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Building and maintaining relationships: at the heart of leadership

 Debbie Sorkin makes the case for relationships within and across services

This issue of Care Talk focuses on the importance of relationships and culture. And they are important: relationships aren’t just about being friendly; they’re a key component of effective leadership. 

This is because leadership isn’t confined to people working at senior level in care homes or home care.  It’s not about the letters after your name.  And – although there’s a place for this – it’s not the same as commanding people to do what you want.  If you have an emergency, it can be legitimate to assume a ‘Commander’ role and take overall control. But everyday leadership is about everyday behaviours – what you do, and how you behave, in ordinary situations.

That’s why Building and maintaining relationships is one of the key elements of The Leadership Qualities Framework for Adult Social Care.  This means leaders at all levels being willing to listen, support others, gain trust and show understanding.  So good leaders:

o   Listen to each other and recognise different perspectives

o   Empathise and take into account the needs and feelings of others

o   Communicate effectively with individuals and groups, and act as a positive role model

o   Gain and maintain the trust and support of colleagues.

And you can be a good leader whatever your role.  So if you’re an apprentice, or you’ve just started in your first care role, you can still invest time in, and build, effective and respectful relationships – not just with your work colleagues but also (I would say especially) with residents, service users and their carers and families.  The same goes for people working at more senior levels.  And if you’re a Registered Manager, then to my mind, there’s a responsibility not just to model these behaviours but to set the tone – that is, to establish and promote an effective relationship-based culture.  Putting relationships at the heart of your culture will be the best thing you ever do in terms of ensuring high-quality services.

Aside from being valuable in themselves, you’ll find that honing and building your relationship skills comes in useful when demonstrating how ‘well-led’ your organisation or service is for regulatory purposes.  A number of the CQC key lines of enquiry for the ‘well-led’ criterion single out relationships, looking at links with the local community; at the level and quality of communication with service users, families and staff; and in how a service works in partnership with other organisations and sectors.

And this is why relationships matter beyond your own service.  They’re also at the heart of Systems Leadership – how you lead across boundaries; where no one person is in charge; where you’re dealing with complex issues with no easy solutions; and where you make progress by being able to work with, and influence, other people.

So relationships matter when you’re developing networks beyond your service.  As the LQF also notes: ‘Collaboration within and across systems plays a vital role in the delivery of services.  Effective leaders work in partnership…to deliver and improve services.’ 

And there are many examples in social care of providers doing exactly that, and taking the lead in being great Systems Leaders.  In a number of its care homes, The Royal Masonic Benevolent Institution works in partnership with local GPs and hospitals, using video consultations and joint plans of care built around minimising hospital admissions for frail older people.

In the north-west, Community Integrated Care works in partnership with community and acute NHS trusts to provide intermediate care services for people with mental health issues, or for older people, so that they can leave hospital settings and still receive appropriate care and support in intermediate care settings.

And in Middlesbrough, Kiero, a specialist provider of services for people with acquired brain injury, is working with the local authority and with Thirteen Housing Group in a joint venture called The Gateway: a 40-bed facility with a Community Hub and 12 transitional living options, including residential and non-residential rehab, for people with long-term neurological conditions.

There are many other examples of similar partnerships happening all over the country.  They are all based on nurturing real relationships – not just what gets presented at formal meetings, but finding common motivations, identifying common purpose, and exploring how best to work together.  So don’t start with structures, or policies.  Think about how you can build and maintain relationships yourself, and how you can model this way of working so that it becomes the norm – the culture, the ‘way we do things here’ in your service.  It’s how you’ll make good leadership an everyday reality, and how you’ll instil quality – even outstanding quality – as standard.


If you have examples of great leadership in your service, please send them in to www.caretalk.co.uk or contact debbie.sorkin@localleadership.gov.uk.


Debbie Sorkin is National Director of Systems Leadership at The Leadership Centre.  Debbie.sorkin@localleadership.gov.uk @DebbieSorkin2




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