“Covid-19 taught me to throw caution to the wind”

Written by Ru Watkins CMgr FCMI Wednesday 02 September 2020
This Chartered Manager tells us how their military history helped inform their immediate decisions during the crisis
Person leaping between two cliff faces

Leadership comes from the Anglo-Saxon word ‘loedan’, meaning ‘journey’, and management comes from the Latin word ‘manus’, which means ‘hand’. Great leaders transform people by reassuring them and seeing their potential. In the military, where you practice Mission Command, you learn all this because conflict is chaotic and ambiguous. You know you have to have the trust of those you’re working with. You also need to partner with people, because everyone involved needs to understand the mission and then just deliver.

I have a background in business and the military; having been an army officer in the UK and overseas for many years, I then entered the corporate world which led to a five-year position at Noah’s Ark Children’s Hospice as their chief executive. In January 2020, I accepted the role of CEO at St Elizabeth Hospice. Visible leadership is really huge – you need to be able to have discussions and explain to your team what’s going on and why. The opportunities to hone visible leadership is very important, which is part of why I chose to become a Chartered Manager.

My career has been bolstered and shaped by rules, regulations, considerations. But when the crisis hit, I threw caution to the wind.

I knew that we had a model of palliative and end-of-life care that worked and also a call centre that deploys our nurses out into the community. If we could step that up, we could increase our capacity. By using new technology, engaging with new partners and creating a logistics hub to get medication and equipment out into the community, we could meet the needs of the patients and their families over this emergency period.

So that’s what we did. Within four days.

Everybody was behind it because we had clarity of vision. Here’s what we achieved.

  • Our nurses set up a virtual ward, which meant they could talk to patients before they got to them and therefore see more people and cover a bigger area.
    We also started to look at the data and map where the problems were. That enabled us to realign our resources when required.
  • We recognised there were problems for care homes, so we set up a small team to support them and reassure the staff. This meant we could continue to provide proper palliative and end-of-life care where it was needed.
  • These plans – which may have taken months and years usually – were realised and executed unbelievably quickly.
  • The wonderful thing about now is that the whole health and social care system we work in is saying that we need to embed this model into our future working. The central mission – to look after the needs of individuals – drove the urgency and enabled us to do things in an agile and forward-thinking way. It changed the mindset. People just looked for solutions, fast.

There hasn’t been time to cogitate during this crisis. You have to be clear about your vision, your mission and what the end goal is. Then people will get behind you.

Ru Watkins CMgr FCMI is chief executive at St Elizabeth Hospice. Begin your own Chartered journey today.

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