Powerful leadership during COVID-19 :  Are there opportunities to affect radical change by thinking differently about power? 

This blogpost is written by Jan Beattie and Glenn Carter in support of our Community Hosted Event  for Team Leaders on 24th September. 

Societys view of power and its close relationship to leadership has changed over time and is often influenced by significant world events, like a world pandemic.   The concept of power comes from the Latin word potere, which means to be able, and with power comes the ability to affect change for good or bad.  Guardini (1998) defined power as the ability to move reality, this is a power which we all possess. When we consider effective leadership there is a fundamental balance that we need to achieve relating to both letting go of power and facilitating effective action. 

Our primary purpose is to improve outcomes for the people we serve.  But does the system get in the way of us improving real outcomes for people?  Do the people working in the system easily let go of power and do they feel they have the permission to think radically and deliver true person-led rather than system-centred care?   

In a Kings Fund article (Foot, 2014), the author clearly states the case for change. A system that listens to people and enables them to achieve what they want to achieve in their health and wellbeing would improve outcomes and save money.   

Has the COVID-19 pandemic changed the system we work in  And do we have the opportunity to significantly change the relationship between people and services? 

During the COVID-19 pandemic we have seen a rapid shift in how services could be delivered; an engagement with the whole population around working collaboratively; creativity and innovation; rules and boundaries changing and an abundance of kindness. 

Things that couldnt be done suddenly could  why was this? 

We just need to look at the number of Near Me consultations to see a rapid change in use by clinicians and acceptance by the public, a move to this more blended approach had been discussed for a long period but the change within weeks. Care being delivered in different ways for example via more frequent, shorter telephone contact with local community support , rather than less frequent longer in person visits which involved travel time. Clinicians taking on shared roles for example nurses and podiatrists working together to ensure wound care services were delivered safely.  

Where did the power to enable these types of changes lie? 

When asked this question many will respond saying, with those in a more senior hierarchical position or those who are in a position of power but are these two the same?  

When asked why something cannot be changed, it is often due to rules  governance ; legal; organisational; the person in power sets the rules;  the way things are done around here  and yet things have changed over the past few months. 

There are two types of rules:    

  • Red rules are those which cannot be broken in any circumstances, they usually are to do with ethics, health and safety and in various formats financial controls, many are set in legal terms. 
  • Blue rules are all the others, which usually have been set for good reason but can be reviewed, many of these are locally determined.  

 So is it the blue rules that have shifted over the past few months and where did the power to enable this shift lie? 

The concept of power is a vast subject.  However, during this pandemic what matters, has been brought into sharp focus.  It has given us an insight into what can be achieved when we are brave and compassionate, when we work across boundaries, let go of power and truly consider the needs of the population rather than the needs of the system. 


GUARDINI, R. 1998. The end of the modern world. Wilmington: ISI Books. 

Foot, C (1994) https://www.kingsfund.org.uk/blog/2014/11/power-people 


Our thanks to Jan Beattie and Glenn Carter for this blog, supported by Kaleidoscope, Project Lift’s Community partners. Find out more about our community events past and present