Healthcare Leader is speaking to a series of leaders on the front-line about what makes great leadership. Deputy editor, Angela Sharda talks to Andy Yacoub, CEO of Healthwatch Suffolk CIC, about how the NHS can help leaders excel.
Q. What do you think constitutes great leadership?
Great leaders bring out the best in themselves and others in equal measure. They are self-aware and constantly seeking to learn, recognising their own strengths and shortcomings, and surrounding themselves with highly talented individuals and teams. They earn the trust and respect of others, rather than demand it, through their actions and the results they bring about with those they lead. They are consistent, inspiring, accountable and empathic.
Q. How would you describe your own qualities and characteristics as a leader?
Words I would associate with my leadership are humility, integrity and decisiveness. I do not personally consider my self to be inspirational but have worked with great leaders who are; something I will always aspire to try and be.
Q. What are the biggest lessons you have learnt since you started out on your leadership path?
Standing up for what you believe in, no matter what the circumstances and potential consequences may be. Facing up to criticism, whether it’s justified or not. Remaining consistent, no matter what stress and pressures you are under. Living a sound work-life balance when there is so much to do. Learning from your failures is very important.
Q. What do you think the healthcare sector most needs or is currently lacking when it comes to leadership?
Diversity. The hierarchical nature of the healthcare sector, as is the case in policing (my first ‘career’), is a hinderance to attracting and nurturing creative and truly innovative leaders. Those that make it do so because they are likely to have had mentors who are likewise ‘rebels’ or visionaries.
We need more leaders who ask the question ‘why?’ rather than those who simply toe the line. What they need is a system that allows decision-making and one that encourages creativity and diversity in order to break the mould and achieve unexpected goals. Diversity also comes in the way of your customers, patients, end users and their carers. Great healthcare leaders understand the value of co-designing and co-producing along with their teams as well as the public they serve.
Q. What are the greatest challenges you have faced in your leadership career?
Leadership without authority, because most of my career has involved me being in middle management. I believe middle managers are the gatekeepers to an organisation’s success or failure. They are often ignored and yet control the heartbeat of their organisation. For me, making an impression as a middle manager and bringing people with you is more difficult when you don’t have the authority that your working environment presents.
Q. What do you feel is your greatest achievement as a leader?
I honestly don’t feel that I have as yet achieved anything that can be described as great. There have been many instances when I have felt extremely proud of either my achievements or of those who work with me; it is these that fill me with confidence in my abilities and competencies, along with my trust in my teams and colleagues.
Q. What are the key qualities you admire in other leaders you have worked with, or for, in your career?
I can specifically think of three individuals, two women and one man, who I would consider as having been the best leaders during my working life. They inspired me, believed in me, trusted me, taught me, allowed me to be creative, offered me the opportunities to try and fail, shared a common vision and were honest, consistent, strong and decisive. They were also the same leader with others.
Q. What more needs to be done to help people in leadership roles within healthcare today?
There are several recognised leadership courses available to employers, such as neuro-linguistic programming (NLP), for instance. These cost money and in this age of extended austerity, such professional development tends to be dismissed and considered an extravagance.
The irony is that a manager is not necessarily also a leader, and at times of intense pressure such as that faced by the NHS and social care, we desperately need as many leaders as possible. Leadership development, especially where it brings together cohorts of mixed professions and sectors, is critical if we hope to continue to look after and empower the public.
Andy Yacoub is CEO of Healthwatch Suffolk CIC