Leadership is an everyday event

Jenny Clarke, midwife at Blackpool Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, shares her experience of the NHS Frontline Nursing and Midwifery programme, run by The NHS Leadership Academy

I'm heading into my 37th year in the NHS, eleven of those years were in nursing and they helped to shape me into the midwife I am today. In 2014 I was part of The NHS Frontline Nursing and Midwifery programme at the NHS Leadership Academy in Leeds. This positive experience changed me forever and continues to shape me as a midwife.

I used to think that leaders were senior and never saw myself as one, but following the programme I made a decision to keep on leading so that others could learn to lead. After a difficult birth I turned to my community midwife Jean Duerden. It was Jean’s kindness towards me and my newborn daughter - plus her unwavering passion for midwifery - that inspired and motivated me to give up my career as a ward manager and start midwifery training. At 31 years old, I was the oldest person in the midwifery cohort and the only one with a child. Instead of hindering me these points gave me an advantage. I'd been through some life experiences – I lost my parents, travelled and become a mother. I vowed that in my role as a medical ward sister I would always be approachable, be as kind to the staff as I was with patients, help others to develop and - most importantly - I would never ask anyone to do something that I wouldn't do myself. I was the sister who told the consultant I was too busy to do the ward round and that my patients’ clinical and hygiene needs came first. So the consultant would sometimes record the ward round and I'd listen afterwards. I’d give notes out about each patient and come in early to help patients prepare their questions for the ward round. I helped with washes, bedpans and cleaning. My colleagues saw this and we were a team. I took my philosophy of care with me into midwifery.

The NHS Frontline Nursing and Midwifery programme helped me to understand myself and see that most staff who work in the NHS experience the same problems - the highs, the lows, the barriers and the drivers. I learnt that it was ok to be me and that the way we work round systems and processes in order to perfect individualised care is what makes us better clinicians and carers. The problem with the NHS is that we’re all expected to work in the same way. We need staff to be individual and not the same. We are, after all, the public which means we are the people we care for, so let's embrace individualism.

The programme also taught me that people have their own stories and that's what we need to pass onto the next generation of NHS workers. The challenges make us who we are and sometimes it's not an easy ride. Because of the programme I made a promise to myself that each day I’d be a leader and reflect how I'd behaved – something I do in my personal diary. By making a colleague a cup of tea, washing a woman's feet during a long labour, questioning decisions made by quoting evidence and research, I’m allowing others to see that they too can do these things. My promise was made so that I could pass the baton of leadership to others. I see maternity support workers as leaders as much as I see the ward cleaner as a leader - it's how we behave that makes us a leader. Poor leadership can also cascade onto others so it's important to check your behaviour regularly or to feed back to others who may have become lost in the system through no fault of their own. Just recently a junior doctor asked me a question; I felt proud to admit that I didn't know the answer but I knew someone who did, so we both learnt and grew.

Leadership isn’t about attending a meeting or discussing how we can lead. Leadership is a lifestyle, it’s how we behave daily and it's how we treat people. Parents are leaders, NHS staff are leaders and crossing patrol workers are leaders; it's our own choice to be good or bad leaders.

I'd like to thank the NHS Leadership Academy. I attended their programme with an open mind and I’ve grown directly because of it. I accept who I am. I know that I'm not perfect but I appreciate the fact I'm trying my very best each day to improve women’s, families and staff experiences of our maternity services. To me that's enough.

Jenny Clarke is a midwife at Blackpool Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust.

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