It’s harder than ever to be a leader in health and care, moving through a rising storm of changes. The ask of STPs and their constituent organisations is evolving as experience of system working grows. But there typically remains a great deal of haziness around where responsibilities are held. Working in systems means dealing with complexity, so steering in one direction can lead to unpredictable results. When there isn’t one right answer, decision-making can be paralysed or ideas that are ‘in vogue’ can end up with unfounded support. There remain many barriers to genuine innovation and it is often counter-cultural for leaders to flex their approach once change has begun.

Successful leadership in this environment seems to rely on a different set of skills to those which are traditionally esteemed – leaders must become more externally focused, with a greater emphasis on building relationships and enabling collaboration. Influencing and negotiation skills become more valuable than those honed in a ‘command and control’ environment, whilst ability to deal with the human aspects of change move to the forefront. But there isn’t a standard set of competencies. Leaders need to become more like navigators in rough and uncharted seas – trying something, observing the results, and course-correcting as necessary.  

So how do we support development in this context? Given the diversity of needs, standard leadership training is unlikely to be an adequate response. Instead, we propose a radical upgrade in the provision of coaching for senior leaders in health and care – where individuals work toward a defined set of objectives, alongside the support and challenge of a qualified coach, revisiting these as the situation evolves. We have seen the impact of this approach as part of our wider development programmes, such as the Population Health Management Academy, but it is equally valuable as a standalone intervention. Coaching is well-placed to deal with the ambiguities of the health and care system today. There is robust, well-validated research from psychology and therapy to support the value of applied coaching skills. When done well, coaches ask the difficult questions that stimulate fresh ways of thinking. They challenge assumptions to ensure actions are based on sound reasoning. And they support leaders to come up with their own solutions, rather than advocating for standard interventions.  

But most importantly, coaching allows individuals to step out of the storm into a ‘safe space’, one which isn’t subject to the usual constraints of the day job. It offers a confidential and non-judgmental environment, where they can tackle the uncomfortable and the unfamiliar in a supportive partnership. They can then use their reflections as the basis for active experimentation back in the real world – so they learn and develop through their experiences. We are already providing coaching to senior leaders across the region, but we want this to be just the first step – and move from provision of coaching for a select few, to high quality coaching being a standard part of the support package for all developing system leaders.  So, we have developed our coaching offer to set out the support we can provide at a high level. It also describes the ways in which we can apply a ‘coaching approach’ to increase the effectiveness of team development, training and programme workshops. For an initial conversation to find out more, please get in touch.