Yes, it is true, plenty could keep you awake at night.
I am Chief Operating Officer for 240 sites across England, Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland. These include older people’s homes, ‘supported living’ premises, and homes for those with specialist learning disabilities, autism, and Prada Willi Syndrome. There are many challenges – austerity, Brexit, workforce issues, and increased regulatory pressures spring to mind. You need to be resilient and have courage to find your way through. It sounds strange, but you do need to be brave; courage is the ability to overcome the hardest of challenges, bravery the act of seeing it through. There has to be a strong reason you face these things. For me, it’s the families who trust their loved ones to our care. This is the guiding principle, the prism through which I see all decisions and challenges. If it is not good enough for my family, then it is not good enough for one of our service users.
And I am struck time and again by the caring nature of our staff who make the difference to a person’s life. Being a mother of a child with additional needs myself – which also keeps me awake on occasion – I know you can worry whether other people will understand them, so the highest compliment I can get for our services is when a family member says, ‘I used to worry all the time and now I don’t, as I know my relative is being looked after’.
It can be easy to lose sight of this in a boardroom. It is important as leaders that we are completely visible and keep in touch with the day-to-day challenges of our workforce. I did this recently by going back to the “shop floor” for a 12-hour shift as a nurse in one of our older people’s homes. They didn’t know I was coming. I just turned up to work alongside staff. We did personal care together, took the bins out, realised how long it takes to assist someone with their meal and not be rushed so they have a meaningful experience, acknowledged the amount of useful information gained when providing personal care, the importance of making someone smile, helping them through a distressing situation, talking to relatives, making sure all the documentation is complete. These are the challenges at the coal face, and to continue to do it whilst having patience, empathy and compassion takes real skill. I took a lot of learning from it, and, as a learning organisation, we have rolled out those learnings across all our homes as the basic principles of care. For me, it’s also about making sure staff take their breaks so they are resilient and can continue to care with compassion throughout the whole shift, introducing care ‘huddles’ at set times in the shift so that important information can be shared.
There are lots of formal levels of leadership but in the end, we are all leaders. As the health charity the King’s Fund would put it, modern leadership is devolved leadership and the days of the ‘hero’ leader are gone. We need everyone to model these values, live them and communicate them. My team is fully aware that our mission is not just to meet the needs of our service users and residents, but be part of helping them to enjoy their lives, while learning from them and taking enjoyment from what we achieve in our own professional lives in the process.