31st October 2023
In this series of podcasts, we explore the skills and mind-set required to lead in the world of health and medicine. Through conversations with women from a range of leadership roles, we cover everything from career pathways and leadership style to defining career moments.
We’re joined by Laura Sharpe, who started her career with the NHS back in 1987. Until recently, Laura was CEO of the City and Hackney GP Confederation. In this episode of the Women Leading in Health podcast, Laura shares more about her career journey and the lessons she’s learned along the way.
Laura’s early career path
“I think quite often people imagine that careers are managed in a structured way. In reality, I don’t think mine was very managed. I joined the NHS, people gave me opportunities, I took them. I wasn’t entirely sure at the time why I was taking them other than it was a new and interesting thing to do. There were probably only two times in my career when I actually planned and applied for a job…Many of my others were people saying, “Why don’t you do the rota for A&E?” Even though it had nothing to do with my job. But I’d do that and then that would lead me down another path. And I found that quite exciting. So it wasn’t planned in a conscious way, maybe the planning was that I just grabbed opportunities as they came.”
“Just look at what a job is offering you, it will open another million doors. So be careful before you have a gut reaction that says, “No, I want to go home at five o’clock.” Just think carefully about what skills does this give me? What experience does this give me? And will it be exciting and interesting to you?”
Laura’s leadership approach
“I am very keen to get the input of clinicians and people who are on the ground nearer to the patient who can say, this is what it’s really like, this is what’s wrong and this is how it needs to change. It has to turn into something. I do not want to be constantly having conversations with people about problems without at some point going, “And what are we going to do about it? And how are we going to do it? And who’s going to do it?” I think it’s got to be a mix of being quite fluid at the beginning but then becoming much tighter about moving into the next phase, and as a leader, being clear when the right moment to do that is.”
What it means to be a leader
“Quite early on in my career, there was increasing evidence of a GP not really performing to the standard that they needed to. Everybody was putting in a lot of support to see if this person could get there, but the truth was, they really didn’t have the insight that they were performing poorly. It wasn’t really shifting anything in the person. And there came a point when I just had to put this into the channels around performance and potentially removal from the register, which is what happened. And I felt bad for the person because I had effectively destroyed that person’s career and livelihood, but had to, because they were dangerous. The people who were seeing that GP didn’t know they were dangerous, so it had to be done. But it was hard. But I knew it was right. So I had to do it. Now you see, for me, that is what leaders have to do. Sometimes it’s really, really hard but you have to do it anyway, because you are a leader. And there were many, many people before me who had known exactly what that GP was doing, and they’d done nothing. I don’t think that’s what being a leader is about.”