By Emma O’Connor, Legal Director and Head of Training, Boyes Turner (www.boyesturner.com)
We have own views as to what makes a “good” leader. We may have examples of a good leader or may have had been fortunate enough to have worked for one. In today’s UK care sector, leadership can make the difference between a thriving organisation, rooted in a people-first culture and committed to the people it’s there to serve, or one reacting to one compliance issue to the next.
What makes a good leader?
For me, organisations need leaders who can lead by example, who can deliver against targets and who can work collaboratively often in difficult business situations. Organisations also rely on leaders to deliver important messages and be the conduit between senior leadership and staff. But being a purposeful and inspiring leader does not (often) happen by accident. Good leaders are shaped by their own experiences or hone their skills through various workplace challenges. Many are promoted to leadership for being good at their job and not necessarily for being a good “team player”. The list of responsibilities and expectations on leaders may seem unrealistic or overwhelming, particularly if one thinks about the enormous challenges the care sector faces. However, why does demonstrating good leadership skills matter in the care sector and what makes a “good” leader?
Leadership is about vision. Vision involves identifying who you are as an organisation and deciding what “success” looks like. This could be looking at where you are in the marketplace or thinking about what the organisation’s “brand” says about it to current/perspective clients and/or its workforce. Are you where you want to be? Are you a “destination employer”? What does your business need to reach the next level?
Next, what are your goals? These could be overarching – to provide excellent care services to our clients – or could be more team focused, such as setting individual targets.
And how are you as a leader going to motivate, inspire and engage your colleagues and team to achieve these goals? Working in care is a tough environment at the best of times. With the skills crisis, post-covid fall-out and so much of the care community made up of international workers, your people will be navigating both work and personal challenges on a daily basis.
Communication skills as essentials
To achieve your businesses’ vision and goals, leaders need to be able to communicate to their peers, to their teams and to the wider world. Communication is a key leadership skill. Communication can be verbal but also involves non-verbal communication skills. Being aware of not just what is said but how it is said, being aware of one’s body language, are equally important. Especially in the care home environment.
Being a good communicator allows a leader to deliver messages clearly which in turn reduces confusion and conflict amongst teams; it can help build rapport and trust. Good communicators can help encourage creativity and problem solving within teams. Communication may also be about delivering difficult messages or explaining challenging situations, which is particularly pertinent in the care sector, whilst bringing people along with you.
A culture where people thrive
Good leaders – by having a clear vision and clear communication skills – foster good relations which help develop an open workplace culture where colleagues can thrive. Knowing where you are going as a business, or as an individual, understanding the vision and expectations can help to forge a strong and purposeful culture with each person working together to overcome challenges and achieve success. When people feel valued and supported, they are more engaged. A more engaged workforce is more productive. Simple. Culture comes from the top, so it is important that messages are clearly communicated downwards to all levels of leadership and staff.
Lastly, leading by example. We want our leaders to uphold the business’s values, to ensure they comply with workplace policies and to expect this in others. We want our leaders to comply with industry standards and legal requirements – not to cut corners or to shirk responsibilities. Leadership decisions should be open and transparent, and leaders should demand high expectations from their teams and colleagues as they should demand of themselves.
The challenges to the care sector – from funding issues to recruitment – are ones that many businesses and managers cannot control. However, as the saying goes: people leave a manager and not a job. If leaders can improve their skills, they may be the role models for future managers in the sector.