Top Ten Drivers for Connected Leaders

Claire Cater, 27 November, 2014

10 tips for connected health & care leaders who want to build a positive #cultureforchange

Still fresh from the publication of his Five Year Forward View, Simon Stevens has been telling the Parliamentary Accounts Committee that next year will be ‘incredibly tough’ for the NHS.

And, boy, do leaders know it. Everywhere they turn, there is talk of burning platforms, integration, innovation, people power and money, money, money.

So what’s the answer? Where is the perfect model and the evidence? Which book, country or guru knows best?

Of course, the real answer will be dictated to degree by local circumstances. The reality is simple (or perhaps not so simple): there isn’t one answer or perfect process. But, in our view, one thing is clear: leaders of the NHS, in 2015 and beyond, need to get ‘connected’ and we are not just talking about great broadband – we are talking about ‘personal bandwidth’.

So here are our top ten tips:

Culture is King

Health leaders and politicians have been hung-up on structures and legislation for too long. Some still are. But the smart leaders are beginning to realise that to drive change on the scale that’s required, they need to focus their attention on changing cultures. Wise words from Simon Stevens too when he talks about the need for a culture of accountability.

New system leaders will see past the day-to-day operational management, however challenging, and realise that the real value lies in creating the right environment and culture which reflects the vision and mission and runs through their whole organisation.

Engage first

The days when the way to solve a system problem was to wheel in one of the Big Four management consultancies, draw up an ambitious vision for the future and then hand it to the comms guys to polish up and sell to stakeholders are long gone.

Planning for sustainable change in today’s world means turning traditional thinking on its head. The successful leaders of today and tomorrow will begin their transformation programmes with engagement and they will be bold enough to let what comes out of that process shape their thinking.

Of course there is a valuable role for the management consultant and we enjoy working with them. However, what they need is information and understanding which goes beyond what you can find on a spreadsheet.

Partnership trumps relationship

All health systems operate within a network of organisations and individuals that they refer to as their ‘partners’, but in truth, many of these are actually just plain old ‘relationships’ – people they know.

Real partnership involves joint endeavour, mutual understanding and shared risk. Connected leaders will need to know the difference.

Shared vision and mission

Connected Leaders need to use those partnerships to create a shared vision of the future that everyone is signed up to. Stakeholders will only do this if those partners properly understand and accept the risks, benefits and trade-offs that will be necessary to make it a reality.

Soft stuff is hard

Mostly because you can’t see it, touch it or measure it. Quality and waiting times targets are tough, but at least you can see them in black and white.

Properly understanding the nuances of relationships – what drives others, what scares them, what excites them – is difficult. Investing in relationships and culture, and inspiring, supporting and nurturing an organisation is a 24hr job – you can’t tick it off a list. It has to be constant. Failure to do this has been the undoing of many change programmes.

Co-create…”do it with, not to”

The most forward-thinking leaders already know that this is the key to turning relationships into partnerships. Co-creation isn’t just a nice word to add to a plan. Working with others to design solutions and new ideas requires commitment and the benefits are significant.

Whilst it is a legal requirement to involve staff and stakeholders earlier and earlier in the planning process, that’s not the reason bold leaders do it. They co-create because they know it hold the key to plans that are possible and sustainable.


The gap between consultation and co-creation is, to coin a Nicholson-ism, so big that you can see if from space.

Today’s switched-on stakeholders can spot the difference between an organisation acting genuinely and one going through the motions.

And they have the power, at their individual fingertips, to do something about it, as anyone familiar with the Ashya King proton therapy cancer case will know all too well. Authenticity builds the foundation of trust – an essential requirement for any leader.

Head and heart

It instinctively feels like the days of ‘grip’ are over. Pulling the purse strings ever tighter just won’t cut it in the long term.

Tomorrow’s leaders know this. They know that the change they need to make will involve more winning of hearts than banging of heads. You do need both. You need the facts, the stats and the rationale, but the heart rules when it comes to making the ‘connection’ and keeping people with you on the journey of change.

Connected data – big and small

In a world of big data and information overload, it’s becoming harder and harder for leaders to know the difference between information and useful insight.

The trick with data is making it real for those using it. What does it tell you about people, places, health, what’s happening and what’s possible. Data is great when everyone can understand it and see its value. Making it beautiful and relevant is essential to ‘connecting’ the facts with reality.

Be networked and connected

Tomorrow’s system leaders will need to be more connected than ever before.

They will need to have a granular understanding of the world around them – not just the stakeholders they can see but also the complex mix of networks that surround and influence them.

They need to be connected with their people, the patients, public, stakeholders and partners alongside the innovation, policies, trends, culture, science… the list goes on. Connected leaders are expert and inspiring facilitators who like to sit at the centre, not the top.


Claire Cater

Founder, The Social Kinetic: helping organisations and leaders connect and engage in order to create change.