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Exceptional leadership for exceptional times: why Social Care Leaders are Systems Leaders

Debbie Sorkin describes why now is exactly the right time to show your leadership qualities in Social Care.

Recently, I was on a panel of judges for some regional care awards. The awards covered staff at all levels of organisations, and spanned residential and nursing care, home care, and the work of Personal Assistants.

Nominations came not only from people’s line managers but also from Service Users and their families. Many of the stories were inspirational. One person provided truly exceptional end- of-life care, ensuring that people were given dignity and respect. Others went out of their way to bring people back to health, sometimes coaxing older people who had left hospital in a frailer state than when they had gone in, back to confident, independent living. In one residential care home, the CQC report described how the service was so good, ‘relatives told us that they had nothing but positive feedback to give.’ And many of the nominations for Personal Assistants described people working well over and above their formal hours and making lives fun, meaningful and rewarding for children and adults alike.

Although some of the actions might seem small, the effect on Service Users and their carers was huge. One Service User described the outcome of the support as making them feel they could fly: “I can do anything and everything”. A family member felt “my Mum has got her life back”. And a carer described a care home as being “a place where people are cared for and loved and where staff go the extra mile to support them.”

None of this exceptional care comes about by accident. It’s partly about being professional, knowledgeable, compassionate and friendly. It’s partly about being open approachable, so that staff feel they can ask questions and speak out. And it’s partly about being a role model, especially where the needs of Service Users are concerned.

At base, though, all of these are aspects of good leadership – how you behave in everyday situations and what you expect from the behaviours of others. The nominees for the awards could have been lifted wholesale from the pages of The Leadership Qualities Framework for Adult Social Care , which sets out what good leadership looks like at all levels of a team or an organisation.

But the leadership exhibited here went beyond a single organisation. It involved working with many others – acute and community hospitals; voluntary and community sector groups; schools and colleges; and arts and sports groups. Social Care Managers and Staff worked with GP practices; District Nurses; Community Geriatricians; Pharmacists; OTs and a host of other professionals. They dealt with regulators, lawyers, local authorities and the NHS. As

such, they weren’t just leaders within their own services; they were Systems Leaders, leading with others across boundaries, and playing a central role.

So whatever your role in Social Care, always avoid the ‘just’ word, as in the all too-commonly used expression, ‘I’m just a carer’. Notice your own leadership role, not just in your service, but outside and beyond it.

There’s never been a better time to be a Systems Leader in Social Care. In England, the NHS is looking to put together what it calls ‘Sustainability and Transformation Plans’ covering the next five years. The aim is to make fundamental changes to the way healthcare gets delivered, with Social Care, in all its forms, being much more visible and recognised for its power to change people’s lives for the better. Clinical Commissioning Groups in your area, alongside NHS Hospital Trusts, will both need and want to engage with Social Care if the plans are going to have any chance of being implemented.

I know that many people have been rebuffed in the past when they’ve tried to make overtures to the NHS, and have been hugely frustrated at not finding people willing to take on board what Social Care can offer. But it’s worth persevering. Too many people in Social Care keep their leadership lights under a bushel. Now’s exactly the right time to bring them out, and show health, housing and other sectors what being a real Systems Leader can mean.

If you have examples of good leadership and systems leadership in action, please let us know at Care Talk: editorial@caretalk.co.uk.

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

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