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Inclusive and compassionate leadership is what we need now

The pandemic shows that leaders willing to learn from experience can create a more productive environment

The pandemic shows that leaders willing to learn from experience can create a more productive environment

The COVID-19 pandemic has required swift, decisive action in which a traditional command and control approach was considered necessary by many of the worlds leaders.

However, in New Zealand there is an alternative approach to leadership, demonstrated so well by the countrys prime minister Jacinda Ardern, who has been eloquent and empathetic in her actions. She has led with humility, kindness and compassion.

Continuing with a leadership style of the past will continue to provide the same poorer outcomes for the vulnerable, oppressed and marginalised in our communities.

Empathy and humility shape a culture where employees can

The pandemic shows that leaders willing to learn from experience can create a more productive environment

New Zealand prime minister Jacinda Ardern
New Zealand prime minister Jacinda Ardern. Picture: Alamy

The COVID-19 pandemic has required swift, decisive action in which a traditional ‘command and control’ approach was considered necessary by many of the world’s leaders.

However, in New Zealand there is an alternative approach to leadership, demonstrated so well by the country’s prime minister Jacinda Ardern, who has been eloquent and empathetic in her actions. She has led with humility, kindness and compassion.

Continuing with a leadership style of the past will continue to provide the same poorer outcomes for the vulnerable, oppressed and marginalised in our communities.

Empathy and humility shape a culture where employees can focus on improvement and not blame

This can change, though. The past few months have taught us so much as leaders, and we have all been vulnerable as we coped with what was required of us.

That vulnerability is a strength, as it will help create trust with the entire organisation, and by being compassionate it shifts decision-making to patients, clinicians and our communities.

The NHS recognises the link between patient outcomes and staff experience. Leaders who create a genuine desire to learn from experience and feedback can create a productive environment.

Empathy and humility are values that shape a compassionate and psychologically safe culture where employees can focus on improvement and not blame.

‘Reflection, learning and a willingness to acknowledge mistakes replace defensiveness, arrogance, reputation management and a preoccupation with power’

Similarly, leaders who hear experiences from a range of different perspectives and then take action based on what they have heard will make better decisions.

Reflection, learning and a willingness to acknowledge mistakes replace defensiveness, arrogance, reputation management and a preoccupation with power.

An opportunity to learn and reflect means everyone has the chance to contribute

Many organisations are starting to look at what they can learn from their experiences of working through the pandemic.

This opportunity to learn and reflect should enable everyone within an organisation to contribute.

Picture: iStock

The use of NHS Improvement’s after action reviews as a tool to create a structured approach for reflecting on the work of a group can identify strengths, weaknesses and areas for improvement.

Ensuring staff well-being is a key organisational priority that will sustain and motivate the workforce.

While the future may be uncertain, what is clear is that the way leaders respond will have a long-term impact.

Compassionate leaders fully appreciate the needs of their teams and how they want to work

Nurses are highly skilled and experienced, demonstrating compassion in their daily interactions with patients and the public.

Being a compassionate leader takes you to a place where you fully appreciate the needs of your teams and how they want to work.

Leadership is about relationships, not being a superhero

The media portrayed healthcare staff dealing with the pandemic as heroes. But leadership is about relationships, not being a superhero.

Remember we are all just human and you are doing your best. As the book Living Leadership: A Practical Guide for Ordinary Heroes suggests:

  • Your imperfections make you valuable as a leader – people can relate to you and trust you with their own uncertainties if they know you have some too
  • In moments of stress draw a breath, and keep in touch with your humanity, emotions and intuition
  • Ask others for their views – they will have ideas you haven’t thought of
  • There is no need to constantly be the superhero – keep hold of your courage for those moments when you need to speak up or speak out

Help support individuals and teams by providing them with:

  • The opportunity and ability to influence decisions that affect their delivery of care and their own workplace environments.
  • Evidence that you trust their knowledge, skills and experience to make crucial decisions. This promotes a sense of autonomy and control.
  • Ways to meet their basic needs such as access to breaks, food and drink as well as time to care for their health and well-being. Honesty about what is available is essential.
  • Reviews of what went well and what could be improved recognise the value of individuals’ skills and experience.

Shared understanding of our diverse workforce’s experiences is vital

The negative impact the pandemic has had on healthcare staff from black, Asian and minority ethnic groups across the UK has been shocking.

The negative impact the pandemic has had on healthcare staff from black, Asian and minority ethnic groups across the UK has been shocking
Picture: iStock

Now more than ever we need to demonstrate inclusive and compassionate leadership.

Gaining a shared understanding of the experience of our diverse workforce is essential.

As a leader you have an important role in supporting transition through effective communication, listening to staff about the effects of changes, and monitoring staff through any transition.

Staff need to feel they can positively contribute to change and that they have an important role in the organisation.

Offer structure, protection and encouragement to the team

Throughout this time, as a leader you can offer structure, protection and encouragement, and create opportunities by:

  • Building support systems which promote flexibility.
  • Strengthening connections in the team and communicating more.
  • Setting some important short-term goals that will give people a sense of achievement and movement.
  • Looking for every opportunity to brainstorm and develop ideas.

Find out more


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