NHS seeks ‘compassionate and inclusive’ leadership – but how can this be measured?

By all reports, inclusive leadership matters more than ever before.

As reported by the NHS in their published ambition for compassionate, inclusive leadership, there is growing evidence to demonstrate that the most effective care services are driven by compassionate leaders who understand the impact of wider inequalities on health outcomes, and actively promote equality, diversity and inclusion.

The emotional toll on the NHS workforce triggered by the pandemic (and resulting lockdowns) only highlighted the need for empathetic leadership in times of crisis. Many organisations in health and social care have purported to now be focusing on employee mental health and inclusivity, but it may be some time before we see results of these strategies.

The NHS Long Term Workforce Plan, published in June 2023, was released to reassure stakeholders of their strategy to ‘rebuild the NHS workforce through training, retention and reform’. At the time of publication, NHS vacancies stood at a troubling 112,000 (and predicted to rise to 360,000 by 2037 if no action is taken), with recruitment and retention of staff being a significant barrier to the recovery and improvement of health services in the UK. Their renewed focus on retention sets out to improve working conditions for staff and therefore – most critically – improve care for patients.

As part of the NHS’s staff recognition framework they acknowledge that recognition in the workplace can positively influence mental health, engagement and retention. The framework accepts the need for people to feel valued at work. It could therefore be argued that recruiters in the health and care sector should be looking for leaders who are driven by compassion and a strong commitment to listening and learning; leaders who empower the workforce to perform at their best while also ensuring their team is happy and fulfilled. 

Measuring empathy in selection and development

Research would suggest that good, empathetic leadership is underpinned by positive traits and good principles, as well as the ability to lead with conviction. 

The NEO Personality Inventory – 3, UK Edition (NEO-PI-3 UK) is a trait measure which looks at the ‘bright side’ of personality, giving a comprehensive profile across the Big Five personality factors. The NEO-PI-3 UK can be used as part of a holistic selection process to identify leaders whose traits complement the desired description. As an example, test users may want to look at a profile which highlights traits such as: 

Compassion: feels compassion and sympathy for others while also being rational and objective 

Trust: believes their staff are skilled and capable, but stays alert to any real grounds for concern

Altruism: concerned with the welfare of others and actively involved with helping people 

Sense of duty: feels a sense of obligation to fulfil commitments and adheres to ethical principles 

Stress proneness: feels able to deal with stressful and difficult situations in a calm and capable manner

The rich, detailed information obtained from the NEO-PI-3 UK allows test users to make objective, informed decisions by getting ‘under the skin’ in order to really understand what drives a person, and provides insights into their behaviours in a workplace context.

As part of a holistic view of an individual’s personality and likely behaviours, it can also be worth taking a moment to look at the other side of the coin. Do toxic or ineffective leaders set out to be that way? When executed in conjunction with ‘good’ or ‘positive’ trait measures like those identified in the NEO-PI-3 UK, there is a place for assessing ‘dark’ traits to identify derailers. The Dark Triad of Personality at Work (TOP) measures the work-related components of the dark triad, and offers insights that can be useful in any selection and development process, particularly when it comes to senior leadership.

These measures, when used appropriately and by qualified test users, can enhance any selection and development toolkit. Discover more scientifically validated and workplace appropriate personality assessments from Hogrefe.