Leadership and contact traces…

L1019565-2[…or chandelier and glitziness]

John Sutherland, police commander, has written a cracking post  identifying 10 things he’s learned about leadership. Sloven CEO, Katrina Percy (KP), wrote a piece for the NHS Leadership Academy in August 2014. In this brief (under 400 word) piece she flags up her maternity leave and the problems she returned to. [No mention that these problems were an outcome of the (non) actions she took before maternity leave]. In the same month she wrote a letter to me in which she further elaborates on her “leadership” style.

Here I meander through Sutherland’s 10 points (summarised in italics below) and the Sloven approach to “leadership”. It ain’t a pretty read.

I.     It’s people stupid

Leaders who don’t care about people aren’t leaders at all. They might be bad managers, but that’s really not the same thing. People are precious and rare and extraordinary and brilliant and brave and creative and resourceful and kind. They are also thinking, breathing, feeling, bleeding, sometimes flawed souls who, every now and then, need a helping hand. Great leaders understand these things. They understand people.

KP doesn’t understand people. Though she talks a good ‘staff’ game. Notably the ‘thousands of staff I lead’ [shudder…]. These are the people she is ‘keen to support and promote wherever and whenever they do’ things brilliantly. Services and families are below staff ‘and partners’. Patients don’t feature. Tim Smart, interim Board Chair, clearly gets the people bit. He was open about this during the meeting with My Life My Choice.

II.     Every contact leaves a trace

Every time two objects come into contact with one another, an exchange takes place – fingerprints found at house that’s been burgled; microscopic fragments of broken glass found on the clothes of the burglar. Every time two people come into contact with one another, an exchange takes place. Spoken or unspoken, for better or for worse. Great leaders understand not only that what they do is important – but that how they do it is equally so. Because every contact leaves a trace.

Since the Holder report (2012) there has been more contact trace in Sloven dealings than in an entire box set of CSI. The Sloven CEO and board have consistently failed to recognise this. Contact trace is even more important (in a non criminal context) where this trace can be circulated and re-circulated on social media. Since Smart’s appointment there have been some traces of fresh air through Sloven corridors. Not least the mediation agreement, statement and subsequent inclusion of LB’s pic on the Sloven front page for four weeks.


III.        Leadership is service

The first responsibility of a leader is to serve. Before anything else, to serve. If the pursuit of my own ambitions has become more important than the cause we all serve, then I have lost my way. If my promotion matters more than your progression, then I am in danger of losing myself.

The words ‘serve’ and ‘service’ were clearly replaced by reputation, dosh, ruthless ambition some time ago. Down Sloven way.

IV.     Everything can’t be a priority

If everything is a priority, then nothing is. Leaders have to decide what matters more. Leaders need to be absolutely clear about what’s most important – particularly in a world of limited resources. And they have to be consistent about it. 

In her letter to me, KP argues

good leadership is founded on a determination and deep commitment to do what is right for all parties concerned, not necessarily what might be either easiest or most popular at any particular moment in time or demanded most loudly or persistently by one group or interest than another.

This self defeating and clumsily constructed statement is yet another attempt to stick the boot in. In fact Sloven do prioritise. Their reputation. They always have. Sutherland should perhaps revise this point to capture effective and reflective prioritising.

V.     Two ears, one mouth

Great leaders are great listeners. And they understand that there is a difference between listening and hearing – and between hearing and actually doing something about what’s been said.

KP’s letter is an exemplar in not listening. A bombastic exercise in ‘me, me, me…’, brutal in callous delivery. Statements like it was ‘absolutely right’ for us to (4 mentions), ‘I believe/strongly believe’ (8 mentions), ‘deeply proud’ (1 mention) and ‘absolutely confident’ (1 mention) are breathtaking in both number and emphasis in a two page letter. Ally Roger’s analysis of KP’s communication further explores her use of language and what it reveals. Contempt and disregard basically.

VI.     Leadership requires bravery

Having courage doesn’t mean that you never feel afraid. It means feeling afraid and doing the right thing anyway. It is both physical and moral. Great leaders stand for what is right, even if it comes at personal cost. Great leaders stand against what is wrong, even if it comes at personal risk. Great leaders have difficult conversations (with people, not about people). And they do these things constructively and positively and professionally – because bravery and bullying have nothing whatsoever in common with one another.

