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What is Leadership Anyway?

Rachael Moses, Consultant Physiotherapist and Chair of Respiratory Leaders in Physiotherapy, tells us how we can all be leaders.


Leadership, the new buzz word in the NHS….or is it? If I think of some of the great role models that have contributed to the NHS over the years such as Florence Nightingale, Edith Cavell and Kate Grainger they all displayed excellent leadership traits. And interestingly they were all women…

What is leadership anyway?
There are many definitions of leadership but one of my favourites as quoted by John Quincy Adams a former POTUS:

"If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, then you are a leader"

Leadership comes in a variety of forms, it’s not always obvious and not always the case that those more senior than you have greater skills. Leadership is very different from management. Managers are not necessarily leaders and vice versa. Think of the term ‘management’ itself. It is derived from the term manage, or in other words, control, handle, organise and accomplish. Leadership is about inclusive working to transform services, people and provide exceptional patient care.

Is Leadership a skill we are born with?
I think so. If you think back to your pre-school days, even back then natural leaders emerged. Whether it be tidy up time, milk bottle monitors or starting a game of catchy-kissy, it always seemed to be the same keen beans that would start the process. These young-uns weren’t bossy, they were inclusive, wanting to help others and achieve results. All signs of natural leaders. However, do those who don’t exhibit these traits early on not become good leaders?

Is Leadership learnt as we grow through life?
Absolutely. When I think of my inspirational role models they have all had links to healthcare, in particular my parents who were both nurses. In healthcare it isn’t your driving factors or personality type that dictates your leadership ability, but being given the opportunity to grow and develop in a framework that is most suited to you. Leaders will understand from an early stage in their career what motivates them to achieve, whether you are an introvert or extrovert, internally or externally influenced, there is a leader within everybody. Some people just take more time to understand how to recognise their individual abilities.

Can Leadership be a skill that is taught?
Well NHSE seem to think so. There has been significant investment into a 5 tier leadership structure that starts with the Edward Jenner open access Programme for new leaders from clinical and non-clinical backgrounds. The programme can be progressed all the way through to the Director Programme aimed at executive directors and the equivalent

How do you know if you are a good leader?
On the whole people will tell you. As physiotherapists we are getting better at accepting positive feedback. We have no problem when it’s from patients, but when it’s from peers we become a mute and maybe mumble a thank you but we don’t really explore the intricate detail of this feedback. One thing I have learnt throughout my most recent years is to graciously acknowledge the feedback and ask for further explanation: ‘What did I do that made you say this, how did it make you feel, what did you learn, could it have been better?’

Do you want to be a leader or manager?
In my experience the difference between managers and leaders is the former will judge success mainly on the goal being achieved, in the quickest time, with the littlest of resource and maximum impact. Leaders will focus on how things were achieved, how people felt and will judge success across the infrastructure, not just the end result. Managers often don’t ask the ‘touch feely’ questions as they don’t necessarily want to know the answers. Leaders will use constructive feedback to learn, grow and develop.

What do I do now?
Leadership development needs to extend ‘from the board to the ward’. Leadership models have changed to become shared responsibilities across organisations and infrastructures. There is no place for ‘heroic’ leadership that is individual centric. So with that in mind these are my top ten tips:

  1. Know your contribution, as a newly appointed therapy assistant, physiotherapist or therapy manager
  2. Remember every challenge is a potential opportunity
  3. Embrace your positive feedback
  4. Consider mentorship if you are struggling to develop your own leadership style
  5. Identify your leadership style and qualities (this includes what motivates you)
  6. Evaluate your strengths and weaknesses
  7. Consider what’s holding you back
  8. Have confidence in your ability to lead
  9. Always have an inspirational goal
  10. Never stop believing in yourself and others

Rachael Moses, Consultant Respiratory Physiotherapist and Chair Respiratory Leaders in Physiotherapy