Courageous Leadership series – Rami Okasha, CHAS

Written by: Rami Okasha, Chief Executive, CHAS

Published: 23/04/2021

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Chief Executive of Children's Hospices Across Scotland, Rami Okasha shares his views on Courageous Leadership

Children’s Hospices Across Scotland (CHAS) offers a full family support for babies, children and young people with life-shortening conditions. This includes palliative care, family respite and support through hospices, homecare services and hospital presence.

What does courageous leadership mean to you?

Being able to confront reality head on- knowing the true state of your business – is important. You need to know how staff are, how the people you serve are doing, what’s working well, and what needs help, what’s on people’s minds.

It means putting yourself out of your comfort zone, because it is necessary. If something needs to be done, do it. You need to focus any doubts on how, not whether.

Honesty is incredibly important. Some decisions may be hard, but being honest and having real conversations with people will help dispel any hearsay and will enable you to gain respect and engagement of people.

One of CHAS’ key values is accountability and I believe that courageous leaders should expect people to perform to the very best of their ability. As a chief executive, I hold others to account, but also strive to be accountable to colleagues myself.

Communicating compassionately and openly is key to providing reassurance and encouragement. At CHAS, we work at the hard end of hard things. Our staff and volunteers need to know they are trusted and valued. That’s essential to bringing their best self to work.

What attributes of courageous leadership are important to you in your role?

Throughout the pandemic, communicating with people frequently and openly has been part of my leadership.  People are worried about the impact of the pandemic – they are worried for themselves and their families.

Through regular candid conversations with staff on how CHAS’ service provision needed to change in light of the pandemic and by being frank about the challenges this new world throws at us, that fear has subsided somewhat. But I suspect it is easily rekindled, so there is no “sufficient amount” of communicating, listening, and sharing. It’s perpetual.

Like so many other organizations and faced with the pandemic, CHAS has been forced to make some challenging decisions. Courageous leaders cannot shy away from difficult or controversial conversations or topics. I believe our staff have welcomed honesty and candour. Courageous leaders are those who tackle difficult topics, difficult people, and difficult tasks or issues – and with humility.

It is also about not walking by on the other side. The things you walk past are the standards you accept. Leaders should set an example, and ensure an organisation is always working at the highest possible level. If something isn’t right, the courageous leaders helps colleagues to fix it – even if that is hard.

Is authenticity important to you and how do you bring it to your position?

Yes. Authenticity is incredibly important to me- we are an organisation that supports families whose children are dying, so honesty is a value that is deep-rooted in CHAS.

I bring authenticity to my role by being honest, and by being myself. I have tried to lead the organisation throughout the pandemic with purpose and vision, retaining the focus on continuing to achieve our long term goal of reaching every family in Scotland.

But that requires humility. Being the chief executive doesn’t mean I know everything, understand everything, or have the best ideas. The primary part of my job is to support others to be the best they can be. I often say that there is no monopoly on good ideas. My role is to foster and enable others to excel.

Through being authentic, I endeavour to encourage my peers and direct reports to be more open and believe that this quality helps to promote individual and team performance.

I try hard to lead with my head and my heart. I dig deep and try to lead my team with both courage and empathy, and with an unremitting focus on what we need to do to support children and families facing the hardest time imaginable.

Throughout your journey what, or who, has been influential in shaping your leadership style?

Recently in my career, I have worked for two chief executives who were women, both curious, values-driven, and committed to newer ways of service leadership. That reinforced my pre-existing view that better gender balance in leadership roles across Scotland is essential. Diversity of thought in a team, essential to success, comes from having a diverse team. Machismo and leadership is a toxic mix and leads, in my experience, to terrible decision-making and poor culture.

Having the time and space to reflect on my own leadership is really important. It is hard to carve out the time to do that though. We have just introduced a safe form of 360 feedback in CHAS as part of a leadership development programme for about 50 leaders in the organisation. It’s a powerful thing, to see ourselves as others see us.

In your opinion what, in terms of leadership, is required for the future of health and social care in Scotland?

We need more collective leadership across the system, recognising that, amazing as it is, the NHS is actually one part of a very large and very complex health and social care system. The work of thousands of independent care providers, charities, social care staff, and unpaid carers – this is what health and social care is. Even with integration, sometimes we forget the different starting points between those aspects of healthcare which are designed to “fix” you and those parts of social care that are designed to support you as you make choices about how you live your life. Of course these two things are on a spectrum, not in conflict, but more understanding across the aisle will lead to better outcomes for people.

There are lots of great leaders running organisations, but we also need great leaders to work in systemic leadership. For me, partnership working is essential. It might not be quick or easy, but there is little that can be better achieved by one organisation than by more. Systemic leadership therefore needs courageous leaders who are willing to share power, cede power, and compromise to focus on the ultimate aim: the best possible care and support for people.

This piece was produced in Partnership with our Health and Social Care Academy.

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