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Leadership: What’s in a word? – Jane Cummings

My recent CNO Summit gave me the opportunity to meet with more than 500 leaders from hospitals, CCGs, ALBs and patient representatives. I came away from the Summit inspired and motivated by listening and learning as we shared our experiences.

Dictionaries define ‘leadership’ as ‘the position, capacity or ability to lead, guide or direct’. But ‘leadership’ isn’t a term only used in connection with people in recognised senior positions, or with well-known figures from our profession’s history, such as Florence Nightingale or Mary Seacole.

Nurses and midwives naturally step into leadership roles. From the early stages of our careers, we often have significant responsibilities for wards and patients, as well as responsibilities for supervising or mentoring junior staff as they go through their training.

There is a link between strong leadership, a caring and compassionate culture, and high quality care. Leadership is not about learning systems or processes. Leadership is about being adaptable and making a difference by thinking differently. One of the key leadership challenges we face in our profession is the ability to be able to deal with the pressures of today and to be part of the vision of tomorrow.

Increasingly, leadership is about partnership – leading by working in partnership with colleagues, patients and communities across organisational boundaries. This may sometimes present challenges, but also presents opportunities to learn from them too. In challenging situations, the values of the 6Cs give us a framework in which to work with others towards the best solutions for patients.

I am encouraged to note that over 7,000 nurses and midwives have so far completed or are currently following leadership programmes from the NHS Leadership Academy.

The feedback from participants has been overwhelmingly positive. Increasing the number of nurses and midwives able to access this type of programme is making a real difference to the front line.

But don’t just take my word for it. Here are some comments by participants:

I am happy with the entire session. I want all nurses to undergo the programme.

I feel supported by all the people I have met on this course. Feel empowered. Feel proud to be part of the nursing profession. Wish I had done this course years ago.

Changes begin tomorrow!

A different style of learning for nurses and one that has been a very valuable experience.

I would like to encourage two groups in particular to attend these courses: midwives and members of the BME community (black and minority ethnic).

Midwives are taking on increasing leadership responsibilities. Recent guidelines from NICE recommended midwife-led units or home births for women at low risk of complications. Similarly, the NHS Five Year Forward View’s looks at options midwives will have to take charge of the maternity services they offer. These developments will increase the need for strong and effective leadership among midwives. Last month’s winner of ‘6Cs in Action: Celebrating Excellence’ was a senior midwife, whose example shows us the privilege midwives have in leading with compassion in sometimes distressing circumstances.

I have blogged before (Jane Cummings blog) about my personal and professional commitment to strengthening leadership among professionals from BME backgrounds. I encourage senior staff to make these courses as accessible as possible, see all your team members as potential leaders, and be honest about the gap between the ethnic composition of British society and how this is reflected in nursing and midwifery leadership. Equally, I encourage BME staff to look into these courses and actively seek to engage with line managers for their sponsorship.

A New Year is a time to think about new horizons, opportunities and changes. I hope that 2015 will see continued uptake of the NHS Leadership Academy’s programmes, benefitting current and future members of the nursing and midwifery professions and, most of all, benefitting patients.

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