Billy Boland: Life after the NHS Leadership Academy

billy_bolandIs it nearly over? Putting the final touches to my portfolio seems all wrong somehow. The outcome of my time at the NHS Leadership Academy depends on this submission, and while it’s now due, I feel I’ve only just started. Come to think of it, this experience has been one of the key features of my learning on the programme: the way I feel about something isn’t always the best guide to what is actually going on. And let me tell you, as someone who can tend to draw on emotions to help make decisions, that can be pretty confusing at times.

As I reflect on this latest stage in my leadership journey, it seems like a good time to share some of the highlights of my learning since my first blog in October last year:

1. My vision isn’t always the same as someone else’s vision. Creating a shared vision promotes ownership, and helps change happen. Yet to lead change compellingly, I need to believe in the vision. This tension between personal and shared vision helps me make adjustments to both.

2. If I feel under pressure to compromise my vision or values, I can find it really hard. The trick is noticing I feel this way, taking a step back, and looking at what is going on. Figuring out what I can influence, what I can’t influence, and then coming up with a plan gives me a way forward and helps me accept what is happening.

3. My ability to take emotionally informed decisions with insight, is valued by some but perplexes others, particularly those with a more analytical approach. My professional background and training means I can do analytical, but it isn’t my go to style. When communicating around vision, strategy, and change, I need to flex my preferences at times so I can engage with others and “bring people with” me.

4. I can inspire people, but not everyone. And that’s ok. When I’ve been told I inspire others in the past, I’ve often mentally cancelled this positive feedback out with interactions that haven’t gone so well. Listening to feedback from people who like what I do, and those who don’t, helps me to shape better outcomes.

5. My communication skills and ability to engage with people from different backgrounds can effect change across systems. This can be a challenging type of leadership, but is rewarding and rich in learning. I’m best at doing it when I’m most able to be myself. This can require work from me, and taking the odd risk. Mostly, others don’t notice if I’m paddling furiously under the surface, so I can afford to experiment with new styles and try stuff out.

6. I can make sense of complex data sets quickly and use it to make sense of what is going on in services. Although I have more of an interest in qualitative information, I’m motivated by improving measurable outcomes, and keen to view performance in quantitative terms. Bringing both types of understanding is an asset in health services, and being able to have conversations from both perspectives, and pitch at an audience appropriate level, puts others at ease.

Would I have been able to rattle this list off a few months ago? I don’t think so. The NHS Leadership Academy has certainly helped me hold a mirror up to myself in terms of leadership. So even though it doesn’t feel time for the next step, maybe it is. Either way, it’s the quality of my portfolio that will decide what that step will be. Wish me luck.

We’re still holding reflective Twitter chats on leadership. The next one is happening tonight, from 7-8 pm, and is on “constructively working in a team.” Check out our fledgling website, and you can follow me on Twitter @originalbboland.

Billy Boland is a consultant psychiatrist and lead doctor in safeguarding adults at Hertfordshire Partnership University NHS Foundation Trust.

Competing interests: I declare that I have read and understood the BMJ policy on declaration of interests and I have no relevant interests to declare.