5 things you need to do as a CEO

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David Astley, OBE

“to survive (and thrive) as a CEO”. That was the sub-title…from an evening with  David Astley, OBE, Non Executive Director at Cambridgeshire and Peterborough STP.  And more…see his LinkedIn profile here

Interesting to note a Liverpool accent in the speaker. Instant kinship for me, as an exiled Scouser. Turns out he went to the same school as me too.  Alsop Comprehensive in Walton in Liverpool. Isn’t networking fascinating?

I’m going to try to sum up David’s talk – and as ever, it will be embellished with my opinions and views, for which I don’t apologise!

What was most enlightening was the simplicity of the ideas and thoughts from his experience. I suppose that what’s experience is for. To give you the confidence to keep things simple.

I think a lot of the themes were designed for those who want to be a Chief Exec in the NHS, so I have to say, the specifics may be well, specific. But the 5 major thought thrusts are very transferable, as I hope you will see.

  1. Is it the career for you? OK, in healthcare, the specific motivation maybe to help to provide safe, effective patient care. Any chief exec needs to expose themselves – you need to be visible. Especially when the going gets tough. It’s even more important to be in there with your teams and staff when the 5 h one T hits the fan. As a public servant though, you are part of the fabric of the community. It is slightly different than being in a business to business organisation.
  2. If this is to be your ‘final’ job, don’t peak too soon. Time your run for the top well.  I counter that with the fact that there is no such thing as ‘the best time’.  And how long will you stay in position?  Some Chief Execs have been very long term in post – 20 years plus. But the average stay is now 20 months. And 20 percent of posts remain unfilled. Not good. David sold it as such a fulfilling job, but for some reason the pressure or lack of support for Chief execs, or the continuing bad press makes it hard to find the right people and to keep them. Maybe this difficulty will be part of the solutions offered by the nationwide Sustainability and Transformation Plans (STPs). I suspect the NHS part of the STPs will learn a lot from the clever back office sharing, partnership and collaborative working, and (heaven forfend) sharing of CEOs that the local government side, who are now budget holders for Social Care have had to do in the last 8 years… Another point David made is that once you have been a Chief Exec, it is hard to go back into the ranks.  Looking at David though, he has carried on in exciting Non Executive Director posts, and heavy involvement in his local STP group. Sounds like a positive bit of giving back to me…
  3. What do you want to be known for? As a CEO in the NHS, you need to remember that you are in a patient care role. All chief execs should remember what their organisation is for. You need to understand yourself – be self insightful. (In my experience, people who move up into management and leadership roles tend to have that ability to both know their good points, their gaps and be analytical enough to create the fixative action plan to sort it and improve.)  Learning from others is another key to focusing on what you want to be remembered for. You need to be honest, and to be you. Staff will notice instantly if you are not authentic. Best to just be you at your best. Don’t try to be anyone else – just be you. Everyone else is taken, remember. David insists that the time of the Heroic Leader is over. Is it time for the Servant Leader? Your job is as simple as being the helper – just make sure you clear the rocks from the runway. Get the right people doing the right things and get out of the way…trust and a bit of humility will go a long way.
  4. Be Flexible.  David didn’t say a lot more than that about this. Perhaps doesn’t need much embellishment!
  5. When the going gets tough…One of my first bosses said that anyone can be a good news manager. The only reason you get paid more to fix the bad news. As an NHS Chief exec, you can imagine the sort of calls you may get ” The Daily Mail is running the story about our trolley waits…they want an interview…”. You need to show a lot of bravery, resilience and understanding especially when you are thinking if you have a job to return to in the morning. You can be very swiftly exposed…and it is how you fix it is how you grow, and keep your refuting growing!

Other great one liners:

  • remember to say thank you. The little things (hand written notes, saying thanks, public praising). Little things have a big effect.
  • When the bell tolls perhaps before you want it too, hope to get out with smiles, claps and thanks…remember you can be the wrong person in role at the wrong time…be honest and brave and move on.
  • In NHS Trusts one of the most important relationships is between the Chief exec and The Chair. It seems to work best when it isn’t too cosy, but that they respect each other.

The Institute of Healthcare  Management – The IHM seems to be heading in the right direction and having this sort of presentation, where someone who has been and still is at the sharp end shows it isn’t rocket science, is powerfully life affirming and confidence building.

You are not alone…

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