14th April 2020

My leadership journey reflection

By Simon James, second year adult nursing student, Swansea University

Before commencing my nursing degree in September 2018, I was employed in various areas of retail and hospitality, where even though I had accrued the titles of supervisor and assistant manager, I can honestly say I had little leadership experience. The closest to displaying leadership characteristics had been a stint as the man inside the children’s party mascot outfit at a well-known fast-food restaurant. I have one of those CVs that employers are suspicious over due to the number of different jobs. Luckily, I have always been given a chance. The various roles have provided me with a plethora of learning opportunities and helped me to develop the skills I have today. I am confident in my abilities. However, I have a face that often doesn’t fit and have been told many times that it would be impossible for me to succeed.

Shortly after starting at Swansea University, the Swansea Student Leadership Academy was promoted to the healthcare students through Beryl Mansel. Beryl is the Director of the Academy and an advisory group member for the Student Leadership Programme. It was an opportunity which instantly excited and intrigued me. I had been assigned trainer roles in most of my previous roles but felt unsure of my leadership abilities concerning others, but more importantly how to think like a leader. This sounded like the missing piece of the jigsaw. I had to apply ……..so I did!

Four months on from registering my interest and being accepted to take part, our first two-day workshop took place in March 2019. I already knew some of the students as they were in my nursing cohort. Adult, child, mental health and masters fields were all represented, along with colleagues from paramedic science, audiology, midwifery, social work, and health and social care programmes.

The course included icebreaker sessions, talks from leaders in the healthcare field, Welsh Government and students who had been involved in leadership programmes previously. James Moore – Assistant Director Organisational Design- Health Education and Improvement in Wales, delivered one of the talks which resonated with me and centred around identifying the qualities of being an introvert or an extrovert. I had always thought of myself as an introvert and considered it to be a bit of a hindrance. However, I do enjoy chaos, which probably makes me a rare breed? I was involved in a mentor/ coach programme and was delighted to be paired with Professor Patricia Owen, Head of School for Midwifery and Nursing, Keele University. We discussed leadership and conflict resolution, as I had sometimes struggled with this in the past. Over the two days, the themes discussed were of embracing difference, inclusivity, compassion and remembering that you don’t have to be a manager to be a leader.

We had a third day in July of that year which reinforced the ideologies and concepts of leadership and further bonded us as a tribe. It resulted in me becoming active on twitter and engaging with a broader audience. I also became part of @HCPnetwork, a twitter network created by #150Leaders alumni which I regularly contribute to and host days and debates.

Fast forward a little over 12 months and being part of @SWANSLA has presented me with many great learning curves. I have presented on behalf of the academy, alongside a fellow student, at the South West Regional Student Leadership Conference in Plymouth (May 2019) and assisted with delivering promotional talks to new cohorts and at interview selection days. I was also invited to be part of the advisory panel, alongside lecturers involved in the academy and 150 Leaders alumni students Samuel Richards and Angharad Colinese, to choose the next @SWANSLA cohort. The academy has also given me the push I needed to apply to become a buddy for nursing students and the @SWANSLA 2020 intake.

Then another exciting opportunity appeared on the horizon – the Council of Deans of Health’s Student Leadership Programme. I had heard great things from Sam and Angharad, who had been through the programme and I was eager to continue my leadership journey. In @SWANSLA I had found my ‘tribe’, the #150 Leaders sounded like an entire ocean of new people and skills to dive into. I applied and after a nervous 2-month wait, was offered a place to participate. Many talk of ‘Imposter’ syndrome and I always think “but I am just me!”. However, I am learning that this is the best way to be!

The speakers at the conference in Reading were thought-provoking and inspirational. It was terrific to meet so many like-minded people from many diverse backgrounds and fields. Listening to the likes of Stacy Johnson MBE talk about the value of inclusivity in teams was fascinating. I have always been a great believer in embracing diversity as a strength and this presentation reinforced the need to be guided by equality but also to praise individuality. I also thoroughly enjoyed the talk from Joanne Bosanquet MBE, who reiterated that you need to carve out your own path in life but at the same time be considerate of the ideas of others. I have never been one to follow the herd, and at times I wondered if it could be detrimental, but this was food for thought. With these ideas in mind, I am keen to connect with my coach for the programme – Lorraine Dixon, Head of School – Health and Social Care, University of Gloucestershire, to further develop my leadership journey.

Through both my university and national programmes, I have begun to understand the type of leader I am and traits which dictate my style of leadership. I have come to realise I enjoy being outside my comfort zone and that I am a genuine and honest person who likes to lead by example. I love an opportunity to network, mingle and expand my circle of contacts and these programmes have certainly delivered on all those fronts. With every interaction, I find another piece of my jigsaw!

In the current moment, healthcare needs leaders at all levels, and I am thankful and appreciative of the experiences that have been afforded to me.

I still have a lot to learn, but I am excited to see where my leadership journey takes me next.