31st August 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.
Cathy’s career plan
“I didn’t have a career plan at all. And I can remember when I was interviewed for my district nursing post, so I would have been about mid 20s, and the Director of Nursing said, “Where do you see yourself in five years time?” An absolutely standard interview question, and I can remember going “Five years? I’ve got no idea.” So I didn’t really have a career plan initially, but I gradually developed my interest and then developed my aspiration to lead a system.”
Cathy’s leadership style
“I think I’ve always got quite a clear vision of what we’re trying to achieve. I think one of my learning points was when to play myself in and when to play other people in. So we had a peer review, and I’d worked really, really hard to win the confidence of local councillors, and the person who was doing the peer review said, “You should play in your GPs much more, because GPs tend to work in their practices, be there for a long time really know, their communities. That’s the same for local councillors, and they will naturally have a degree of respect for GPs, and so really exploit that relationship more and you step back.” So that was a learning point, you know, you need to develop those relationships but it doesn’t have to be you. And it’s how do you deploy the skills of the organisation in those relationships.
So I’d say my leadership style was about creating the vision, developing the relationships, creating the permissions for people to do something different and really pushing the boundaries. Of course, judging risks, but taking a risk-based approach to things to get to the right answer.”
“You realise that you can’t cover everything and that you’ve got a team around you. I was lucky in that I was usually in the position of being able to recruit my team, and therefore being able to recruit people that were going to bring the right skill set, develop those people and then, as you rightly say, set the frame and allow people to go off and come back with the answer. And allowing people to do that and nudging and tweaking as they go.”
Do women and men lead differently?
“From my experience, I think women are naturally blessed with greater emotional intelligence and they probably have more concern about that sort of thing than maybe men do. And I think that’s really quite important in leadership; to really understand the vibe in the organisation and understand the feelings and reactions of your stakeholders… Having that emotional intelligence to know when something is not going well and finding out why is really important.”
Maintaining a healthy work/life balance
“The impact of you not being good at this is felt by others. So I’d be the one to come home to be with my children but then I’d start working again about nine o’clock and find myself on email at sort of five past midnight which meant people would then come in the next day and have a list of emails from me throughout the night. Eventually, someone plucked up the courage to say how stressful that was for everybody, and how it made them feel pressured. And I’d never thought of it like that. And I stopped doing it, which was probably good for me as well. So, yeah, you need that feedback.”
Advice for starting out on a career in the NHS
“Get a broad range of experience; really try to work in different sectors to get a broad understanding of what’s going on. Try and get some early exposure to some of the more strategic stuff to learn the mechanics of how committees work, how you produce reports and so on.
So try and get exposure across and get exposure upwards and start to think about what interests you. What are the bits of the job that you like, and where do you see yourself going? Probably not initially, but later on in your career, you’ll start to find what floats your boat, and that’s a direction that you then want to develop and go in. And I would say take all the opportunities for personal development as you go.”