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The leadership approach that is Project Lift – our Ethos.

Articulating the Project Lift approach to Leadership.


Last year we took the time to hone how we described the ethos of Project Lift – that is, the how of our leadership approach.  This proved to be a move that enabled many to find clarity around a potentially complex set of concepts and aspirations in the nature of leadership required to bring about real and lasting transformation across Health and Social Care.

Over the past year we have taken steps to make the ethos accessible, portable, extensible and easy to talk about.

Read more about our ethos on the Project Lift website

The year’s highlights in sharing the Project Lift ethos.

Increased engagement

There has been increased engagement with the ethos as an articulation of the Project Lift approach to leadership.  The expansive nature of all it encompasses has allowed all who engage with it something to identify with that has meaning for them and their leadership style.

Explicitly talking about ‘our ethos’ as ‘how it works’ or the ‘approach to leadership’ has enabled leaders at all levels to talk about this in a way that works for them.

Bringing the ethos to life

Through the use of simple A5 cards with the ethos on one side and a few guiding principles on the other, we have been able to start conversations with groups, teams and individuals using the ethos, providing safe spaces to try it out, find the elements that feel natural and identify those that are not so comfortable – yet.  We have been encouraged and energised by the response to these sessions and further inspired by requests for printed orders for individuals to use in their own events.

Readily available and linked to resources

Our revised website now has a page dedicated to the ethos with clear positioning, the definitions of each element and links to related resources available with a single click.  Over the coming year we will utilise feedback and analytics to explore how best to develop this to support extensible engagement into the system in ways that colleagues find useful and inspirational.

Common Myths

Isn’t it just medicated happy?

We often hear people comment on what they perceive to be a 'unicorns and rainbows' approach to leadership and a view that 'that's not my NHS'. We value every chance to respond openly to feedback and our 'Common Myths' clips allow us to respond to these in a transparent and open way.

Our plan for the past year

We did not set out a specific plan of activity relating to the ethos for the year due to it’s centrality to all activity in Project Lift. We did take the opportunity to:

  • clarify and articulate the ethos in a way that could be accessible to all and used in communications and events
  • show how the brand and voice connected with the ethos
  • expand on the ethos to show it in practice
  • show how the Leadership Profile supported the ethos and underpinned the talent management process

By June 2019 when we published our report, we knew from both rhetoric and experience that the leadership approach articulated in the ethos was both counter cultural and a potential threat to older forms of power in the system. It was important for us to set out the evidence base for the various elements within the ethos to make the case for Relational Leadership and it’s key role in making change happen.

By connecting this back to the National Performance Framework and the Health and Care outcomes, we boldly stated that this is the leadership approach required to achieve these and provided the bank of influences and evidence to show that this was the case.

Our report was published 1 month after the Sturrock Report (May 2019) and noted the alignment in our ethos and observation that the greatest leadership challenge in 2019 was to help those under pressure to feel valued, to rebuild relationships and working to bring out the best in each other.

What have we achieved - the 2020 reality.

Following the interest and response to the articulation of the ethos in the June 2019 progress report we have:

  • designed an A5 flyer with the ethos on one side and a guiding principles for open conversations on the other for multiple use
  • tested this as a useful visual aid and facilitation tool in our Creative Forum on the realities of Leadership
  • revised with feedback and used these in a range of events from conferences to team sessions and including as merchandise for open use
  • provided multiple copies when requested by contacts within the system for local events

We have taken steps to enable the ethos to become the heart of the conversation about leadership both implicitly and explicitly:

  • the use of ‘the ethos’ or ‘Project Lift is all about…’ in presentations, conversations, papers, reports, requests for tender and events
  • a page dedicated to the ethos on the revised website with clear positioning, definitions of each element and links to related resources with a single click.
  • design and delivery of conference session in partnership with Brigid Russell, our leadership development partner exploring the ethos and building in practice conversations to enable people to experience it in action
  • the development of that session into an extensible session for leaders to use with their teams 

What have we found difficult this year and how might we do things differently?

The key challenge was defining the ethos into something digestible and accessible for leaders at all levels, in all roles across Health and Social Care.

We have found that simple headings with short descriptions have enabled people to see the differences between the elements and to then make sense of them in their own situation, applying them to their own lived reality.

We have a rich evidence base for the ethos, laid out in our Case for Change in the 2019 Progress Report, and have seen increasing literature, opinion and research released over the last year.  We have moved to evolve our thinking around the ethos without losing the essence and key elements and the pandemic has been a large contributor to much of what has been published in both formal and social domains.

We have also learnt that the importance of listening to the voices of dissent in the system.  Understanding why elements of the ethos don’t ring true for some is essential for us to be able to connect – and to explore how we relate to a complex system with many different pockets of culture.

It has been valuable to step into conversations where community members and sceptics alike share that the ethos is not how they experience working in Health and Social Care in Scotland.  We are learning how to respond to those who find hope in our ethos and also those who find it an unrealistic fantasy compared to their reality.  Our challenge is how to engage with both groups in a way that is meaningful and valuable.

2020 and beyond.

  • We will continue to identify and connect with those who help us develop our thought leadership around the ethos, listening to the voices of support and dissent in the health and care system 
  • We will build on our early steps into sharing our own learning from within Project Lift on how our thinking is evolving based on our curiosity and learning from cohorts, our own experience with our collaborative partners, community engagement and collective experiences of the wider system.
  • Through the use of analytics, data, feedback and community conversations we will develop our suite of engagement options to enable the ethos to be accessed, shared and utilised as widely as possible with the ambition that it be extensible throughout the system.
  • We will continue to hold the ethos as our approach to leadership and therefore at the heart of what and how we engage with all elements of Project Lift, exploring how this is enabling and inspiring both our ambitions and those of people engaged in our Health and Social Care system.
Relational Leadership - the need for the ethos in practice

“There may be no greater leadership challenge in 2019 than to help people under pressure to feel valued and for everyone to appreciate the benefits which come from rebuilding strong relationships, bringing out the best in each other and enabling everyone to be more effective in every way.”

John Sturrock, QC and mediator. May 2019