Talking leadership: Sally Hulks on nurturing future leaders

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Sally Hulks recently joined The King’s Fund as Assistant Director of Leadership and Organisational Development and is the programme director for our new Release your potential programme. Sally brings with her more than 25 years’ experience in leadership and organisational change roles across the public and private sectors, having worked at Ashridge Consulting, and, before that, as Director of Change at the UK Civil Service and in senior roles at the BBC and KPMG. We asked Sally to share her thoughts on how organisations can nurture future health care leaders.

What drew you to join the leadership team at The King’s Fund?

The reputation of The King’s Fund in shaping health policy was my key reason for wanting to join. The complexity of the health and social care agenda creates a challenging environment for leadership and organisational development work – and I believe we can contribute to the development of teams and leaders in these circumstances and help to find new approaches to implementing change in health and social care.

How has your background shaped your perspective on enabling excellent leadership in health and social care?

I’ve held many different types of leadership role during my career, from executive positions with a remit spanning different countries and cultures to leading teams of more than 100 people who all expected me to ‘show the way’, and also working in non-hierarchical teams on intensive, short-term projects where we’ve barely had time to get to know each other.

The one thing common to all of these situations is that what people wanted most was simply to be able to trust me and be open with me. For me this has meant trying to be consistent and fair in how I operate: expecting others to know more than me on any particular issue; listening attentively; and not shying away from difficult or unpopular decisions. These experiences inform my view of where ‘excellent leadership’ starts in any organisational context.

I believe that the people who are in a system know it best – far better than I or others outside of it ever can. The role of the leadership and organisational consultant is not to ‘teach’ or have all the answers but to offer provocation, challenge and support to enable leaders to think through new solutions and gain the confidence to keep moving forward.

Why is it important to take steps to nurture the next generation of leaders in health and social care?

Many people choose to work in health and social care because it’s a vocation – something they believe in and are committed to. The scale of challenge and scrutiny can, however, deter people from wanting to take on leadership roles. We need to make sure that people are given opportunities to develop their own approach to leadership early on in their careers so that they can experience the possibilities that leadership holds. If we don’t, there is a danger of losing our best talent.

What practical things can leaders and organisations do to encourage those with talent and aspiration?

So much learning comes from working outside your comfort zone, facing new situations and finding ways through. At The King’s Fund, we encourage leaders to introduce these ‘stretch’ opportunities early in people’s careers, along with appropriate support that will help them to build confidence in their abilities.

How does the Release your potential programme help people working in health and social care to develop their leadership capabilities?

The programme introduces would-be leaders and those new to leadership roles to essential concepts relating to leadership styles, team working and organisational structures, to help them deal with challenges they’re currently facing and prepare for future responsibilities. It’s a chance for participants to explore their own approach to leadership, develop self-awareness and experiment with new ideas in a safe and supportive setting. The programme aims to build both confidence and competence and to give emerging leaders a solid foundation on which to build their career.

Find out more about our Release your potential programme