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Managers must give nurses the freedom to learn


To develop the nursing leaders needed to take community care forward, organisations must be open to outside influence, says Rosemary Cook. Leave a comment on on this story to contribute to a national debate on the future of NHS leadership

Just as most systems are perfectly designed to get the results they get, so most people’s jobs perfectly shape them to do that job.

If we want to develop people as leaders ready for new challenges, we need collaboration with others and with different types of people and organisations, to give them the chance to see new ways of operating and try out new skills. People don’t just step into leadership - they have to travel the path.

Experience outside the NHS is immensely valuable - it can be revelatory to see how the system looks from the outside, and to understand that NHS ways of working did not come out of a burning bush or tablets of stone.

Just a few days in another culture - whether a different part of the NHS, a charity, a company or a different profession - can provide a wealth of challenge and new ideas that help develop the individual and their skills. They may even fire up new passion and enthusiasm for the business of healthcare.

Of course, the collaboration required to set this up is more of a challenge in difficult times. It is hard to allow people the time and space to organise and then use opportunities to shadow people, visit other sites, attend networking meetings or even just stop to reflect on what they need. But, while this may seem counterintuitive to struggling and overburdened managers, letting people take time out for development can be the best way to get more out of them.

‘You lose some people, but you gain others’ proteges - that’s part of collaboration’

But, the stressed out manager might say, “can’t they develop here in their own job, where I can see them?” The answer is “not very effectively”.

Trying to grow your own leaders without any outside involvement at all is like trying to grow tomatoes year after year in the same small pot of soil.

Even if an organisation is totally focused on producing their own leaders for their own future, it still needs to collaborate with others to do so.

Swapping people, sharing opportunities and mixing ideas are beneficial not only to the individuals concerned but also to both organisations.

There is a risk in this: sometimes people are tempted away from their original organisation by what they see elsewhere, and they use their new skills to move on.

This is immensely frustrating for the people who facilitated their development, who see the fruits of their collaboration being gathered over the fence.

But this is part of the collaboration. You lose some people, but you gain other people’s protégés if they see your organisation as a developmental, open and learning environment. The alternative - being a shuttered, suppressive place that keeps itself to itself - is hardly going to encourage anyone with a spark of potential to join or stay.

Some people see a collaboration gradient that tends to draw good people towards the more high powered, high profile collaborating organisations - from primary to acute care, for example.

There is certainly a public relations job to be done on primary care leadership opportunities to demonstrate how fulfilling and exciting they can be, and to hold on to the talent there. Thankfully, many people do understand that there is more to leadership success than foundation trusts and turnaround teams.

We need informed and confident leaders for the community services of the future. To create them, we have to be brave about collaborating with other organisations
and managing the consequences.

Rosemary Cook is the director of the Queen’s Nursing Institute

The Department of Health and the National Leadership council want your views on how the NHS should be managed. You can contribute to the debate by posting a comment below


Readers' comments (3)

  • I work in a place where I believe people stepped into leadership witout travelling the path. As a result they object to anyone wanting to better themselves. They even object to any junior nurse guiding or explaining thing to newly employed staff nurses. Yet they are happy for them to work with health care assistants. I recently asked to do a course which is relevant to the area of work that I do. After a long struggle it was finally agreed that I do the course. Not only did I have to pay for the course - I had to use my annual leave to do the course.

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  • Mental Abuse from the professionals they call themselves to be, we nurses have had enough. Nurses just want to do their jobs just like any other profession with out mental cruelity. When will the hierarchy stop and give all nurses a chance for education and the person above to be able to better herself? Have you explained this predicament to the RCN? I suggest you write to your MP or to the Health Minister about your experience.

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  • I think your suggesting that in many circumstances it would be of great benefit for the organization if nurses didn't manage departments. I agree. 10-15 years in the same department does not a manager make and leads to a multiplicity of successive 'quality councils' and weekly headlines of care disaster. Perhaps these managers would have the bottle to allow nurses time outside the goldfish bowl of healthcare to develop leadership. But I doubt it.

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