Unconventional Leadership: Nancy M Schlichting

I got this book as a Christmas gift from family in Michigan. Having spent many years working in the NHS I was interested in reading this book to see what lessons could be learned.

While there are clearly differences between healthcare in the USA and in the UK, what was clear in my view is that there a lot of common challenges and therefore learning that could apply in the UK.

These are summarised below with my own perspectives added.

Leading delivers a dose of personal risk and involves confidence and courage

It’s interesting how I see people who have a huge amount of drive and determination as they climb the career ladder lose it when they are accountable.

There is no doubt that there are risks in accepting a leadership role in the NHS. At the same time there is a great opportunity too. This is even more so given the current drive for change and improvement.

There will always be obstacles

It doesn’t matter if you are in a top performing or struggling NHS organisation, there are always going to be challenges. It’s never plain sailing.

Become proficient in skills you find daunting

It might be easy to focus on what you know. Yet you can make a much bigger contribution if you have a much wider perspective.

As a leader you have to be open to continually learning. Nothing stands still for long.

Build a support team

I know from my own time in the NHS just how lonely it can be in a leadership role in the NHS.

Having a support team around you including mentors or others you can use as a sounding board can be a huge help.

Learn to turn it around

Schlichting talks about the importance of reinventing the cost structure to improve financial performance.

This seems highly relevant to the NHS right now given the current state of finances and the outlook going forward.

The need for top level leadership to be personally and visibly invested in financial turnaround was highlighted as being key.

It’s not just the job of the FD or CFO.

The importance of dealing with financial turnaround quickly was also highlighted.

Of course as expected she highlighted that turnaround needed to be done in partnership with people and stakeholders rather than being imposed.

It’s also vital to have excellent communication.

Quality to achieve high performance

The focus at the Henry Ford Health System on working towards the Baldrige National Quality Award was the framework used to work towards high performance.

The criteria includes:

• Growth in customer satisfaction, engagement and loyalty
• World class product and service outcomes
• Role model process efficiency
• Increased workforce satisfaction and engagement
• Growth in revenue and market share and improved financial results
• Increasing learning outcomes
• Improved outcomes (safety and loyalty)

While this would need adapting for the NHS there are still many areas that are highly relevant to the NHS.

Find the disruptors and listen to them

This part of the book focused on innovation.

Leverage the strengths of diversity

Diversity or differences of opinion are sometimes seen negatively. In many cases this is often the catalyst for moving things forward.

Face the future

Right now the NHS is facing challenges of rising demand, aging population and a widening gap between resources available and needed to carry on as is.

It might be easier to struggle on but is this really the best solution?

Yes it might be tough to accept that things need to be different. On the other hand does anyone want a situation where offering adequate services or worse is the choice over prioritisation?

Final thought

This is an excellent book with advice and insight from someone who understands healthcare and the unique challenges it brings when it comes to leading.

The book is available on Amazon in several formats. Get the book Unconventional Leadership: What Henry Ford and Detroit Taught Me About Reinvention and Diversity

Duncan Brodie works in partnership with the NHS in the areas of leadership, change and improvement. Learn more here.