Chairing the board

Group chairman of Castleoak and former chief executive of Voyage Care Douglas Quinn tells Tim Barsby of Carter Schwartz about his leadership style

Tim Barsby How would you describe your leadership style?

DQ: I’ve made the shift from being a chief executive to being a chairman of
a number of different businesses and one of the things that that has taught me is that as a chairman you need to take account of where the organisation is at
– the strengths and learning requirements of the chief executive and their team.

The chairman runs the board, the chief executive runs the business and if you keep to that you work well together. You’ve got to make sure that you set out the mutual understanding of what the respective responsibilities are and keep coming back to that and keep checking that it is working well. As a chair, you have got to be adding value.

I think having seen it both as a chair and as a chief executive, the chief executive can be quite a lonely role. Yes, you’ve got a team but at the end of the day you are the senior executive and it can be very lonely and, having a good chairman with a listening ear to bounce ideas off, to pick up the phone to and work in a proactive way, I think is really important.

TB What does effective leadership look like in the Health and Social Care sector and is high-quality leadership more important here than it is in other sectors?

DQ: I think one of the most important things in healthcare and social care is empathy. You’ve really got to understand the importance of what you are doing, the fact that it doesn’t matter whether you are on the ground working in a service or if you are the chief executive or anyone in between.

You’ve got to understand that people’s lives are dependent on the services, the decisions you are making and the way in which you work and engage with people. So, following on from that, the leadership has got to be motivational and it’s got to focus on quality. You get the quality right and other things follow.

TB When have you made a commercial mistake? What did you do? How did you rectify it and how can we all learn from it?

DQ: The one I can think of that always springs to mind is one of the many organic investments we made when I was chief executive of Voyage. We were looking to move into a different service area; Voyage had very successfully grown in the rest decade of the century and was really doing well in our core service areas and we made the decision to move into much higher acuity services.

We did it in-house and it didn’t work in the way we had planned. We built a low secure hospital, which we opened and it didn’t ll in the way we wanted it to. It got to about 25% occupancy and stuck. It was a very good, high-end service but we didn’t understand the market well enough. And there was loads of learning from it – we shouldn’t have done it in- house.

The whole planning process and going through an appeal took a long time, during which the market was changing and we didn’t spot that. It really taught me that if you stick to doing what you do well and keep innovating that, that’s a pretty safe route. If you take a leap of faith, you need to make sure you are resourced properly, therefore, you need

to bring in a team that is able to do that. It wound up alright and we exited the service but the lesson for the team was really important.

TB How do you build teams that are innovative as well as effective?

DQ: I think it’s getting the right mix in the team. You need a good balance of skills, knowledge and experience within a team to balance it, making sure that all the members in that team don’t mind being challenged. I think it’s important for the chairman to know the other members

of the team so you get a sense of how that the executives are working and then it allows you to contribute more and to suggest different things. Open discussion and looking at different ways of doing things are really important in being innovative.

TB What piece of advice would you give yourself on your first day in Healthcare?

DQ: My first role was in a small local authority residential service for people with a range of mental health needs.
A wide age range, and a wide range of needs. I remember how terrifying it was because I was really thrown in at the deep end. The induction wasn’t great but one of the things I have learnt over the years is that you gain as much from observing how not to do things as you gain from seeing things done really well, so it was a useful experience.

I think proper induction, support and guidance are really important, as are understanding the values and the culture of the organisation. Evidence shows that a lot of people who come into health and social leave in the rest three months or so and that’s a great shame if it is as a result of poor induction and support. So my advice to myself would listen, learn and grow by watching the really good practice as well as the not so good. And, actually, that still holds true.