Jude Tipper – Strategic Communications Lead, NHS Digital

Jude Tipper is the Strategic Communications Lead at NHS Digital, working in the senior management team and leading on communications for large scale digital projects.

She is one of a number of Shadow Board alumni who have moved to a more senior position since taking part in the programme, leaving the trust she worked at previously for a national organisation.

Her Shadow Board was systems – rather than organisation – led, bringing in senior leaders from across the West Yorkshire ICS. This was a key motivator to her signing up: “even though I’ve worked in health care for nearly 20 years, I wanted to broaden my knowledge of system working. Shadow Board seemed like a really good opportunity to do that.”

Jude acknowledged the challenges of being a leader in a complex health and social care world, particularly around system working and, for her, understanding this is even more critical.

“For somebody who was trying to communicate system working to people, it can be hard to get your head around the whys and the hows. To get that deeper understanding and immerse yourself in it through the Shadow Board was incredibly beneficial. I was able to frame my work in different ways, explain it in different ways, and help other people better understand system working. I could bring it to life on a page.”

This wasn’t the only benefit that she recognised.

“I also wanted to develop my leadership skills. They’re more innate than management skills. It’s not really something you can teach in a classroom, you have to live the learning. That’s another reason I signed up to Shadow Board.”

The feedback was that they were getting incredible diversity of thinking and really good challenge

It wasn’t just Jude that benefited. Her Shadow Board – which was only intended to last three months – was extended by the system leadership executive for a further nine months.

“That’s a real testament to what they must have been getting out of it. The feedback was that they were getting incredible diversity of thinking and really good challenge and it was helping them to look and think about things in a different way.”

Jude’s Shadow Board was diverse. Like many other boards, it was a mix of staff from a range of skills and expertise including HR and OD, communications, programme management and consultancy, as well as clinical specialists.

Like many participants in the Shadow Board programme, she also noted the personal benefit to participation, and the confidence she gained from it.

“It certainly gave me much greater confidence in my skills beyond my profession in terms of what else I can bring to the table particularly around leadership and influencing.”

“We all have skills beyond the skillset we think we have

That confidence often came from being challenged.

“We were all being tested in new ways. It exposes you a bit, your vulnerabilities.

I’m a comms expert – we do words more than we do numbers! – so I was taken out of my comfort zone when encouraged to present a finance paper, so I really really had to understand it. We’re talking about big sums of money and complex finance systems. We were actively encouraged not to present papers from our specialisms, we were told to step up and take the ones that we didn’t want to do, and maybe didn’t feel we could do. So that was really stretching and challenging, but it made me realise that we all have skills beyond the skillset we think we have.

But it wasn’t just being challenged that Jude picked up on, she also reflected on another aspect of taking part in the programme; developing what it means to be an authentic leader, and how important effective relationships are.

“When you’re making decisions on really difficult papers and issues and trying to decide where money should go, in a system that’s really strapped and struggling, you do fall back on who you are, what you believe in and what your personal experience is.

Being authentic, being yourself, and saying ‘this matters to me’, on subjects where you have personal experience, can help you frame a viewpoint. It gives you courage. And humility.

The thing as a board that we kept coming back to is having a sense of what it means to be human when you’re making decisions. We weren’t making cold, corporate decisions, we were making decisions as people, and people with experiences and passion in different areas. We were listening to each other, and different views, and weren’t totally embedded in our way of thinking. This led to really rich discussion.

Shadow Board has really reaffirmed with me that relationships are key. For ICS and system working it’s the only way it’s going to move forward: relationships and trust. Things are really complex and there are really difficult issues. There isn’t enough money to go round, or enough people, and if we can’t have relationships and trust we’re never going to get anywhere.

I probably wouldn’t be in the new job I am now if I hadn’t had the self-belief and courage to step up

Jude is clear that taking part in Shadow Board has been worthwhile, and what it has brought her:

Shadow Board will stretch you, take you out of your comfort zone, teach you to think in different ways, and will make you braver in what you volunteer for.

I wasn’t really sure if I was capable of being a director but through this process I now know that I am, should I ever want to be. Shadow Board helps you answer the question ‘what am I capable of?’; it really affirms your skillset.

I probably wouldn’t be in the new job I am now if I hadn’t had the self-belief and courage to step up. Taking the learning from the Shadow Board has been hugely beneficial in my new role, particularly when it comes to thinking about the potential of relationships and trust.”