IWF UK Leadership Stories: Dr Neslyn Watson-Druée CBE

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Dr Neslyn Watson-Druée CBE arrived in the UK at 19 years of age from Jamaica with 5 Ordinary Levels. From her initial training as a nurse, she overcame the obstacles of prejudice and discrimination as a young black woman to become a Senior Leader within the National Health Service. She has received 25 Awards acknowledging her impact on society.

What does being a leader mean to you?

For me Leadership is about creating the space for others to be their best and to maximise their creativity, vision and emotional intelligence. Leadership includes influencing hearts and minds and doing the right thing. Leadership has to speak the language of the constituency to be culturally sensitive and appropriate. The message of the leader has to be acceptable and the message has to resonate.

What have been the one or two biggest challenges in your life and how have you overcome them?

One of the biggest challenges in my life was in my role as Chair of an NHS Commissioning Organisation. I led a financial turnaround from a loss of £21.5M within two years. I summoned the courage to dissolve both the Executive and Non-Executive Boards. I knew the people working in the Trust deserved better. I appointed a new Board and a new Chief Executive.

Then I went around and asked people what was working well within the organisation and what wasn’t working? I asked them what they would do to turn the organisation around if they were in my position. I talked to people and I listened to them. I also knew it was either me leaving or the Board going. I wasn’t going to leave with that cloud over my head. Some people hadn’t expected a black woman to be appointed as Chair and some of the General Practitioners had even sent an email around about this ‘foreigner’ who’d been appointed. I had to challenge them. My new team of Non-Executive Directors met on a weekly basis to monitor and discuss progress as well as working in collaboration with the new Chief Executive and his Executive Directors. It was fun. When a team works, it’s great. I didn’t do a lot. It was how was I being. I’m grateful for the training I had from Nancy Kline on being a Thinking Environment® Consultant and Coach. Within two years the Trust was £3.5M in surplus.

What do you regard as your greatest successes, and why?

I consider that my greatest success has been the development of a Demonstration Leadership Programme for the NHS from 1993 to 2006. The programme led to the development of the NHS Institute and subsequently the NHS Leadership Academy. I have been extremely fortunate to be honoured three times by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. I received an MBE for Nursing Leadership, Queen’s Medal for NHS Innovation and CBE for Leadership in the NHS. In 1999 I was presented with the Millennium Nurse Special Recognition Award at the Nurse of the Year Awards. Since then I have received additional Awards including the Women of the Decade in Community Leadership and Social Change from the International Women Economic Forum and Best 100 Global Coaching Leader from the World Federation of Human Resources.

How has your leadership style changed over time, and why?

There has been consistency in my leadership in terms of creating the space within which people feel motivated, but I have honed my visionary and transformational leadership through coaching methodologies and principles.

What advice do you have for younger women aspiring to leadership roles?

Be yourself. Be the person that you are here to be. Listen to your heart and what you love. Accept who you are, just as you are, love and appreciate yourself for who you are. That alone will release the power that resides in you. Invest time in getting to know your gifts, talents, and what you are passionate about; what makes your heart sing? What do you do without being conscious of time?

Connect with your bliss, choose to be happy and laugh with others and at yourself when necessary. When you choose to follow your heart, you will make life choices that will seemingly open doors without force. Engage with your passion and make the difference you are here on the planet to make.

Focus on what is possible. Where are the possibilities in regard to your desires and circumstances? Know your values and know that when you are ready your teachers will appear. Look inside your heart and ask what is best for me? Fill your cup then fill the cup of others. Remember an empty cup cannot fill another. I have had to learn this the hard way.

Reflect on service. How might I be of service? We are all here to be of service to each other. Practise saying “thank you” and acknowledging the good in the other person. Know that there is a higher organising source and power. Believe in possibilities. Trust and let the universe work its magic. Never forget that you are a powerful creator so co-create with the universe. Don’t ever compromise on your core values and principles.

I hold high standards and I build empowering relationships. I am focused on what inspires me, makes my heart sing and fulfils me to be the best version of myself.

Dr Neslyn Watson-Druée CBE
Dr Neslyn Watson-Druée CBE

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