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We can learn a lot about leadership from people who aren’t nurses

A training course with people far removed from nursing offers a fresh perspective

A training course with people far removed from nursing offers a fresh perspective


   Picture: iStock

As a nurse, Abby Pearson has seen her fair share of classrooms, lecture theatres and training sessions, usually learning alongside fellow clinicians.

But when she took her place in the relatively anonymous setting of a Leicester hotel in spring 2018, her fellow learners included a shop manager, a fundraiser, a volunteer coordinator, and people working in information technology and marketing – all fellow employees of the charity Sue Ryder.

Ms Pearson was taking part in the SUCCEED programme for leaders and potential leaders across the organisation, which supports people with complex needs and life-threatening illnesses. For Ms Pearson, a team leader at the Sue Ryder Wokingham Day Hospice, it was a revelation.

‘As a nurse it was good to meet people I wouldn’t normally get to meet’

Abby Pearson, team leader at Sue Ryder Wokingham Day Hospice

‘I was new to leadership when I joined Sue Ryder, and wanted to learn more about it,’ she says. ‘Also, for me as a nurse, it was good to meet people I wouldn’t normally get to meet – when I worked in the NHS, I wouldn’t have met anyone from fundraising, for example – and to find out that we had a lot in common.

‘A lot of the things that they had issues with were also important for us in nursing – for example, what to do if you have a lot of people off sick. These are issues whether you are in retail or any other department, and it was good to get other perspectives.’

Learning from each other

Bringing together employees from all departments to learn together, the senior management development programme aims to foster greater understanding and a shared ethos throughout the organisation, as well as support staff to develop their own leadership potential and style.

It is delivered in four two-day modules, and participants are expected to take on a service improvement project, share their goals and work with each other.

Supporting learning across professional boundaries is good for the organisation and for individuals, says Sarah Gigg, director of nursing at Sue Ryder.

‘Sue Ryder is in a fortunate position because it has business and clinical elements – and people can learn from each other,’ she says. ‘We want to ensure that behaviour is the same across the board, and we have these rich stories from across the organisation coming together to make our leaders think about how they react as leaders. There’s a rich array of experience from people, all of whom are dealing with the public, but in different contexts.’

‘Hearing that my team wanted me to delegate more gave me the confidence to do so, giving them the opportunity to develop as well as freeing up my own time’

Abby Pearson

Part of the SUCCEED process involves an appraisal in which participants have to ask their staff what they think of them as a leader. Ms Pearson admits this was daunting. ‘It was anonymous, so they could be honest. I felt vulnerable, but it was interesting. I received good feedback but they said I needed to delegate more.

‘That was good to hear from the team because I had actually always worried about pushing too much work on to people – hearing that they wanted me to delegate more gave me the confidence to do so, giving them the opportunity to grow and develop as well as freeing up my own time.’


Ms Pearson, left, with Sue Ryder ​​​​​director
of people Tracey Taylor-Huckfield.

Understanding your leadership style

She gives the example of drawing up personal emergency evacuation plans for people attending the day hospice, a task she has now delegated. The plans have to be updated every day, and involve grading people based on the level of support they would need, such as whether they are completely immobile or if they can manage using a stick.

‘It’s quite straightforward but it’s a time-consuming job, and the person who has taken it on really enjoys it,’ she says.

Topics covered in the programme include leadership style, models for change and how to manage change.

Talking through scenarios with other people on the programme, and how they would manage them, taught her about her own leadership style, which she believes is based on compassion and supporting people.

‘We want compassionate leaders who have a real sense of self, but we also want them to see the bigger picture’

Sarah Gigg, director of nursing at Sue Ryder

‘A lot of that is really what you’d expect from a nurse,’ she says. Others on the course were more focused on practical issues such as deadlines and costs, she says.

Working with people from different professional backgrounds also had an unexpected side effect. ‘A manager from the retail side was talking about targets and deadlines – I started to pick up the lingo,’ she says.

Despite these differences, she found the environment supportive and it helped to boost her confidence. ‘Previously, if we were asked questions in a group, I might have felt I had something to say but I wouldn’t have spoken up.’

It has encouraged her to go on an assertiveness course and she is also considering studying for a master’s degree – something she believes her employer would support.

‘Supported to be the nurse I want to be’

Ms Pearson joined Sue Ryder in January 2017, first as part of a pilot scheme for a telephone palliative care service, before settling in her current role at Wokingham Day Hospice.

Although she loves the NHS, she was partly inspired to move to the third sector because she worried about doing the job as well as she wanted to, given the constraints of the cash-strapped health service.

‘In the NHS we were always busy and short-staffed – it was becoming like a conveyor belt, which is not why I went into nursing.’

The palliative care job came up and she hasn’t regretted the move – not least because of the opportunities for training and personal and professional development.

‘I love the NHS, but from a career point of view I feel that Sue Ryder values me and is interested and invested in me as a person. I feel I’m supported to be the nurse I want to be.’

For Ms Gigg, enabling leaders and potential leaders within the organisation to share their stories and experiences is an important part of creating organisational and personal resilience and promoting understanding. She says: ‘We want compassionate leaders who have a real sense of self, but we also want them to see the bigger picture.’


Jennifer Trueland is a health journalist

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