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Leadership: how the QNI’s radical approach is helping community nurses develop their skills

Two cohorts of nurses have successfully completed the Queen’s Nursing Institute’s innovative leadership programme since its launch in 2017 

Two cohorts of nurses have successfully completed the Queen’s Nursing Institute’s innovative leadership programme since its launch in 2017 

  • Course is open to Queen’s Nurses working at executive or assistant director level 
  • Aims to build leadership capability and confidence to lead community nursing agenda
  • Programme delivered through a series of residential sessions

Picture: iStock

An innovative, experiential leadership development is profoundly changing the way community-based nurses are able to harness their personal power, transform their outlook and help them to become a driving force for change in community settings.

The Queen’s Nursing Institute (QNI) launched its leadership programme for Queen’s Nurses (QNs) two years ago. Two cohorts of nurses have since successfully completed the programme.

Open to QNs who are working at executive or assistant director level in a community setting, the programme – delivered through a series of residential sessions – aims to build leadership capability and instil confidence to lead the community nursing agenda. The first programme ran from May 2017 to April 2018 with 12 nurses; for the second programme, the course was shortened to four months and 18 nurses were chosen.

Full-on course offers unique insights for nurses

The QNI’s programme manager Sharon Aldridge-Bent co-runs the programme with the Leadership Trust, an independent training provider, and says the experiential leadership development components offers unique insight for nurses.


Sharon Aldridge-Bent

‘The participants are put through a series of experiments, including practical tasks and exercises designed to stretch them,’ she says. ‘It is full on.

‘These experiences help the nurses to develop and think about themselves as leaders. The tasks help to uncover who emerges as natural leaders and who needs to work on their leadership style and skills.

‘It’s a different approach that the nurses enjoy,’ she says. ‘Theory and strategy underpin the learning.

‘Following each experiment, the nurses go through a process of feedback to increase understanding about the exercises they have done. They do stretch the nurses as some of the content is cognitive, and they are expected to engage on a knowledge and experience level.

‘These experiences help the nurses to develop and think about themselves as leaders. The tasks help to uncover who emerges as natural leaders and who needs to work on their leadership style and skills’

Sharon Aldridge-Bent, Queen’s Nursing Institute leadership programme manager

‘Other aspects are quite physical and could involve an early morning start outdoors.’

How one nurse cultivated a gardening analogy to nurture her leadership skills


Helen Chapman

District nurse Helen Chapman is head of integrated community care at Sheffield Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust
 

‘I have almost 30 years experience as a community nurse and this leadership programme has allowed me the time to invest in myself and recognise my personal power as a leader.

‘I have chosen to use the analogy of gardening to articulate my learning:

  • ‘Groundwork – create the right conditions for growth by understanding your own personal values, beliefs, capabilities and the environment you are working in
  • ‘Grip the task – what outcome is required? A productive vegetable patch or herbaceous border? Don’t jump straight in to start, pause to assess the situation, the task and your options. Have a clear plan, select the right plants and tools that can collectively deliver the outcome
  • ‘Nurture – give your garden the time and space to grow, but don’t neglect it; regularly check progress. If the plants start to go wild, step in and refresh the plan. Pay attention to the variety of plants around you and their individual needs, don’t just concentrate on the biggest or most abundant flowers
  • ‘Love your garden – talk to your plants and they will bloom’

 

Ms Aldridge-Bent says she is ‘blown away’ by the leadership course.

‘It’s a different approach to NHS leadership courses as it’s about building personal power and self-awareness, and then demonstrating how you can influence at a strategic level,’ she says.

‘Before joining the programme, I would frequently describe myself as one of the large spokes on a penny-farthing: being led rather than taking control of my own direction’

Debbie Brown, Lewisham Clinical Commissioning Group clinical director and general practice nurse

‘The learning is on a number of levels – intellectual, practical and emotional. Emotional intelligence is important in leadership. Our ethos is that you can’t be a leader without it. This aspect of the learning has been profound for some of the nurses on the course.’

