Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Leadership Lessons

Memories from the NHS ....

One day I had to attend a meeting of the Senior Management team representing my manager who was away on holiday. This was the regular fortnightly meeting of the 10 Team Leaders with the Chief Executive. I felt honoured to be in the presence of these senior folks and not a bit overawed. I saw this as a great learning opportunity. I am a great ‘body language watcher’ at meetings and it was my chance to see how things happen at the real decision making level. Yes of course there was a monthly Board Meeting but we all knew that this meeting was the ‘engine room’ of the organisation where most of the important decisions were thrashed out in discussion between the top people on the payroll.

One of the items on the agenda was a progress report on the commissioning of a major piece of health care equipment that was to cost many millions of pounds and was due to be fully operational about 9 months from the time of this meeting.

The Chief Executive asked for progress reports from five or six of the Team Leaders involved in various aspects of how this new service was to be commissioned and brought into operation over the coming months.

I watched and listened intently as one Team Leader after another came up with various operational problems that seemed to indicate there will be delays in bringing this new service into action. The Finance Team Leader was concerned about when the money would be released from higher levels in the National Heath Service (NHS). The Public Health Team Leader was concerned that all procedures may not be written up and prepared in time for the schedule opening. The Contracting Team Leader expressed concern that contracts between the various NHS organisations would not be in place in time for the opening date. And so it went on. Each Team Leader seemed to find a number of reasons why this project would not be delivered on time.

I watched the Chief Executive who remained calm and unruffled as excuse after excuse came out and I wondered how he would deal with summarizing the negative feel about the discussion. He waited patiently and asked finally if anyone had anything to add. There were no further responses. I did not know what to expect but he calmly explained;

‘Thank you for the updates. As you know we have been told by our leaders in the NHS that this service needs to be operational by next April and I have promised patients groups that the service will be up and running next April. As you know I have given my commitment as Chief Executive that this will happen. I am therefore expecting the service to be operational next April. We will now move on to the next item on the Agenda’

I think this is what he meant;

‘I hear what you all say and I respect your feedback. You know we are working to having this commissioned and working from next April. I am holding you all personally responsible for delivering on this for our vendors and for our customers. Talk between yourselves; iron out the problems; do what you have to do; but make sure the service is up and running on time.’

For me this was wonderful example of a leader in decisive action.

He invited updates on progress and listened respectfully to every word of every interest without interruption. He allowed all inputs to be brought forward and even checked if there was anything else that had not yet come out. He analysed the mood of the meeting and felt he needed to show some decisive leadership to remind people of the objective. It was all done in a very calm manner with no ‘volume increase’ in his voice. The body language I observed among his Team Leaders told me his message had been heard.

Leadership Lesson

Decisiveness is about listening respectfully and then setting a clear direction


Anonymous said...

And was it delivered on time?

Trevor Gay said...

It was David - the CEO made sure of that.

Trevor Gay said...

Another great quality he illustrated was following up.

Zip3 said...

Great decisiveness but how one knows when a tough goal is achievable or just dreams? Maybe this is a skill that only great leaders possess.

Trevor Gay said...

Good question Zip - I believe most good leaders know what is achievable and what is just dreamland. This particular CEO knew the objective was achievable and remained focused to make sure it was delivered.