Thea Stein, Chief Executive at Leeds Community Healthcare NHS Trust

Without the commitment of senior leadership across the whole of the Board, the Freedom to Speak Up Guardian cannot do their job – it’s as simple as that.

The Freedom to Speak Up Guardian can be as open, easy to talk to, accessible, kind and skilled as they could possibly be but without the real, deep and open backing of the most senior leadership within their organisation, the work will be partial and the real change that can be engendered by an open and honest culture will not be achieved.

This is hard work. If it isn’t hard and if it isn’t challenging, then the work isn’t really happening. For leaders at all levels of an organisation to really listen to how workers are feeling and experiencing things in their working lives can be emotionally draining and the instinct for all of us is to push the information away, to argue the “facts” and to talk and not to listen.

CEOs are crucial in setting the cultural expectations of how these conversations should and can take place in the organisation. The CEO needs to model the ability to take open feedback, to be challenged, to apologise – to listen twice as much as they speak. To be accessible. To be humble. To show empathy.

Overall, I have worked to create an emotionally intelligent and psychologically informed organisation. The ability of the Freedom to Speak Up Guardian to work in this way has been critical to our success in embedding this approach as a practice and not simply a position. John Walsh (Freedom to Speak Up Guardian at LCH) has the skills to hold this work emotionally and to work with both those who speak up and those spoken up about within the context of Just Culture. This is the lens and locus of our work.

We constantly strive together to have an emotionally and socially intelligent organisation which is psychologically informed. This means:

  • Staff can speak and be understood
  • A special focus on working with people and their hopes, stories and struggles
  • Leaders and mangers seek to listen and hold what others say – acting in dialogue rather than defensiveness. This doesn’t come naturally to everyone and so we provide support and modelling to help
  • A deep commitment to those who may feel marginalised and excluded
  • An All Teach All Learn approach
  • An alignment of all parts of the organisation to work coherently and constructively in
    learning and listening
  • An organisation of adults where we can work from adult responses and hear and work with the experience of our workers. Always aspiring to move away from hierarchy and always challenging policy to ensure people are heard before policy action
  • An innovative approach that sees a gap and lets people create solutions together.

We enable our aspirations through collaborative discussions between different sectors of the organisation and leaders, a People Before Process flexible HR approach, deeply supporting the Freedom to Speak Up Guardian and the Speaking Up Champions, embedding the concept of Speaking Up as a Practice Not a Position, and close work with our trade unions/Staffside colleagues. We seek for all these parts to be held together in unity, creative dialogue and collaboration.

We are not there yet – this is about progress rather than perfection. Yet we think this approach offers a leadership for the ‘new normal’ with speaking up, listening up and following up at its heart.

This is a leadership which seeks to enable emotionally intelligent and psychologically informed spaces and organisations. It cannot be done by one person. It has to be something everyone works on. It has to be led from the top and it has to be lived and modelled every day.

This featured as a guest blog in our July newsletter. You can download a copy here.