Leadership Insights 2 – How can we make inclusive and compassionate leadership a reality?

This episode of Leadership Insights shares the views and experience in making inclusive and compassionate leadership a reality.


Rachel Oster, Centre Manager and Registered Occupational Therapist working in Social Care

  • Brenda Rhule, now retired, was Head of Nursing at Sheffield Health and Social Care NHS Foundation Trust  
  • Islam Faqir, also now retired, was a senior paramedic with NHS Yorkshire Ambulance Service, and a former Chair of the Diversity Steering Group at the College of Paramedics
  • Giles Thorpe, Chief Nurse with the East Suffolk and North Essex NHS Foundation Trust

 Speaker Jeremy [00:00:05] Welcome to Leadership Insights. This podcast features interviews with people across the NHS and highlights useful insights and practical techniques for current and potential leaders. My name is Jeremy Kourdi. I write about leadership and work with leaders in the National Health Service. And in today’s episode, we asked the vital question, how can we make inclusive and compassionate leadership a reality? As you listen to our speakers highlighting the qualities, they think are important, it is worth asking the question, what are the areas where my leadership could improve? Joining our discussion today are four leaders from across the NHS; Giles Thorpe is Chief Nurse with the East Sussex and North Essex NHS Foundation Trust. Brenda Rule, now retired, was Head of Nursing at Sheffield Health and Social Care NHS Foundation Trust. Aslam Fakir, also now retired, was a Senior Paramedic with NHS Yorkshire Ambulance Service. Islam is a former Chair of the Diversity Steering Group at the College of Paramedics. And we’ll hear first from Rachel Oster. Rachel is a Centre Manager and registered Occupational Therapist working in social care, highlighting the importance and value of inclusive leadership. 


Speaker Rachel [00:01:26] I’ve mentioned inclusivity and I think just talking about that a bit more, I think being inclusive and celebrating diversity across teams, across your workforce and really giving equity of opportunity to everybody in terms of enabling people to succeed in their roles, to be heard, to be listened to. I think that all contributes to a much safer psychological environment. And I know that’s kind of a phrase that’s used quite a lot. I think when you are inclusive and compassionate, you see things like people feeling comfortable and confident to be able to say, I’ve made a mistake, I’ve got something wrong and come forward and trust that actually it’s not going to be a culture of blame. But, that inclusivity and that compassion, creates a much more positive working environment where people will thrive. And that being fair in your approach is important. And I think my eyes were really opened in the Rosalind Franklin programme and I realised I had to do a lot better with really understanding the issues around inclusivity and wanting to be a leader that is really inclusive, and who genuinely wants to learn. And my organisation’s done a lot of positive work around equality, diversity and inclusion and I think it’s been brilliant to see that happen, but we just need to do so much more. For me, it’s part of a learning journey, but I feel absolutely committed to doing that. So, I think in your mindset, if you have inclusivity and compassionate leadership, that will definitely help with staff wellbeing. And we know that the workforce at the moment is feeling particularly tired and some people feel burnt out at the moment. So, I think actually focusing on behaviours and mindsets that actually do support the wellbeing of our teams is really key for sustainability and the ability for teams to thrive. And then you always have to take it back to what’s the impact for the patient. The clients that we’re working with that can only have a positive impact. I think inclusivity is not just internal, it’s about how we’re inclusive with the patients that we serve and the client groups as well. 


Speaker 3 Jeremy [00:04:00] So that’s a great view and I absolutely agree with all of those points you made. And when it comes to implementing that inclusive approach in practice, I guess then relies on some of the other qualities you’ve mentioned that need to be curious, to listen, to communicate, to be able to be prepared, to trust. To think, you know, this person doesn’t look like me and they’re not behaving as I would have behaved. But I’m going to suspend judgement and I’m just going to try to understand what’s their priority, what’s their work or their situation like for them. What do they need? Are they at their best or how can I help them? So, is it about in practice about those things or what would help social care and NHS leaders be more inclusive? 


Speaker 2 Rachel [00:04:55] I think curiosity is a really good word to use. I think being curious, being open-minded and actively seeking opportunities to develop knowledge, skills, and experience and really challenging ourselves to do better. Because there’s a long way to go with this, but I think it starts with ensuring that people’s voices are heard and responded to and issues are not brushed under the carpet, but they’re exposed and acknowledged and that actions are taken to ensure inclusion and promote a really positive working environment for all. But I think it starts with curiosity and commitment. It’s not a passive thing. I think you have to actively say I’m going to pursue improving myself as a leader in this area. And, you know, for me, I’ll never feel like I’ve got it right or I know it all. I will always be on that learning journey and even completing the Rosalind Franklin programme. You know, I feel like that’s the start of my journey and it’s really given me some light bulb moments where I’ve really seen things in a different light and from different perspectives. I had a really diverse small group and we worked together throughout the course that was so enriching and I’m really glad that we all had a diversity of backgrounds and of ethnicities. And, you know, the Rosalind Franklin programme is quite bold and courageous in some of the kind of material that you reflect on, and it asks you really good questions that you need to be curious about. And I think if you embrace that and you’re open, then you will only sort of continue your learning journey and become a better leader. 


Speaker 1 Jeremy [00:06:51] I really like the way that Rachel connects inclusive leadership with several vital themes for the NHS. In particular, inclusion means being fair and open in your approach and recognising that inclusive, compassionate leadership is actually one of the best ways for colleagues to stay healthy and able to work at their best. And it results in much better patient outcomes as a result. Our next conversations are with Brenda Rhule and Islam Faqir. Answering the really important and really challenging question what should leaders do when they come across poor behaviour? 


