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  • Writer's pictureLilian Chiwera

A Florence Nightingale Foundation Leadership Development Programme Reflection


The current COVID-19 pandemic has placed a lot of global and organisational leadership in the spotlight as people seek for answers to this unprecedented global emergency that escalated rapidly. With various organisational and government leaders increasingly being in the spotlight in pressure situations, the key role they play should be acknowledged and their development and support prioritised. Leadership development programmes can therefore equip leaders with the right skills and qualities that enable them to operate more efficiently particularly in crisis situations. I am delighted to see a new Nightingale Frontline NHS Leadership Support Services being promoted. I am incredibly thankful for all the extensive leadership development support I received over the years. For me to continue growing, I identified an external mentor who could bring a different set of lens to my leadership journey at the end of 2019. The wonderful Karen Bonner kindly agreed to mentor me and straightaway recommended the Florence Nightingale Foundation Windrush leadership development programme. I’m super grateful to my senior leadership who promptly approved my application to enable me to start an incredible leadership module in January 2020; during the Year of the Nurse and Midwife in commemoration of Florence Nightingale’s 200th birthday.


Self-awareness if a big part of leadership development. Therefore, prior to commencing our course, all participants were asked to complete the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator personality inventory to facilitate identification of personal preferences. I found completing an MBTI assessment an enthralling reflective exercise that allowed me to be more aware of myself to aid my own personal development. A good leader identifies development needs and plan strategies to improve and I am so grateful the Florence Nightingale Foundation Leadership module provided me with a platform to do just that. Depending on leadership style, it can be difficult to fly in the middle of a storm however difficult decisions must be taken in situations like the current COVID-19 pandemic for example. Leaders are expected to plan and act in a controlled and structured way, whilst being flexible to enable them to embrace new and emerging evidence based recommendations that evolve rapidly.

Meeting amazing leaders and colleagues

I felt so privileged to meet some amazing and inspirational aspiring leaders super inspirational leaders in Lottie Phillips-Girling & Dr Gemma Stacey from the Florence Nightingale Foundation Leadership Academy; Jackee Holder, a Board and Executive Coach; Mark Patterson, a Leadership and Organisational Development Senior Consultant; Joyce Fletcher, a Strategic Nurse Advisor and Mental Health Policy Director at Oxford Health NHS Trust, Claire Henry and Susanna Shouls from the Claire Henry Associates and Joel Trill from the Royal Academy of Drama & Art (RADA). These leaders, together delivered a fantastic programme that left me and all my colleagues in a better place, no 10 year leadership or management course could have achieved for us. Listening to and relating to individual inspiring career journeys was an uplifting experience but to also feel that every single one of these great leaders genuinely wanted to see all of us doing well in our leadership journeys was one of the greatest feelings and experience of a lifetime. My fellow aspiring leaders shared the same level of passion to develop as leaders and would share the same sentiments for our course leaders and facilitators.

It’s one thing to have an awareness of your personality profile and leaders who are willing to help you, but for there to be leadership growth, one must be willing to challenge own personality traits which may hinder progress. Everyone was given a moment to reflect on why we chose to develop as leaders and also to explore future aspirations. We were all given an opportunity to open ourselves up so we could receive constructive feedback from our peers and leaders in an open and positive environment that engendered growth. It was so humbling to listen to everyone’s career journeys and aspirations, including weaknesses. I am so glad our facilitators created the perfect and safe environment for us all to open up and before I knew it, someone had already picked up that I spoke too fast when nervous! We had a very interesting quiz at the start to test our knowledge of nursing leadership greats in Florence Nightingale, Mary Seacole and Edith Cavell etc. It is important to learn from great role models, therefore this quiz set us up very nicely for a very enjoyable and highly beneficial leadership journey.

Leadership & quality improvement work

We all welcomed a refresher session on Plan-Do-Study-Act (PDSA) cycles prior to us starting our patient safety projects. We couldn’t get enough of ‘Mr Potato Head’ during an exercise which highlighted to us the importance of small pilot studies and good planning, the power of observation, delegation and positive feedback. We also learnt that great leaders do need to have the right knowledge, skills, confidence and beliefs that can enable them to effect positive changes. With this positive change mind-set, leaders can then connect or align freely with other teams and organisations, to enable them to successfully complete quality improvement patient safety work. Acknowledging that not every change is improvement, quality improvement projects must be thoroughly scrutinised to enable a project that delivers desirable outcomes to proceed. Don Berwick, Head of the Institute for Health Improvement suggests that ‘every system is perfectly designed to get the results that it gets’, therefore the design stage is a critical component of any quality improvement project. An equitable efficient quality improvement project in a healthcare setting should therefore be safe, effective, and patient-centred with a clear worthwhile aim that delivers measurable outcomes.

