If you search through the many articles written in the Harvard Business Review or leaf-through books in the ‘Management & Leadership’ section of Waterstones, you will find descriptions of ‘How to be a leader’ ‘Lead better’ ‘Lead with direction’ and so on; you will find a smaller number of articles and books about Followership which is equally important and relevant to today’s world – a leader without followers is just a person going for a walk.
The relationship between leader and follower is fascinating – what makes some people follow others, what makes others believe they have the direction, foresight or ability to lead? It is clear that we need leaders – within healthcare, the success or failure of any system, whether it is based upon productivity, happiness of staff, profitability, or amount of harm patients encounter, is directly proportionate to the quality of the leadership.
Those areas – hospitals, wards, clinics that have visionary leaders who are able to take their followers on a journey, support them, learn from them, innovate with them are usually the most successful.
Although I direct my question at the leaders, I also look to the followers – Why should you follow them? – yes, this is probably the title of a leadership book, it is also a valid question.
We don’t usually tend to consider the leaders that run our hospitals and healthcare organisations to be on par with the generals and politicians that lead our soldiers and nations into battle, yet, in many respects they are, after all, the outcomes of a botched military plan can be as disastrous as the consequences of failed operations, unsafe practices and disillusioned staff.
And this is my point; we need to ask those leaders of our health and social care system, particularly now – on the eve of another doctors’ strike in the UK, whether we feel confident in their ability to lead us – would we follow them into battle; would we send our children to war, safe in the knowledge that all the best avenues of attack and defence had been explored, that the leader would treat our children as they would treat themselves, that no sacrifice would take place that they would not be prepared to make.
And if the answer to any of this is unclear, if you are unsure whether the confidence you have in your leader is on par with that of a general or military commander, I feel we need to, at the very least express our concern, but more likely, do something, speak-out.
When the battle is over and each side is counting its costs – mourning its dead, it is then too late to complain, finding a new leader when all is lost is too late.
It seems to me that we are on a war footing – those leaders running our country, who are breaking-up the NHS, distorting and mangling our healthcare system are the ones leading us to the battle-front; we need to decide whether we will follow, or will make a stand.
Once the system has fallen to bits, it is too late – the vacuum that is created will rapidly fill with those people who have waited for an opportunity, to fill the gaps, with something that is less reliable, costlier, and likely, detrimental to the wellbeing of the whole.
We are no longer in the trenches of Flanders; when told to ‘go over the top’ we need to question whether ‘over the top’ is where I should be, where I should be led, or another course of action is better served.