The link between good leadership - which is supported by Quality Improvement (QI) - and enhanced patient care is being acknowledged across healthcare systems. Leaders using this systematic approach and techniques to improve patient care are being recognised and applauded, whereas a closed or dictatorial style of leadership is rightly seen as stifling improvement.
What are the links between leadership and improvement?
A culture of quality which is successful and sustainable relies on commitment from leaders, while studies show the link between a good leadership approach and compassionate care and patient safety. Leadership style is key in organisational culture and can have a huge impact on the performance of an organisation. If a leader is encouraging and innovative, if they work across boundaries and support a clear vision and culture within an organisation, this can lead to and positively encourage compassionate care and patient safety.
So, for Quality Improvement to become embedded within a healthcare organisation, it needs to be embraced by its leaders. If you are a healthcare leader and you are yet to embark upon your QI journey, we’re going to share some hints and tips that might help kick off the process.
7 things leaders can do to encourage improvement
- Trust your team
Time and time again, evidence suggests that having confidence in - and trusting - your team is vital for quality and improvement. This may involve a shift in thinking for leaders, but evidence suggests that trusting your team’s judgement and - in turn - building trust within a team, leads to more effective leadership and enhanced outcomes for patient safety.
Good leaders are honest and communicate well and often. A key element of the improvement process is to develop and share a new ‘vision’ which can then be communicated over and over again to your team. By outlining how you hope to achieve this vision and demonstrating improvement aims, you can encourage your people to buy into your quality vision. You can use as many forms of communications to get buy in to your vision.
- Frontline engagement
It’s really important to understand the work your team does with patients, and you can really benefit from being on the frontline and showing interest – as well as learning from your team. This means being prepared to work collaboratively with your team in order to support a quality culture and make patient care a priority. Be visible, as efforts to implement QI can sometimes be ‘top down’ rather than engaging with your team to champion initiatives.
- Be transparent
Just as a good leader should be transparent, you should also encourage this in your team. Be honest and transparent - even if there’s something you can’t immediately share with your team; you can assure them that you will be with them every step of the way. A good leader should encourage transparency regarding errors, as these can be learning opportunities.
- Remain Focused on the strategy
Once you have created a transformational strategy and vision, it’s really important that you share understanding about its direction and priorities. It’s a good idea to outline key priorities – which are measurable – so that your team can align with them. A focus and alignment of direction means that your teams will have pride in what your organisation is trying to achieve. It’s really important to keep the focus on your vision – which you will have shared with your team – and communicated – and over-communicated!
- Encourage cross organisational comms – remove boundaries
As a leader, you need to be willing to get out on the frontline to engage with your team. You can be a continuous reminder of QI by breaking down boundaries and encouraging collaborative ideas to encourage transformative change. If you can live and breathe the very values that you promote, you can create an integrative and cooperative, leadership culture.
- Listen to all ideas
A report by NHIR  found that ‘those [NHS Trusts] with high levels of engagement performed better on available measures of organisational performance than others.’ As a leader, you can find feedback on how your setting performs by listening to patients. By listening to your teams, you can find out how you can support them to provide enhanced patient care.
These is a wide a range of methods that leaders can use to promote transformational change and quality improvement within their healthcare setting. You can also use platforms such as Life QI to help you find other examples of the great work going on and to help shape the work you do.
As summed up the Kings Fund, good leaders: “…promote continuous development of the knowledge, skills and abilities of staff in order to improve quality of patient care, safety, compassion and the patient experience.” By implementing leadership strategies aligned with QI, leaders can be confident that they will deliver enhanced patient care.
 Dickinson H, Ham C, Snelling I, Spurgeon P. Are We There Yet? Models of Medical Leadership and their effectiveness: An Exploratory Study. Final report. NIHR Service Delivery and Organisation programme; 2013.