Speaker 4 Brenda [00:07:27] For me, I personally would get involved because I just think, you know, if you want people to stay in an organisation – because you know what people say they don’t leave their jobs they leave their boss. Don’t they?


Speaker 4 Brenda [00:07:42] So I just think to myself, well, you know, if you make it a good place for people to work, so that they know they can give their opinions and share their views and it won’t be taken in a negative way because we’re all different and we have to embrace difference, don’t we? And surely that’s how you develop a good culture in an organisation and people will want to work with you, you know, not people leaving in droves and people are saying ‘Oh, I don’t know why they are leaving?’ Well, take a good look at yourself. 


Speaker Jeremy [00:08:11] What advice would you have for somebody who witnesses bad behaviour or is perhaps on the receiving end of an unacceptable comment or observes an unacceptable comment being made? What should someone do? 


Speaker 5 Islam [00:08:26] I’ll give you an example. This is how not to do it. So, when I first started off in my job, I had all sorts of unacceptable language in the sense of how people speak and to maybe BME people and obviously some quite sexist comments. And back in those days, you know, 20- 26 years ago, it was a mentality of keeping your head down, don’t say anything divisive about it. So, it took me two years to stand up to someone that was making some derogatory comments about something that was on TV around BME people. I actually turned round to that person and said, “Do you know that I find that quite offensive what you’ve just said.” Sometimes people can think to themselves if stuff is being said it can be quite confrontational. In a sense, well why have you said this? And why have you said that? They end up in an argument. That’s not the way to do it. You’ve got to rise above that and say, you know, that I find that quite offensive. And it depends on obviously what is said and what the circumstances are. And that person turned round, and they were a little bit shocked. And I asked, “What do you mean?” I said well what you’ve just said is really offensive and I find it really offensive and they were really apologetic.


I’ll give you another example from some years ago. This is going back to about five years ago, when we had a load of staff come in, their heritage was African. So, they spoke a different dialect, although they spoke perfect English. Someone made a comment that was on the telephones, triaging calls and they were making fun of them. And I turned round to them and I approached them, and I said to the members of staff, I said, “Why have you not challenged that?” And they just said, oh no leave it, we’re not bothered. So, when they did it again, I turned and I said, “Why are you talking to these people, these members of staff like that? And they were really apologetic, and they hadn’t realised and went over to the member of staff and apologized. 


To me, you know what I have become in the past few years where you witness stuff like that, you’ve got to speak out because we are all there for one another and it all has an impact not just on individuals but it can also have an impact on patients. You know, and if you see those sorts of things, depending on what it is, it may well be that that person is quite naive. You go up and say, “Excuse me, do you realise that I actually find that quite offensive?” And see what their reaction is. However, if it’s totally inappropriate, then that’s something that you should be reporting because it’s just not acceptable in this society. And I think you will find in 99% of the time if you don’t do it and someone else does, you’re just as bad as them. You know, you will get labelled in that same crowd and it may well be that you turn round and think that you don’t want to get yourself in trouble. However, you know that is someone’s brother and sister, someone’s child. It may well be that they say something maybe not racist but you know something to do with a disabled person or something quite sexist, you know, where you have bigotry, there’s no place in the NHS for bigotry because we all have an impact on patient care and it’s totally unacceptable. 


Speaker 1 Jeremy [00:11:18] Making the NHS an inclusive, welcoming, and safe place for everyone is a vital priority clearly. And our guests consistently highlighted several actions that need to be taken if this is ever undermined. It starts with challenging the behaviour. We all have to speak out if we witness unacceptable attitudes, actions or behaviours. It’s important as well to highlight both the behaviour but also its impact. It may be that someone’s simply unaware or ignorant of the consequences or significance of their actions. Perhaps counterintuitively, compassion and curiosity are needed to find out what it would take for the individual to work at their best. Finally, we need to recognise that our words have a huge impact and you really do need to treat others as you would expect to be treated yourself. The last word goes to Giles Thorpe. 


Speaker 6 Giles [00:12:16] I think the really important thing is to have a gentle conversation with those individuals in a setting which is quiet and confidential. And by gentle, I mean to be curious in the approach. I think it is around a sense of humble enquiry as to what’s actually going on for that individual and probably stressing the impact that leadership is having. So, it’s sometimes holding the mirror up, which I think is really important, by doing that in a non-accusatory way, not in a judgmental way. By trying to get underneath what’s going on for that individual. Because for me personally, I don’t come into work thinking that my colleagues are coming in just to behave badly. There is something that’s going on underneath all of this that is causing people who I may well have worked with, who I know to be compassionate, who I know to be understanding. But on that particular day, for that particular circumstance, something else is going on there. So, for me, it’s reflecting back in terms of the impact of that kind of leadership and how that doesn’t support others to be their very best. Whilst also enquiring and understanding what’s going on for them right now. And, also to offer that branch and to offer that help to say how can I help them to work through whatever’s going on for them, for them to be their best? 


Speaker 1 Jeremy [00:13:46] Remember, you’re a role model. Your behaviour sets a standard and is thoughtful, considerate, and compassionate. Great insights from Giles Thorpe and a great way to finish today’s episode. My name is Jeremy Kourdi and I’ll see you next time for more leadership insights. 


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