Distributed leadership and healthcare

Ioanna Nixon
Colin Lindsay

Can Distributed Leadership offer a roadmap to a sustainable, agile, and innovative NHS?

Why, Who, What, and How in an interactive, evidence-based session.

Key themes for the session
There is increasing interest among health and care managers and senior clinicians in the concept of distributed leadership, defined as: “An approach to leadership that endorses work practices that combine knowledge, abilities and skills of many individuals… it acknowledges that specialised knowledge can come from several employees, creating opportunities for leadership to emerge from individuals at all grades and levels within a team or organisation” (Curtis et al., 2021).

The potential added value of supporting distributed leadership has been highlighted as healthcare teams have been required to demonstrate resilience, agility and innovation in response to the Covid-19 crisis. There is some evidence that distributed leadership may have contributed to agile and effective Covid-19 responses (Currie et al., 2022). Indeed, at the height of the pandemic, the NHS’s People Plan noted: “Powerful leadership can be found at all levels, across all roles, and in all teams in the NHS… The NHS must build on this distributed leadership… to act with kindness, prioritise collaboration, and foster creativity…” (NHS England, 2020). And there is an emerging evidence base from within and beyond the NHS that supports this position, that distributed leadership might be important in fostering ‘team innovation performance’ enabling inter-disciplinary teams to solve problems and innovate together to deliver excellence in care.

But how robust is this evidence base and what is the business case for re-investing in distributed leadership practices? What are the challenges and barriers to effective distributed leadership? And what sort of workplace and management practices have been shown to facilitate distributed leadership and associated innovation benefits for healthcare teams?

This interactive session will be led by:
Dr Ioanna Nixon, Senior NHS Consultant oncologist, Cancer Innovation Lead, and Executive Coach.
Dr Colin Lindsay, Professor of Employment Studies at Strathclyde Business School 

This workshop will help you to consider:

a)    whether the conditions for effective distributed leadership exist in your team or organisation, and how they might be fostered;

b)    practices and systems that might support effective distributed leadership; and

c)    how we can assess potential impacts of distributed leadership for healthcare teams, their work and the quality of care.

 The session will also introduce a new research project on drivers and outcomes of distributed leadership in healthcare, and invite you to participate in co-producing this research on the relationship between distributed leadership and ‘team innovation performance’.

Currie, G. et al. (2022) Distributing systems level leadership to address the COVID-19 pandemic, BMJ Leader, 6 (1): 39-44.

Curtis, E. et al. (2021) Distributed leadership in nursing and healthcare, London: Open University Press.

NHS England (2020) We are the NHS: People plan 2020-21 – action for us all, London: NHS England.