Human Leadership and Human Rights


It’s a pleasure to be one of the organisations behind Scotland’s National Action Plan for Human Rights (SNAP) and behind this new information exchange point for human rights in health and social care. Here’s a thought to share for starters:

We are all aware of current publicity around the relevance and value of human rights legislation, not all positive. But I’d like to share some reflections from a forum from which I drew some encouragement.

Two weeks ago I attended the first Scottish Future Leaders Forum. There was a very broad mix of people from every imaginable public service body. A number of interesting speakers shared their personal reflections on leadership in public service, including Deputy First Minister John Swinney, Sir Peter Housden and several others from different parts of public life.

Strikingly, a common theme that cut across every speech and the group discussions was the idea of ‘being human’. Examples included: ‘Always enquire as to where people are coming from.’ ‘Be authentic. Take your whole self into a situation. You are not a leader at work and a mother/father/son/daughter/carer/friend out of work. You are everything all of the time.’ ‘It’s ok to be human – i.e. to not feel you have to have all the answers. The more you learn this the less afraid you will be to ask questions of others’. ‘People watch what you do, not what you say’.

Now, this was about leadership and at no point did any of the speakers actually talk about human rights. Nevertheless, these principles are not very far away at all from the practices that I believe would sit at the heart of human rights being enacted in the delivery of public service. It is fundamentally about equal importance, equal participation, a dialogue of equals, equal being.

What struck me most is that it is a very different discourse on leadership than we might have heard in the same forum only a few years ago. The leadership lessons were about recognising one’s own humanity. The challenge of transferring that into the delivery of public services is about recognising the humanity of each and every person for whom services are being designed and delivered – we are all mothers/fathers/sons/daughters/carers/friends/other people’s colleagues. If leadership in Scotland describes itself and acts in this way, we would have one more important building block for human rights in place.

Cath Denholm, Director of Strategy, NHS Health Scotland

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