While on the programme, each nurse is matched with a QNI fellow to provide mentor or coaching support. Ms Aldridge-Bent and the QNI’s chief executive Crystal Oldman decide on the matches. 

Their aim is to ensure each nurse gets as much as they can from the experience. Ms Aldridge-Bent has been pleasantly surprised with the connections each pairing has made.

‘The nurses visit their mentors and have a shadowing experience, and the mentors may visit their mentees too. Our only stipulation is that they speak to each other once a month over the phone, so it’s great that they have been making these extended links.’

‘I am the driving force of change’


Debbie Brown

General practice nurse Debbie Brown has been appointed clinical director at Lewisham Clinical Commissioning Group in London
 

‘My childhood dream came true when I passed the entrance test to become a state-enrolled nurse in 1980.

‘Although there have been many changes since then, my passion, commitment and drive to do things better has never changed.

‘Yet, the nagging doubt of feeling like an imposter was always there.

‘Before joining the programme, I would frequently describe myself as one of the large spokes on a penny-farthing: being led, rather than taking control of my own direction.

‘Now, having learned techniques to overcome my limiting beliefs with new tools – such as “grip self’’ [remaining calm, controlled, clear and confident] and taking the ‘‘helicopter view’’ [overviewing situations] – I am the driving force of change, one of the small spokes on the penny-farthing leading our future workforce.’

 

Ms Aldridge-Bent visits each participant. She tries to see the nurses in action, at a board meeting or in practice, and makes notes while observing how they behave and act and provides feedback.

‘It’s not something you get on many other leadership programmes. The visit and the tailored insight make all the difference,’ she says.

‘One nurse got in touch to say she had applied for a post at a larger NHS trust. She is quite shy. She wouldn’t have gone for that opportunity if she hadn’t done the programme and felt the excitement about it all’

Sharon Alridge-Bent

Ms Aldridge-Bent receives emails from nurse participants most weeks. They are keen to share news about how the programme has positively affected them and built their confidence.

‘They are stretching themselves and their boundaries in different ways,’ she says.

‘One nurse got in touch to say she had applied for a post at a larger NHS trust. She is quite shy. She wouldn’t have gone for that opportunity if she hadn’t done the programme and felt the excitement about it all.

‘Nurses have also applied for awards and written for journals. And one general practice nurse joined her clinical commissioning group board.

‘From the first cohort, we had a nurse who moved from a regional role to a national one. Two of the nurses successfully applied for Winston Churchill Memorial Trust Fellowships. One went off to look at nursing communities in Alaska, and the second is a health visitor, who is looking at knife crime in the United States and Australia. The nurses all attribute having the confidence to do these things because of the programme.’

Profound changes in the way nurses practice  

Feedback from the nurses who have taken part in the leadership programme has been positive.

‘The nurses say that the changes in the way they practice are profound. These nurses are using their personal power in a different way as a result of their dynamic group learning.’

To celebrate their learning and development successes, the nurses involved are in the process of producing an as yet unpublished book, provisionally called Queen’s Nurses’ Reflections on the Executive Nurse Leadership Programme.

The QNI hopes to continue with the leadership programme in 2020, once funding has been confirmed.

Leadership Trust’s clinical director course for primary care nurses

The Queen’s Nursing Institute’s (QNI) Primary Care Network (PCN) Clinical Director Leadership Programme – due to start in 2020 – will be open to all PCN clinical directors. The 14-day programme is a combination of residential and study days over a six-month period.

Starting with an introduction and overview on PCNs, the programme will cover:

  • Personalised care
  • Demonstrating value
  • Economic health assessments
  • What the NHS Long Term Plan means for primary care 

It will examine the different roles being created through PCNs, social prescribing and workforce development. Quality improvement and the plan-do-study-act cycle will be covered to help clinical directors demonstrate value.

The QNI will be offering free taster days in early 2020, and recruitment for the programme is scheduled for April.



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Julie Penfold is a health writer

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