Leadership through COVID-19: Why authenticity and adaptability is key

Back to News/Insights

Jun 22 2020 Blogs
Helen Kilgannon, Associate Director

I will be honest, it has taken some time to write this blog. Why you may ask? I was unsure which leadership angle to reflect on, there are so many after all!

That dilemma in itself helped me to clarify my thoughts, here I reflect on three I have seen demonstrated over the past 12 weeks of the pandemic.

System leadership

The collaborative leadership of a network of people in different places and at different levels in the system creating a shared endeavor and cooperating to make a significant change”
Virtual staff college

Through this crisis and thoughts of recovery I have seen many examples of organisations putting their needs secondary to enable the response to our populations needs across systems. This demonstrates many System Leadership behaviours*:

  • The clarity that we cannot respond and recover from this crisis without each other
  • The courage we’ve had to redesign services at speed, which normally would engage multiple meetings and sign off by many layers of governance
  • Our curiosity, which has allowed us to ask who else can help us?

Communities have come together to support each other and their local health service! Schools and industries have responded to the need to develop PPE and pivoted from alcohol production to hand sanitizer. The VCSE community resources, skills and connections have been fully recognised and amplified to reach all parts of our communities.

Distributed/Collective leadership

Collective leadership means everyone taking responsibility for the success of the organisation as a whole – not just for their own jobs or work area.”
The Kings fund 2012

Our successes and response throughout this crisis are not down to any one single leader. We all had a role to play, many of us changing roles to support the crisis. Whilst on secondment at the Northern Care Alliance to support staff wellbeing, I experienced first-hand how distributed leadership enabled many to step outside of their comfort zone and job description to support and enable the frontline. The organisation created psychologically safe environments for people to try different things, and removed the fear of getting things wrong; ideas were iterated through several cycles before we were comfortable with our approach! Other friends and colleagues have told me of the flexibility of all staff but particularly our Administration staff who have been redeployed, working in a wide range of roles often unseen and without the full recognition they deserve. Thank you.

A key realisation for me, was the unique position that organisations such as AQuA have, particularly being able to work across organisations and rapidly share practice. This role of connector is vital for me. This meant regularly sharing information with colleagues seconded to other organisations and led to AQuA creating a Knowledge Exchange for rapid sharing of information.

Compassionate leadership

“By working compassionately, courageously and honestly, leaders can support and care for their staff so that they can save thousands of lives across our communities”
Bailey and West, March 2020, The Kings fund

As leaders, the compassion shown for each other has been palpable, when someone asked simply “How are you?” or signed off with “Keep Safe”, we were in no doubt that it was sincerely meant and we had a shared appreciation of the current position. Whether we have been operationally working or working from home, we have all had the personal challenges of social distancing and many of us home schooling. At times lines have been blurred as my daughter needed a hug whilst I am on an MS Teams call with the senior team, the awkwardness of this disappeared over time (by the way my senior team received this and had their own little disruptions!)…We are after all one person and not a separate work and home persona! I hope that we can remain compassionate as we move towards recovery; we absolutely need to maintain the positive changes across services and how our leadership enables this. AQuA will be supporting our members to capture this over the coming weeks and months through our ‘hold the gains‘ offers.

One style of leadership that I have not referenced is “directional leadership”. There is no doubt that clear direction of where we are going and how we will get there have been essential, in my experience this is possible and not at  the cost of being compassionate.  As leaders across health and social care my key reflection is that’s it’s our ability to adapt our style and behaviour to the situation which is paramount, this may mean we are using a variety of “leadership styles” in a single day and we should do this with authenticity and compassion in our hearts.

Final thoughts

Finally it is important to remember that we all need to pay attention to our own resilience and practice self-compassion. I am really pleased to share these videos gifted to health and social care by Rene Barrett, leadership and resilience expert.

*Welbourn and Fathers (2012)

Sign Up For Updates

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.