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Agi Kertynska looks at the struggle between old and new styles of leadership and what that means for HR/OD professionals.
O tempora o mores! This Latin quote from Cicero comes to my head when I think about the events over the last few months. Loosely translated ‘Oh the times! Oh the customs!’ originally was Cicero’s cry against corruption and viciousness of his times. To me this is a perfect way to capture all sorts of emotional reactions (sorrow and happiness) to events of the world. In the world of the NHS the Sustainability and Transformation Plan has also started taking shape, for some meaning a way to close the financial gaps and improve quality and for others a fear services may be cut. The dispute regarding the junior doctors’ contract is also far from over. This made me reflect on how one can be a healthcare leader these days.
On the one hand in the world of politics, leaders who send radical, often divisive messages, and appear to prefer a strong-handed approach currently get a lot of traction with the public. Will it translate into the world of work and healthcare leadership in particular? If it does, in what form? For example, does it mean a bit more top-down decision making? Despite the good intentions, it is often short-lived, disengaging for our staff and eventually impacts negatively on patients’ outcomes (King’s Fund, 2011).
On the other hand, digitalisation has taken over and has given people freedom to form start-ups, set up networks etc. Helen Bevan said during the September London Learning and Organisational Development Group this sort of social movement creates real change (in healthcare too). However, choosing between old power (directions, policies, hierarchy) and new power (networks, sharing knowledge, trust) is hard. Most of the leaders according to Helen Bevan seem to prefer the old style, possibly because of familiarity and feeling more in control. Although there’s a place for it, especially in crisis, it’s not how the real positive change happens as opposed to new power.
John Whitmore in his book, ‘Coaching for Performance’ (2015) says that successful leaders will have to lead these days through a coaching style rather than command and control. This is because the best staff want more choice, responsibility and trust which coaching offers. It responds to the needs and expectations of new generations, who rarely ask for permission to check information on their phone, or share a video on YouTube. This is something for us HR and OD professionals to remind our leaders about from time to time, even if they have heard more than once about the benefits of the coaching culture.
The current challenges are also an opportunity for broader organisational development, with its underlying message for reinforcing humanity. Mee-Yan Chueng-Judge during the NHS Employer’s DO OD Conference in July stressed it was our responsibility to step in. We have the knowledge of system and complexity theory, tolerance for emergence which is critical to stay resilient and creative and all kinds of dialogic approaches. Although the last ones sometimes feel counterintuitive especially when quick decisions need to be made, they are more likely to generate relevant and achievable ideas than fire fighting.
The task for HR/OD professionals is then to both influence and most of all to support leaders to trust in OD. How could we do it? Where should we start?
Agi Kertynska, Organisational Development Practitioner, Camden and Islington NHS Foundation
Whitmore, J. 2015, Coaching for Performance e: GROWing human potential and purpose. The principles and practice of coaching and leadership, Fourth Edition, Nicholas Brealey Publishing, London.