Future leaders need to lead people not organisations

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‘You’re not as kind as you used to be’ wrote Clementine Churchill to her husband Winston Churchill on 27 June 1940. 

Clementine believed the pressures of leadership meant Winston being less kind to his staff and she also noted that he was becoming so feared that his team’s ideas and creativity were being stifled. His leadership style was creating poor relationships with his staff and damaging team morale. Is this something that today’s NHS leaders ought to consider when facing the daily pressures and challenges of leading the NHS?

Last week we saw the launch of an exciting new programme for emerging clinical leaders here at The King’s Fund. We know that leadership development is more effective when shared with colleagues from other disciplines and the programme aims to give doctors, nurses and other health professionals the opportunity to learn about themselves with the colleagues they will be leading future health care with.

To coincide with the start of this programme we launched a social media campaign, posting a series of questions and Vines on Twitter, to explore and debate some of the issues and challenges facing emerging leaders. The questions covered influential early career advice and qualities needed by future leaders, including a question – created and posted by our programme participants – about qualities that would foster pride in the NHS.

We received a phenomenal and diverse response to this campaign – people at all levels of seniority and from different parts of the health care system and beyond tweeted their responses and thoughts. The early career advice question in particular generated much lively debate – it seems many of us have a story to tell around the advice we were given and the impact that it had on us and our leadership style.

The overwhelming message that came from the responses was about the importance of relationships between leaders and their staff, and how staff feel about that relationship. Lydia Salice, Service Manager at Birmingham Children’s Hospital, sums this up well (inspired by Maya Angelou): ‘People will forget what you say but they will never forget how you made them feel’.

Leaders need to pay attention to relationships and the impact that their leadership has on their staff and teams. Research tells us that if you treat your staff well then they will treat their patients well. Or as Umesh Prabu, Medical Director at Wrightington, Wigan and Leigh Foundation Trust, puts it: ‘Happy staff – happy patients’

Relationships and people, not skills and authority derived from powers of office, are what’s important. As David Buck, Senior Fellow in Policy here at The King’s Fund says in his Vine, ‘Facts and figures matter, people and relationships matter more’, and as Sue Dray, Senior Lecturer, says, ‘If [leaders] care for the staff, the staff will care for the patients. That worked for me... Treat staff well, they work well.’

Respect and value for staff will foster respect and value for patients. This is not a new discovery. Sometimes people just need to be reminded that they aren’t as kind as they used to be and about why being kind is important. As Clementine Churchill said in her letter, which was posted as part of our debate: ‘Terrific power must be combined with kindness’. I would also include being kind to oneself as well as to others and those you lead. If future leaders can combine those qualities then the future leadership of the NHS is promising.

Are you an emerging leader looking to learn and develop multi-professionally? Join our next Emerging clinical leaders programme –  places available on the second cohort starting on 7 October 2014.

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Umesh Prabhu

Medical Director,
Wrightington Wigan and Leigh FT
Comment date
10 July 2014
Leadership is about intimacy with your staff. Care for you staff well and they will look after patients very well. Happy staff -happy patients. Unhappy staff -unhappy patients. Here are some simple tips

1. Thank your staff often praise them regularly
2. Know your staff by first name and always greet them with smile
3. Get to know staff well and let them get to know you well
4. It is all about treating staff with kindness, care and compassion.
5. Promote 'Fair and Open culture and supportive and learning culture – culture of accountability for all including Board leaders.
6. Remove blame, bullying, victimisation and isms
7. Create a culture where every staff is happy to work and be a part of positive and supportive team.
8. Reward, recognise and empower staff
9. Give your staff a voice to speak up and stand up for the rights of patients and when they do act on their concerns.
10. Most important - support your staff when they make mistake and make sure everyone learns so that patients are safe.

Mandip Kaur

Programme Manager,
The King's Fund
Comment date
10 July 2014
Thank you Umesh. I agree completely especially with number 4.

And thank you for participating in our twitter debate with such energy!

judi scott

training officer, virology lab.,
St Peter's Hospital
Comment date
11 July 2014
Umesh,I totally agree, though for 6,7,& 8 you require 9; however, isn't the art is in not letting the extroverts overpower the quiet thinkers?preventing the"tall poppy syndrome".

Hugo Limachi

Continuous Improvement trainer, coach and adviser (Primary Care Development Facilitator),
NHS Cumbria CCG
Comment date
15 July 2014

I'm very interested in leadership and try to keep up in what is value and non value leadership research/literature. Simon Sinek is the only one that explains leadership in a perfect way that makes sense.


Sue Dray

Comment date
15 July 2014
Thank you for this, it is time we promoted the aspect of relationship more. I was criticised by a manager for doing exactly this yet it had worked the 2 years before she arrived. But I rarely had complaints and all were dealt with by staff. Sadly I left this job which I loved due to this manager not being able to create a good working environment, I also left the NHS never to return.
The staff team I had built were as trusting of me as I was of them. I knew when I was not present things would still run efficiently and with a caring and compassionate focus.
Sadly this team also departed soon after I did as they were unhappy under the new style of management.
Treating staff with respect, trusting them and listening to them is not a difficult concept. Number 10 is especially true in today's blame culture, and please let us focus on number 6, as this is destroying the NHS all on its own.

Ian Bathell

Comment date
09 March 2017
At a single moment, we can only handle one thing in an organization, either leadership or relationship with employees. Leadership attitude in organizations will definitely create errors with employees and this article describes the real facts about leadership and relationship with employees and how simultaneously we can handle both in a balanced way.

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