The concept of leadership in the workplace is not new and the importance of leadership behaviours in successful organisational culture is well established.
But what actually is leadership? For a start the word is a vague word, it is not something you can pick up and look at and it will mean many things to many people dependent where the word is being applied. For example would you expect the same application of leadership from the Prime Minister as you would from a supervisor in social care? On one level the answer would be no yet the same qualities of leadership still apply.
The Institute of Leadership & Management (ILM) have an excellent guide to what is leadership (click here for link) and these can be applied to whatever level of leadership you are engaged in.
The manner in which social care has rapidly changed over the past 25 years or so means that the ideals of leadership may have passed unnoticed, in a bureaucratic system that has focused on standards of quality that tick boxes rather than truly reflect the end result. Similarly there has been little focus on the ideals of leadership in commissioning services. Even in the drive towards personalisation has focused on the need to provide individualised services without the recognition that implementing personalisation needs leadership skills to be successful!
In other words the whole culture in social care has ignored leadership values.
Even though nowadays the majority of social care is delivered by private providers I doubt (although would be happy to be proved wrong) that leadership qualities are high on the agenda of many of these providers and that there is a lack of understanding of what leadership entails and how it will ultimately help their business. How many leaders are there in social care with membership of the ILM? Or who have undertaken training in leadership that goes beyond the Registered Managers Award?
Yet training in leadership is only a part of the issue and raises another issue on leadership that is, perhaps, at times missed in social care. A part of the tick box culture has been focused on training, ensuring care workers have ‘done the right courses’ yet, and I have said this many times before, training fails without development activities to embed the knowledge gained through training into skills in practice and that is where leadership is important.
Not only should the manager be talking to people who attend courses and asking how they would apply their new learning to their work practices but we should also embed a culture of self-leadership where staff members automatically reflect on this and actively speak to their seniors about ways their learning can be applied in improving care provision.
We need a culture change because the qualities of leadership can have a much more important impact than in general commerce. In most business sectors the aim is to make profit by providing goods or services that people want. The aim is to attract customers and hope that your qualities inspire them to part with their money.
In social care, however, we have the added responsibility of ensuring the quality of life of the people who need social care services and that responsibility deserves good leadership at all levels, from the Department of Health right down to front line carers.
After yesterday’s event I am confident that leadership is coming to social care and will begin to embed itself in business behaviours and care practices which can only help to bring better services to the most vulnerable in society.