Just days after a landslide election victory for the Conservative Party, Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson just made a massive and bold announcement: He’ll get laws passed to guarantee plenty of cash for the state-run healthcare system.
The official announcement will likely come Thursday when the Queen, who is the official head of state, will reopen Parliament and outline the coming legislative agenda. Tucked within her speech will be a call for £34 billion ($45 billion) in annual taxpayer money for the National Health Service (NHS).
While other countries embrace their private health systems, the British love their publicly funded NHS, an employer of 1.5 million people, which services the population of 66 million. In general, the people are concerned about the quality of care provided by the NHS and look to the government for solutions, says Mary Macleod, a senior client partner for Korn Ferry’s Board and CEO Services practice and a former Conservative Party MP. “The NHS does become a bit of a political football,” she says. “And to a large extent, everyone in the UK feels that they are stakeholders in it.”
The pledge to secure NHS money will likely bolster Johnson’s political leadership versus the opposition Labour Party. And the move also neutralizes critics that have barraged the Conservative Party with allegations that it would sell parts of the NHS to foreign investors. In other words, pushing a new funding law through Parliament could partially neutralize political opponents.
But the politics of the matter is only part of the announcement’s strength, Macleod says. Promising the NHS years of generous financing will allow the organization to develop a strategy for how it will care for the country’s population for years into the future. In short, Macleod says, it sends a message to the NHS leadership: You can get busy now. “If you now know you are getting the funding, you can plan ahead,” she says.
Johnson’s lack of specifics about how the NHS should spend the money could be a strength. In a sense, he has empowered the organization’s leadership to make the decisions that they deem suitable. “What the prime minister is not doing is defining the solutions,” Macleod says. But she also notes that he will want results in the form of improved service from the organization. “He will hold them accountable,” she says.
While there are benefits when leaders take bold steps, there are also risks, says Christina Harrington, Korn Ferry’s head of advisory services in Stockholm, Sweden. She says it is good for leaders to act quickly and with conviction, as the public expects that of its leaders. But that alone isn’t enough. She says the problem comes when there’s too much ego involved. “You need an egoless conviction to drive a decision making the greater good,” she says.
Ideally, the driver of proposed changes needs to have a long-term vision of something better than the current situation. If that vision is lacking, then the leader may lack the required stamina to get the job done. Indeed, if headline-grabbing is all that the boss wants, then he or she might wind up doing a U-turn. “If there isn’t a long-term vision, then another fast decision may come in the other direction,” Harrington says. “And that’s what we see a lot of.”