Close your eyes and think of the great leaders who you think made a difference.

My guess would be Gandhi and Mandela would probably be in there. Maybe a young activist, such as Malala? Or a technology leader – Bill Gates or Steve Jobs?

These people come to mind because of what they achieved and how they achieved it. None came with a title that bestowed leadership upon them.

This is highly relevant to HDR UK. As the national institute for health data science, HDR UK is creating a new environment which needs new science, new capabilities and new infrastructure. This environment, described in our ‘‘One Institute’ strategy also requires new expressions of leadership – people with agility and diverse skills and perspectives to create these new approaches. These dynamic leaders are unlikely to all come from the traditional career ladder routes of well-established industry, academic and public sector roles.

I encourage those of you who want to be leaders in health data research, to consider alternative routes to the well-trodden paths. Don’t worry, I am not advocating anarchy. Instead, I’d like to look for and encourage the leadership characteristics needed to succeed in our dynamic, exciting and sometimes messy environment. In my first 6 months as Chief Operating Officer at HDR UK I have met with and observed many different leaders and from these observations, the following three characteristics stand out in the people who are already making a difference:

  1. Belief. There are people who light up when they talk about what they are working on. They believe that what they are doing really matters. They are prepared to write submissions late at night and schlep over to the other side of the country to bring on board new people. Belief gives them confidence. It means they can cope with being told that what they are doing is wrong, and it helps them to cope with making mistakes. Most importantly, other people want to follow someone with belief.
  2. Long-game.  In this new environment, things change daily, power shifts from one player to another, the rules of the game are unclear. The people who will succeed, are playing a long game: growing trusted relationships outside of their traditional organisation boundaries; thinking about long term value creation for the whole system; and focusing on tangible benefit for patients and the public.
  3. Delivery. Participating in meetings, attending conferences and writing papers are all useful activities in environments where the structures are well established. But in a new and more dynamic environment, we need leaders who get others on board, create new ways of doing things and who deliver results.

These characteristics are age, disability, gender, race, sexual orientation neutral. Our future leaders will look different and will come from new places. If you are one of these people, I encourage you to start to play your leadership role now.

Please get in touch, as I am excited to meet you, and I look forward to supporting you on your leadership journeys.