Liam Farrell: Everyone's somebody, no-one's anybody

'We have universities,' says the Wizard of Oz to the Scarecrow, 'where men go to become great thinkers. And when they come out, they think deep thoughts, and with no more brains than you have. But they have one thing you haven't got; membership of the RCGP ...'

At which point, Dorothy blows a raspberry and the Cowardly Lion and the Tin Man snigger.

(Only joking, I added that last bit myself, what the Wizard actually said was 'a diploma'.)

But there is a body, the NHS Leadership Academy (NLA), whose modest aim is 'to be a centre of excellence and beacon of best practice on leadership development, then invade Russia and achieve world domination'. (Only joking, I added that last bit myself.)

I've never been asked to apply to the NLA, presumably because you can't lead when you are too busy, you know, looking after patients and all.

Leadership has always been an intangible; we think of great leaders like Caesar, Attila, Washington, Gandhi, Mandela, Tony Blair - their charisma, their vision, their dynamism, their doubtful fashion sense. Yet as the philosopher Lao Tzu said: 'A leader is best when people barely know he exists, when his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say: we did it ourselves.'

Thanks to the NLA, leaders are now much more easily identified; they have a diploma. But there is a problem - the more successful the NLA is, the more people who obtain the diploma and become leaders, the less street cred it has. It will be all chiefs and no Indians, and as Gilbert and Sullivan wrote: 'When everyone is somebody, no-one's anybody.'

To be fair to the clever people in the NLA, they've already thought of that. They not only provide a 'foundation leadership programme' for the plebs, but also an 'executive/senior leadership programme' which makes a clear distinction between important leaders and ordinary leaders.

The executive leaders can sit in first class, while the ordinary leaders sweat it in the cheap seats.

Or actually, you know, see patients and all.

  • Dr Farrell is a GP from County Armagh. Follow him on Twitter @drlfarrell.

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