On 10 September 2019, Dr Sara Munro, chief executive of Leeds and York Partnership NHS Foundation Trust, led a masterclass session for Aspiring Directors, a professional development course for aspiring mental health nurse directors hosted in partnership by the Mental Health Network and the National Mental Health Nurse Directors Forum. In this blog, Sara shares her top reflections from the masterclass on her career journey and her advice for successful, compassionate and effective leadership.
1. Value the experiences you have had throughout your career; it will make you a more effective and compassionate leader.
Born in Salford, I began my career training and working across Manchester as a registered mental health nurse – which I remain to this day. I worked in acute mental health services for most of my early career before progressing to senior nursing roles in a combined mental health and community trust. The experiences I had throughout that time were very varied and often challenging personally and professionally but equally I learnt a lot from them. Fast forward, and those experiences have driven how I now choose to lead as a chief executive. Remembering and reflecting on my experiences during the early years of my career, the support I valued and the times when support and encouragement were lacking, keeps me connected to what we are trying to achieve as a trust, and the way I behave and want others to behave to make sure we support one another.
2. Invest in your personal and professional development.
Understanding your attributes and behaviours can be as important as roles, titles and experiences. I was working as a deputy nurse director in Cumbria, and at that point in my career I didn’t know whether I wanted to apply for nurse director roles. A few factors changed this. I went on The King’s Fund Athena Women in Leadership programme which was a transformative experience and helped me accept and embrace the leader I was and wanted to be. I’ve also embraced coaching during my career, and it has helped me reflect on what matters to me. What kind of role I will both enjoy and succeed in are key factors in deciding what roles to apply for. It has given me the confidence to be ’me’ – the same person in work as I am when I am with my family and friends.
3. Build networks of individuals you respect: to learn from them and to support your next career steps.
Networking can be a daunting prospect for many people, with some even put off pursuing more senior roles due to the idea that networking is critical in securing them. Don’t be deterred. For me, networking has meant maintaining strong relationships with a few individuals I respect, trust and from whom I have found support and guidance during my career. They have helped me reflect and offered useful perspectives which has been invaluable as I have progressed between roles. You really don’t have to be a social butterfly to get the most out of networking.
4. Your job as a leader is to support people to develop and succeed – whether in your trust or beyond.
As a leader at any level, I believe that your role is to support the people around you (and especially those you directly manage) to develop professionally and achieve their own career goals. Sometimes this can feel difficult – especially when you build brilliant teams around you of high performing individuals you trust who you would like to keep – but ultimately it will be more positive for both you, the individual and the NHS to support them to move on. Creating a culture of professional development and support will ensure there will always be people ready to step into a role someone leaves.
5. Define your career ambitions and motivations. It will give you the confidence and resilience to overcome career challenges along the way. Finally, when I started my nurse training, never did I for a minute think I would one day be a chief executive. I have always taken each step and new opportunity because they are connected to a cause that I care about, to my own personal values and drivers as well as needing to work practically for me and my family. This does require tough decisions and taking risks such as relocating with my family on two occasions, which was more than worth it in the long run. Without this level of understanding of my purpose, passion and drive and the support of my amazing family, I would have found it hard to have the confidence and resilience to overcome obstacles that everyone encounters throughout their career. Don’t be shy taking new opportunities but remember that it will be an all-round more positive experience if it aligns with what you want and need as an individual to be an effective leader.
Sara Munro is chief executive of Leeds and York Partnership NHS Foundation Trust. Follow her on Twitter @Munro_Sara and the trust @LeedsandYorkPFT. She is also the mental health, learning disability and autism lead for the West Yorkshire and Harrogate Partnership.