Since the NHS’ was born 70 years ago, it’s become increasingly easy to think about power as something that belongs in the hands of other people with leadership an activity done and controlled by those at the top of the organisational ladder.
In reality, power is something that we all have, and leading is something that we all do on a daily basis. Equally, power is something we all have a duty to challenge when it is abused. One of my wishes on the NHS’ birthday is that over the next 70 years we finally resolve to talk openly and honestly about power and leadership at work.
Throughout my working life, I have come into contact with too many senior leaders who did not understand the power they wielded. They didn’t always inspire or earn respect through their actions and I saw leaders - at all points on the leadership ladder - get their way through bullying, both subtly and sometimes more obviously. I was often the one supporting colleagues who had borne the brunt of this corrosive behaviour.
On the other hand, it has also been my pleasure to work with some amazing and inspirational leaders. Some of the most impressive leaders I have witnessed have been health care support workers, administrators, volunteers, nurses and managers. I saw first-hand how these people inspired followers by working hard to earn, build and maintain trust. They acted with credibility, kindness and were unafraid to be the speakers of uncomfortable truths to those in power.
That group of social leaders demonstrated extraordinary ability to influence culture and set the pace of change from the ground up rather than from the top down. They were often the closest to the issues facing patients and the workforce, and were able to think up smart solutions to difficult problems. Looking back, what united them all - despite their diverse roles - was a strong sense of fairness and a refusal to accept anything less than inclusion for everybody.
In London, our health and social care sector has a large community of leaders, both formal and informal, with each as necessary as the other. Our informal leaders are often unseen but continue to work deep within the structures of organisations, shaping culture, making sense of change and pressing for workplace inclusion. If we are to create truly inclusive workplaces in London, we need to listen and learn from these everyday leaders.
That’s why I am inviting you to get involved in the Inclusion Solution, an RCN London initiative that aims to bring health workers, managers, activists, charities and a range of health stakeholders together to learn more about inclusion in the workplace. At our next event on 10 October 2018 here at RCN HQ, we will be looking in depth at what leaders at each and every level of London’s health care organisations can do, to create and sustain inclusive workplace cultures that are fair and safe for everybody.
I hope to see you there.
Jude Diggins, RCN London Regional Director