The Heart of Leadership

The Francis Review on the Mid Staffordshire Hospital has revealed the horror of what can happen when the heart is taken out of a service. No amount of systems, processes or procedures can bring heart to a service. As headline-making as this tragic hospital situation may be, they do not hold the monopoly. The only difference is that we do not tend to see the raw results of such neglect of people. The need for compassion through attitudinal and behavioural change at the top has been shown in man-made crisis after crisis.

Even within the excellence of the recommendations of this Review, there is a persistent failure to acknowledge that dysfuntions of this nature are attitudinal and behavioural which result, at best, in lip service being paid to procedures and QA requirements, and at worst in non-adherence. We have all experienced people adhering to the rules or procedures that are supposed to provide the desired level of service, and yet we know that it is the attitude of the person delivering the service that determines the quality of that service.

We are hard-wired to look for connection and therefore judge the sort of service we receive not by WHAT they do, but by HOW they do it. If we feel there’s a connection coming from the person who’s dealing with us, then we are far more likely to accept the service and what is offered, than if we are treated in an off-hand way. How we behave comes directly from our own attitude of mind.

And let us not be fooled – this does not apply just to front-line services. Attitude defines culture and it starts at the top of any organisation, before it can have any lasting effect on the front-line services. This is the nature of systemic failure. Lack of compassion and responsiveness at the top can create a snowball, accumulating more and more dissatisfaction, disillusionment, disaffection as it rolls down the organisation. The result: frighteningly bad services on the front-line.

Compassion exists where an organisation has heart. We all get annoyed and triggered by other people’s behaviour, and they become the source of our stress and anger. And yet if we stop and analyse what’s going on in our thinking and mindset, we can see that we ourselves are inevitably the cause of our own negative feelings. It is how we think about the person and their behaviours that has us point the finger.

It is worth remembering that virtually no-one gets up in the morning with the intention of having a ‘bad day at work’. We are all doing the very best we know how in the circumstances – even when it does not suit. This does not mean there is no space for learning. However, having compassion is a way of opening up the heart to hearing and seeing what is going on for that person you are convinced is just out to under-perform. In turn, this facilitates the taking of a developmental rather than an adversarial stance as part of the ‘the way we do things around here’.