What can health and military leaders learn from each other?

by The Architect on Aug 25, 2017

"I’ve led and commanded men and women on military operations around the world and never seen problems as challenging or leadership situations as complex as those faced in the NHS on a daily basis." Stephen Hart


Stephen Hart, Stephen Hartin charge of leadership development for Health Education England, has operated at senior level in both the military and the health service. His last role in the military before joining the NHS was Head of Command Leadership and Management for the Army Division at the Defence Academy of the United Kingdom.

Phil Dourado asked him about his experiences in each organisation and what shared learning there might be. Here is an extract from the article...

If you frame the comparison of leadership within the two systems in terms of Adair’s Task, Team and Individual framework and look at leadership through those three lenses, I think this leads to some revealing similarities and differences in leadership between the two systems.

Task: the dominant of the three?

In both healthcare and the military, the Tasks of the system is constructed with a high moral purpose. Throughout both organisations one finds people with a deep sense of values and moral purpose.

Yet, despite the high moral purpose, both systems are characterised by high levels of bullying. Around 30% of members of both systems report either being bullied, or being impacted by bullying behaviours. This paradox indicates to me that in both sectors the Task has come to be prioritised over the two people lenses (Team and Individual).

The means to achieving the high moral purpose are seen to justify the ends

Here I think I see healthcare as ahead of the military. Conversations in Healthcare to create cultures of compassion, inclusion and diversity are ahead of those I have heard in the military.

The complex nature of the tasks faced by each organisation means there is little option but to delegate decision making down to the lowest level. This means creating and sustaining trust. However each organisation is also patterned by high level of political interest, and this creates pressure for ‘long screw drivers’ and interference from the strategic level into the front-line.

I think the military is ahead here in creating culture of trust and ‘mission command’ that delegate responsibility down to the lowest possible level. Conversation in the military would use the phrase “the strategic corporal”. This concept acknowledges that the most junior leaders not only have strategic responsibility, but they must be developed to be able to deal with this.

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