I suspect KP thinks she’s brave. She’s refusing to step down, insisting she needs to steer the flotilla out of the darkness. This ain’t bravery (see IX below). It’s a combination of arrogance and complacency (and stupidity?) She’s not having difficult conversations with people. Audio recordings of Sloven board minutes make it clear there’s little ‘standing against what is wrong’. Little of anything at all.

VII.      The difference between activity and progress

Being busy and making a difference are not the same thing. I played a game in my younger days that involved placing my forehead on an upright broom handle and spinning round in rapid circles, before affording my  friends the opportunity to have a good laugh at my attempts to walk in a straight line. Plenty of movement. No progress whatsoever. I know a lot of busy, dizzy people.

The Sloven leadership has nailed talking the talk and making no difference. From burying the Holder report, to repeatedly not ‘learning lessons’ at inquests and failing CQC inspections. They must be dizzy at the sounds of their repeated (and meaningless statements).

Chillingly, in the 26.1.16 board minutes (around 3hrs 36 minutes) in response to James Younghusband’s mother asking KP about the Holder report and identified ligature risks, she responds that the Holder report is archived and they’ve only found the process documents not the ligature risk report. Eh? Those old contact traces? What did KP say about this back in 2014…

Firstly, openness and transparency are fundamental when things go wrong…

VIII.     Leaders must be dealers in hope

The more challenging the context, the greater the responsibility that leaders have to deal in hope – to tell the kinds of stories and to paint the kinds of pictures that get people up out of their seats and cause them to come, running. It’s not the critic who counts.

Hope schmope. The Hansard transcript from the recent Westminster House debate details the lack of hope being generated by Sloven leadership. The NHS Staff Survey similarly illustrates increasing staff disillusionment with working there:



IX.     Leadership is about character

It was the American General, Norman Schwarzkopf, who said:  ‘Leadership is a potent combination of strategy and character. But, if you must be without one, be without the strategy. Who I am matters. What I believe in and what I stand for matters. Great leaders ask you to do as they say. And as they do.

When the latest shedload of contact (CQC) trace hit the fan in May, KP (again) disappeared. Lining up sidekicks to face the barrage of press interest (badly) and without apparent support. Again, the ghost of the Leadership Academy trace (ironically called ‘When the going gets tough’) shows KP arguing:

Visible leadership is crucial, for both staff and patients.

X.     Legacy

Great leaders provide the shoulders for others to stand on. To adapt a quote from the journalist Walter Lippman: ‘The final test of a leader is that they leave behind them in others the conviction and the will to carry on.’

Not sure about number 10 in Sutherland’s list to be honest. I suppose we will hope KP leaves so we can tell what’s left behind.

There it is. Leadership. And nothing like leadership. In a Sloven nutshell.




3 thoughts on “Leadership and contact traces…

  1. What is a leader?

    And where did all this ‘leadership’ stuff come from in the last 20 years, ???

    And how can you be a leader, when you are controlled ,prescribed by mandrins, structures, procedures, consultants, and government policies ?

    If we now have leaders, that makes us sheep, who can be lead, well are lead and therefore have no options.

    LEADERS should be replaced by people, who do something to justify their huge salaries.

  2. The NHS Leadership Academy at http://www.leadershipacademy.nhs.uk/about/ says it all under the headline, ‘Why does leadership in the NHS need to change?’:

    “Quite simply, because there’s so much evidence connecting better leadership to better patient care.

    Francis, Berwick, Keogh point to it and so does leading academic, Michael West. They all make the link between good leadership and making a positive difference to patient care, care outcomes and the experience of care.

    And there is far too much evidence linking failure in leadership to failures in patient care too.
    In fact, getting leadership right makes a very positive difference.

    And it doesn’t happen by accident.”

    Replace ‘NHS’ with Sloven and we know why leadership at Sloven needs to change – although most of us (save for NHS Improvement and the CQC) have known this for a considerable length of time.

  3. We can blog about this for ever – but its simple – it is corrupt and endemic. How do you find a leader who is willing to crusade for our sons and daughters. The establishment will destroy them before they have even raised the banner

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