If you google ‘distributed leadership’ you’ll get such a plethora of articles and images it’s almost impossible to work out what it’s really about. The idea has been around for some years now, but only an enlightened few organisations have managed to successfully put it into practice.
One of them is Hft, a national charity providing local support services for people with learning disabilities. And while Hft sits firmly in the social care sector, the principles and approaches for encouraging good leadership behaviours in staff across an organisation apply to us all – multinational or microbusiness, profit-driven or charity.
As in many other sectors, Hft operates in a world where outside pressures can set the agenda and influence how the organisation operates, from central and local government to regulators and the families of the people they support. But despite the huge pressure to focus on compliance, Hft has held steady in its commitment to its team, understanding that they hold the key to creating the best experience for the people they’re there to support.
For Hft, individual leadership comes in the form of each member of staff working with another support worker to draw up a client care plan, inspiring them to stick to it and helping them to achieve great things. A few years ago changes in legislation introduced the need to have a care plan for each person Hft supports, so they responded by designing a special training programme which enables them to delegate responsibility to the support workers themselves.
This meant everyone in the organisation had to think in unfamiliar ways about their role in helping the people they support to gain more independence. The main problem lay in switching from care provider to facilitator – as one support worker put it: “people deserve more than just care.”
Initial research revealed that Hft was already doing well with working in partnership, being creative and flexible, aiming for the best and having a genuine passion for what they do. So the next step was to build on these existing strengths by painting a clear company vision and sharing it effectively with their employees. Hft Centres across the country set about designing their own interpretations of this model, so it was always relevant. “They’re quirky, but they really work for us,” says one Hft employee.
Initially seen as “more paperwork”, the subsequent response was extremely positive as it allowed support workers to think deeply about the aspect of the job they found most rewarding – seeing people flourish and gain independence. “We call it person-centredness,” says Paul Twynam, Leadership and Management Specialist at Hft.