From ward to board: leadership in a mental health and social care trust
Jackie Daniel, the chief executive of a mental health and social care trust, compares two different kinds of leadership
One of my early experiences as a leader was during my time as a ward sister on a busy 30-bed surgical ward. I remember feeling the weight of responsibility this role carried.
It included responsibility for my 30 patients — many of whom had undergone major surgery — their family and friends, and the team of dedicated staff who supported me on a day-to-day basis. It was here that I began to understand the added value of effective leadership and also to develop an awareness of the problems with wards where this wasn’t the case.
I sought out people who might support me, or role models who might teach me something of what they knew. There were people I spotted at conferences, who I approached unashamedly and asked if they would give me some of their time.
Surprisingly, they all agreed. Having these people support me made a huge difference and enabled me to fast track from ward to boardroom. I learned that asking for what you need increases your chances of getting it. I built up a network of people who were able to offer me mentoring, coaching, a sounding board and the right degree of challenge where necessary.
Today, I work hard to keep my network vibrant. I often reflect on the fact that people tend to think CEOs don’t need support. The truth is that CEOs, however experienced, need it as much as anyone else.
My leadership experience during my 12 years as a CEO has been very different from my experience as a ward sister. I am better able to stand back and reflect before I act and I have learned skills and acquired the knowledge to help me deal with even the most difficult issues.
The stress associated with these two roles — more than 30 years apart — is different. The span of responsibility is different. On the one hand saving lives, and on the other working to improve the patient experience from the boardroom by ensuring that the organisation operates effectively.
The gratification is poles apart too. As a nurse, it is instant. As a CEO, the rewards are often much later and at times less obvious.
Physically, working on a ward can take its toll. I now take much more time to care for myself. The reality is that if I didn’t I am not sure I could stay on top of my game and my health.
As the head of one of only five care trusts across the UK offering a portfolio of services that includes social care and health and wellbeing as well as specialist mental health services, I believe it is part of my job to act as a role model whenever possible.
Whatever job you’re in, you have to stay true to yourself. I can remember during the transition phase of my journey from ward to board thinking that perhaps I should play down my nursing experience in order to reposition myself as an executive.
I realise now, of course, that experience gives me an insight and a credibility that has helped to make me who I am today. Always remembering the patient or service user and never forgetting the reality of life on the ward have made my career worthwhile, rewarding and life-affirming.
Jackie Daniel is chief executive of Manchester mental health and social care trust.
This article is published by Guardian Professional. Join the social care network to receive regular emails and exclusive offers.