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You are what you do: why behaviours matter so much in leadership

Debbie Sorkin describes why in social care, how you lead and how you behave in everyday life amount to exactly the same thing. 

Last month, I talked about some of the best practice in social care: nominees for awards, put forward not just by their line managers but also by service users and their families.  There were people working in residential and nursing care; in home care; and as Personal Assistants.

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 non-residential settings, one Service User described the outcome of the support as making them feel they could fly: “I can do anything and everything”.

I left the meeting where a group had decided – with great difficulty – who the winners were going to be, feeling like I was walking on air.

Over the past month, I’ve been brought down to earth.

Firstly, there was the Channel 4 Dispatches programme that showed, through hidden cameras, what poor home care could look like, with older people being roughly treated and neglected, and care workers falsifying their records.  Secondly, the charity Action on Elder Abuse, in conjunction with the Times newspaper, carried out its own investigations and discovered an epidemic of theft, with calls to a national helpline for elderly people who believed they were suffering financial abuse increasing from 3,500 to over 7,500 in 2015.  Again, hidden cameras, often installed by relatives, caught some home carer workers red-handed, enabling police prosecutions to take place and convictions to be secured.

I suspect that many of those caught, and featured in the articles, had the Care Certificate, alongside other vocational qualifications.  I’m sure that technically, they could do the job.  But they should never have been recruited in the first place.  This is because they lacked the values – demonstrated through behaviours ­– that are at the heart of social care.

As The Social Care Manager’s Handbook notes: “The values that underpin social care have developed through recognising that the very best practice comes from the highest standards of personal and professional integrity, and the commitment to deliver a service that centres on and responds to the people who use it.”

It’s this integrity that shines through in good leadership.  It’s at the root of how you behave in everyday situations and of what you expect from the behaviours of others.  And so it’s at the heart of the behaviours identified in The Leadership Qualities Framework for Adult Social Care[1], which sets out what good leadership looks like at all levels of a team or an organisation.

Good leadership is fundamental to the delivery of excellent social care and support.  It makes a significant difference to the lives of people who use services – whether in their own homes or in residential or nursing care – to local communities, to employers of all kinds, and to their staff.  It follows that supporting the development of leadership at all levels is crucial to the current reputation, and future standing, of social care.

So this is a call to arms.  The vast majority of people working in social care have the right values, and do the right thing.  Most social care staff don’t steal from the people they support: on the contrary, they often go the extra mile to support them, using their own – often stretched – resources.  Wherever we are, we can do something to demonstrate good leadership behaviours and to address poor behaviours where we feel they’re happening.  Yes, finances are under enormous pressure, and providing good care isn’t easy.  But let’s all do what we can to keep good leadership going in social care.  Leadership really is for everyone, and it starts with all of us.


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


[1] See https://www.nsasocialcare.co.uk/about-us/leadership-qualities-framework



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