can be done on autopilot. It also needs to be something that teams can be brought back to if motivation levels dip. The common purpose should be articulated to all employees, both executive and non-executive, to motivate individuals to bring their ‘best self’ to their role. 

Throughout the pandemic, NHS Charities became a ’cause’ that the public could relate to, when everyone began to realise looking after our physical and mental health was vital - through ill-health, times of anxiety, isolation, or home-schooling. The dynamic altered and, for most NHS charities, performance was very high with increased donations, both financial and goods, which teams then worked tirelessly to distribute. The raised profile of NHS Charities helped leaders to identify and communicate a common purpose both internally and externally.

Collaboration not competition

NHS Charities is not a homogenous group; organisations are at different stages of growth, and all have unique qualities. Therefore, leaders within the sector should not look at each other or other fundraising organisations as competitors to help frame their common purpose, but look at them as comparators. How did they get to be the biggest or the best? And how can other organisations be inspired by them to find best practice to achieve the results required?

Collaboration and building on local relationships, with NHS Trusts or other charities, is one way NHS Charity leaders can work together to create positivity and a common goal for their teams, perhaps through patient experiences or health outcomes for a city or region. Other ideas include sharing the workload and not trying to do everything yourselves - this enables teams to collaborate both internally and externally - or by taking away the barriers that lead to siloed working and negative behaviours - this will in turn create a positive momentum.

In summary, clarity and simplicity are key to creating a common purpose in your vision, mission and values.  Creating a willingness from the Board, team and supporters to deliver the strategy will give leaders the time to think strategically about the future and time to deliver operationally. 

For more information, please contact Sandra Hamovic, Principal Consultant in our Not for Profit practice or Hannah Wade who is an Associate Partner in the Healthcare practice.

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