A CEO’s Reflection On Leading Into The Unknown And Out The Other Side.


Never before in my career have I known anything like the last few months. Especially back in March and April when each day genuinely felt like leaping into the unknown. As a CEO I was leaping each day firmly tethered to my highly talented team, my clients who were in urgent need of our support and our flexible NHS workers who were about to take hard work and dedication to a whole new level. It was a stressful and anxious time for everyone.

Recently, as things have started to ease a little, I have been able to talk about this with other people in similar situations. Be that owners of companies, team leaders or senior managers, a real mix across my professional network. We have all been reflecting on what each of us relied on to get through it and are still relying on now. It was incredibly interesting to hear the different takes and views and on reflection, it made me go away and have a long hard think about my own experience. Besides sticking firmly together, what was it that helped me the most get through this experience with my team?

I know I cannot predict the future, no one can. But years of experience do add up and I have definitely learnt that curve balls are standard in business (and in life!) and you can’t always avoid them. So I have had to learn coping skills to stay effective - not to panic or bury my head in the sand, but to roll with it and see where it takes us and where, with some proactive action, we can make the best of it. I put pressure on myself and my team to focus on those factors that can give us an early warning that a challenge is appearing on the horizon. With some exceptions of course, and certainly the recent pandemic is one of those, most historically these factors have fallen into a few key categories:

  • External economic impact - the market has indicators and we keep a firm eye on that. We as a team prepare as best we can, then employ our skills and resources to work through as best you can.
  • Industry or policy change – Effective communication is essential as part of the NHS when it comes to this kind of change. Staying firmly and consistently connected to the NHS, our colleagues and other organisations in that sphere is key. We recognise that our clients, the healthcare community, and wider industry all have a part to play.
  • Internal organisational challenges – Keeping a finger on the internal pulse of an organisation effectively can be much harder than it seems - but it is so critical. I rely heavily on my senior team on this one, as I can’t be everywhere! 

The upside about these challenges, for me, has been realising that it often results in an improvement I never would have thought of, or a new opportunity opening up to capitalise on. Holding onto that when I’m working through these challenges is by far the biggest motivator, even when I cannot at the time even begin to see those upsides! It’s only when you look back, when it’s ‘over’ that I get it. So, I try to make time for reflection because that’s when I learn the most personally.

Nicola Mcqueen, CEO, NHS Professionals.