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Leadership is crucial in social care

8 April 2016

NCF Blog by Christine Asbury

Christine Asbury, Chief Executive of WCS Care Group offers her perspective on developing leadership skills

Leadership is critical in social care, as in most other areas of life. In my organisation we tell our managers that it’s ultimately down to them: they are the custodians of quality in their homes and if they aren’t leading effectively, the quality of care in their home will be affected.  We show all our staff the Australian Chief of Army Lieutenant General David Morrison’s film about unacceptable behaviour. The two sentences that people remember are it is down to “each and every one of us” and “the standard you walk past is the standard you accept”.

And then there’s CQC - keen to remind us that there’s a direct correlation between care homes without a registered manager in place and a rating of requires improvement or inadequate. But, is there a direct correlation between having a registered manager in a home and good leadership? 

Leadership is a people skill and care is a people business. There isn’t a rule book, and you can’t follow a manual (that’s HR, which isn’t leadership at all!). People are opinionated and unpredictable and difficult and funny – that’s staff and customers. And rules and rigidity don’t generally go down a storm in getting (and giving) the best for people.

In social care we see lots of people with masses of leadership potential but they’ve often come via a very informal route and they lack some of the skills many other sectors would expect to see in emerging managers. So, you learn to be a good leader by trial and error; generally getting it wrong rather than getting it right. Don’t most of us have seared into our memories a clutch of embarrassing gaffes and faux pas from our lives, where we really, really got it wrong?  And I bet we won’t be making those gaffes again.  So giving people the opportunity to try and fail before they succeed in getting it right is important.  It’s risky, of course, in a social care setting, where people’s lives and wellbeing depend on the service leaders.

What else is important for good social care leaders?

• Understanding yourself and your preferred styles, values and behaviours. In my organisation we’ve invested in psychometric profiling the wider management team (we’ve used Innermetrix which we think is particularly good, but most profiling methods offer useful insight) 

• Understanding others and their preferred styles, values and behaviours. What inspires and galvanises me is generally the exact opposite of what inspires and galvanises my Finance Director.  So if I want to convince him, providing an analysis of the cost benefit of a proposal (his preferred style) is far more effective than talking passionately until the cows come home about what’s special and unique about the project (my preferred style).  One of our executive team recently conducted an experiment on a group of managers: he put forward a proposal to the group describing it from each of their value bases (altruistic, economic, political etc).  And as he worked through the repertoire he saw each of them nod in turn.  He drew on our psychometric profiling (which has been shared within the management teams) but of course most strong leaders often intuit someone’s preferred style and value basis and use this effectively

• Flexibility. One style doesn’t fit all: different people need different styles at different times. When you are new and inexperienced, you need a lot of direction, when you’re highly experienced you don’t want someone breathing down your neck and checking your every move. Lightbulbs went on for our management group when they did a Flexible Leadership training course

• Joy and creativity: I think leadership is best delivered through lightness and playfulness rather than a sombre and onerous approach.  Chris Gage of Ladder to the Moon describes this as creative leadership (he’s currently running a programme for our middle managers on this). It’s very empowering, too

• And finally, I’ve been very inspired by the Cass Business School’s principles of outstanding leadership which sets out 9 themes which characterise outstanding leadership.   

Chief Executive 

Leadership and innovation is the theme of the NCF Annual Conference due to be held in Reading on 17 & 18 May. 

If you would like to contribute a guest blog for NCF, please email: April Ross, Membership Coordinator

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