Unleashing leadership potential

The residential module in London added a different twist to the programme. It provided a fantastic atmosphere which enabled participants to open themselves up further and explore various aspects of home and work life. I probably appreciated the concept of home and work life balance better on this day. The start was interesting and at times funny as everyone was asked to bring out of their bags something they always carry with them. Of course I do love my Body Shop Body Butter which I called the ‘love of my life’ on the day leaving everyone bursting with laughter. I was fascinated to hear various things that mattered most to individuals in the room - from perfumes, phone to read the bible or catch up on exciting news, reading glasses, hair dos, favourite books to favourite photos etc. We don’t often realise what matters most to us even though we carry it with us all the time. This was therefore an important reminder for us all to consider reaching out to our favourite items from our bags or pockets particularly on days we may find it hard going!

Leadership qualities and frameworks

I doubt there are perfect leaders but I am also aware that leaders are constantly watched and must therefore be mindful of their behaviours and attitudes. Exploring different leadership frameworks as well as different leadership energies (physical, spiritual, emotional and intellectual) can help leaders identify development needs. In an ideal world, a leader’s life must be built around sound thought processes and must not split the difference. This is dependent on an interplay of different leadership energies which may influence decision making.

Appropriate strategies must be adopted to achieve balance at home and at work because it takes energy to suppress energies. By having a better understanding of leadership energies, leaders can be empowered to call out systems that don’t allow them to be happy at home and at work which in turn will promote growth. I am grateful for this leadership course which has already enabled me to identify different proportions for my leadership energies at work and at home. I have now created a list of things that I need to work on and I can already feel some leadership growth.

Having self-compassion

Taking time to care and pamper oneself is important for anyone but more so for leaders during crisis situations. It is not easy to swiftly make the right decisions in unprecedented times where public expectations can be too high. This is evident in the current COVID-19 pandemic where some leaders are facing enormous pressure and often heavy criticism of decisions being made. Leaders must still have self-compassion in order for them to continue delivering expected outcomes whilst acknowledging that they are humans. It is almost inevitable that mistakes will happen, but lessons must be learnt and used to improve. Therefore remembering to stop, recharge batteries, refuel and get back to doing the best they can cannot be overemphasised. Openness may help individuals acknowledge limitations which may be precipitated by the added pressures and increased stresses. I love the 6 Rs of resilience from the British Red Cross which can be used to prepare oneself to ‘bounce back’ after a difficult situation.

Creating space for mindfulness in leaders’ heads must be a daily routine, so is consideration of Performance, Image and Exposure (PIE). In PIE each element makes a different contribution to the overall performance and outcomes. P (selfless service) about 10%; I (standing for values that don’t change & being sociable and honest) - 30% and E (visibility) constituting about 60% of the overall performance and outcomes. All three elements of the PIE are under a leader’s control. Considering that leadership is ongoing, adjustable, flexible and dynamic, the right balance can be achieved by those with a growth mind set. Above all, respect, i.e. treating people as they should be treated is non-negotiable and should always be prioritised.

Our last leadership session cemented all the theoretical and practical learning we acquired during our leadership journey. The day allowed us to create some space for imagination and to practice various strategies that enabled us to confidently say ‘I AM ENOUGH’ at the end of the session. One of the highlights of this day was being asked to write a love letter to oneself! Well, among the things I mentioned in my love letter were, ‘you’re the strongest person I know’, ‘you’re already a shining star my darling…’ Wow! I don’t remember ever writing a love letter to myself and certainly this was like a light bulb moment! I have now revisited this love letter during my toughest days yet of the COVID-19 pandemic and am finding that my face just lights up every time. I now highly recommend writing love letters to oneself.


In summary, leaders must lock in authenticity, embody & embed leadership energies and remember that what they tell themselves is key. Recognising personal achievements and being kind to self is important. Leaders must also focus more on what they’re noticing, learning and hearing about themselves as well as what ought to be done differently. Keep telling yourself ‘I AM ENOUGH’.

A big thank you to the Florence Nightingale Foundation Leadership academy for transforming my life and the lives of the many fantastic leaders out there. I have already achieved my number 1 milestone which was to immediately publish my website that I am already using to write blogs that will enable me to improve my academic writing skills and also test my resolve. Thank you to all the inspirational leaders and colleagues on the programme. We are in this TOGETHER!

#1 Identify at least 3 ‘Go to self-care practices’ to use during challenging times

#2 Create space for imagination to work without interference

#3 Link up activities with a purpose

#4 Expertise & expert thinking embraces advanced thinking & behaviour

#5 Propose 5 impactful things for oneself each week

#6 Always find time to pat yourself on the back

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