Jan Fowler, chief executive of the Nuffield Orthopaedic
Centre NHS Trust, Oxford, won the 2010 NHS Award for
Inspiration. Nominated by colleagues for her ‘determination, courage and tenacity’, she describes who inspired her as a young nurse and what it takes to be a good leader
The concept of good leadership is somewhat nebulous. We all recognise good leaders when we see them, and many of them become our role models, but defining what makes them so effective can be difficult.
People have tried to define good leadership, of course. There are libraries of books and countless theories on the subject.
Some writers claim that leadership qualities are innate, and we all know of people in more senior positions who are poor leaders, and those in more junior positions who are good leaders.
Other writers think, however, that leadership skills can be taught, and it is certainly true that people can learn from effective leaders.
Poetry and plumbing
Complex concepts, such as leadership, are often best explained in metaphorical terms, and I describe effective leadership as a mixture of poetry and plumbing: the poetry offers inspiration and the plumbing offers practicality.
After all, however much we need to be inspired by visions or goals, we still need working toilets.
I remember, as a newly qualified nurse, observing a ward sister who, after the consultant ward rounds had been
completed, would visit all of the patients concerned to ensure that they had understood fully what the doctors had said and to answer any of their questions.
I also recall, on my first day as a student in theatre, a consultant surgeon taking the time to ask me my name, chat to me and explain what would happen during the procedure.
On another occasion, during a noisy debate on the introduction of an appointments bureau, I remember a chief executive who listened quietly to what participants had to say before directing the