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Follow the leader

Post date: 08/10/2019 | Time to read article: 3 mins

The information within this article was correct at the time of publishing. Last updated 14/10/2021

Dr Leila Touil and Dr Yasmin Ahmed-Little call all junior doctors to rise to the leadership challenge. Here they show you how. 

What is leadership? Leadership is about creating a vision; engaging others, and motivating them to be part of it. It is a dynamic process, even more so in a diverse environment such as the NHS.

The hallmark of good leadership is accountability and self-awareness. Other qualities of a successful leader include the ability to listen to, motivate and inspire people.

Taking the lead

In the workplace 

By getting involved in sustainable and meaningful projects, we can improve the health service not just for those that use it, but also for those who work within it. 

There are a number of ways to develop your leadership style during each rotation:

  • Shadow seniors to identify effective styles and behaviours
  • Attend a management or directorate meeting to get a better understanding of your workplace
  • Join local committees, eg, Local Negotiating Committee
  • Seek opportunities to undertake additional leadership activities in your department, eg, improving the handover system.

Also, always be on the lookout for local sources of funding to support bigger ideas. Many regions now run Dragons Den style events to help allocate resources to junior doctors with a good idea for quality improvement.

Don’t be shy in approaching suitable individuals as potential mentors. If you have significant experience, why not train to be a mentor to someone else? The NHS North West Leadership Academy has supported many junior doctors to do just that. If you do have an idea about implementing change that has been realised in your workplace – shout about it. 


Joining a network of like-minded enthusiastic leaders of tomorrow can take your projects to the next level. Joining networks of other junior doctors will keep you up-to-date with what is happening in the world of leadership and management, and will enable you to make contact with inspiring clinicians. Examples of a few such networks are listed below:


Health Education England (North West) has developed many opportunities for junior clinicians to engage in NHS leadership and management; see –. Another example is the North West Leadership School, which hosts regular evening events that bring junior doctors together to network and meet senior leaders from the system.


Apply for a Fellowship. National programmes include the NHS Medical Directors’ Clinical Fellows Scheme

Develop a ‘leadership style’

There are many leadership styles – these are influenced by our personal attributes and the experiences that make us unique. Effective leadership styles are best developed by engaging in leadership experiences in the workplace. 

The ‘visionary model’ of leadership suggests that a leader can be influential by creating a vision with which others can identify and by inspiring and motivating them.

The ‘traits theory’ identifies personality traits associated with successful leadership, such as intelligence, whereas the ‘situational approach’ proposes that no single style of leadership is appropriate to all situations. Situation and context certainly influence the effectiveness of leadership styles in the NHS.

In day-to-day management people generally prefer a relaxed democratic leadership style. However, during times of crisis staff may prefer strong, authoritarian leadership. Explore opportunities and look for situations where you can practise different styles and evaluate your leadership style by completing a self assessment questionnaire, such as Myers Briggs.

Leadership challenges


Leadership training does not rank highly on the medical training agenda; as a result there is a lack of education about the organisational structures of hospitals, trusts, practices and the NHS as a whole. The mindset among junior doctors is often that “it doesn’t apply to me”. However, at some point in our careers we may be responsible for the budget and resources in our directorate.

In an organisation that traditionally has a hierarchical leadership structure, as junior doctors it can be difficult to challenge the day-to-day activities in our departments. Most doctors in training never meet their chief executive, let alone contribute to change initiatives. The challenge for the future is to recognise how junior doctors can lead as part of a multi-disciplinary team. 


The ability to adapt positively to a changing role, organisation and environment, is crucial to becoming effective leaders of the NHS. We need to equip ourselves with the tools to respond to future challenges and change, to recognise what kind of leaders the NHS needs now and in the future and what qualities we need to develop.

Service commitments

It is difficult to deliver improvements for the future at the same time as managing today’s services with all their pressures and demands. Systems do not simply stop to allow change to take place; therefore developing leadership skills needs to be incorporated into our training. The short rotational nature of our posts also makes it difficult to see change initiatives through to completion. However, we could use this to our advantage and share our experiences of successful initiatives across trusts.

Rise to the challenge

Junior doctors are the future of the NHS. It is therefore essential that the natural leadership qualities we all possess are developed to equip us with the essential skills to be proactive in changing the way our NHS is run. Are you willing to rise to the leadership challenge? 

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