Talking leadership: Mark Redhead on the Top Manager Programme

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Mark Redhead is Head of Strategy and Planning at the Royal Free London NHS Foundation Trust. He took part in the Top Manager Programme (TMP) in 2016. As we launch a new scheme for TMP alumni, Mark talks to us about his experience of the programme and how he is applying what he learned to his work.

Why did you apply for the Top Manager Programme?

I worked at Monitor a few years ago and published some research into what good support for medical directors looked like, which has since been updated. At the time, I noticed that a lot of respondents to our research survey rated The King’s Fund highly for professional development and thought that if it was good enough for medical directors it was good enough for me. 

Coincidentally, I had done a number of postgraduate academic qualifications, and felt that it was time I did some continuing professional development (CPD) that was more ‘real’ – about people, perspectives and emotions. I didn’t know 100 per cent what to expect from TMP, but I thought it would be challenging, developmental and different. It was certainly that!

How has the Top Manager Programme helped you deal with challenges in your current role?

I work in planning for the Royal Free London, a large acute trust. We are currently implementing a new ‘group’ structure – or acute care collaboration in new care models/vanguard terminology. One of my main challenges is setting up a new structure and process for planning as we implement group governance: this needs to work for the group overall, for site leadership, for clinical directorates and for our new clinical practice groups which will bring together clinicians from across our various sites.

I am using my learning from TMP as I try to communicate a clear, accessible, straightforward and useful process to all these groups. I need to enthuse people across the organisation and everyone has a slightly different ask of what the process should be.

TMP has altered how I have approached this, and other tasks, in a lot of conscious and unconscious ways. It has helped me uncover and better recognise how I perceive, and am perceived by, other people. It has shown me that while I think my communications are clear, in a room of 30 people, there are at least 30 different interpretations of what I say.

These days I make more effort to check in with people along the way, to establish that we have a common understanding of tasks, and I try to tailor my messaging to the person I am speaking to, depending on whether they respond better to logic or emotion; to headlines or detail. This has been really important as I try and engage different audiences with planning.

How would you describe the TMP experience?

The TMP experience, I believe, will be different for everyone. It depends where you start from, what you bring, what you want to achieve, how open you are and how you gauge success.

It is an opportunity to give time and effort to think about the self, your behaviours and impact. It is an opportunity to test thinking and ideas, in an environment removed from the pressures of the day to day. It is fun and varied. It is challenging and enlightening.

While it is a collective learning programme, what it gives you is driven by each participant. For me it is not just a financial investment, or an exercise in gathering CPD points but a chance to hold a mirror up to myself and re-evaluate what is most important to me. It does require an emotional investment and I think for me it has been life-changing.

Finally, as we launch our new programme for TMP alumni, what kind of support do you think you would benefit from in future to maintain some of the approaches and ideas you learned on TMP?

TMP was a great experience that enabled me to better understand myself and others and I am still enjoying the insights it has given me; I feel more attuned to what others are saying and how it is being said; and better equipped to deal with complex situations.

At some point in the future it would be great to have a top-up in the ways of thinking that TMP gave me, while applying it to real-life situations and challenges. The alumni programme seems to do just that – a chance to revisit the approach, while bringing the outside world in, and giving it broader systemic context. It would also provide an opportunity to catch up with my cohort and to meet others, to hear how they have used TMP thinking to have greater impact in what they do.

While I think this year is too soon for me to revisit the programme (it is only a year since I went on TMP and I am still working through what it gave me) I look forward to reconnecting in the future.