Alexis’ journey to leadership in the NHS has taken her through several different sectors and roles. After her GCSEs, she wasn’t keen on carrying on to higher education so she began an apprenticeship as a receptionist at a solicitor’s office. From here, she moved through various admin support roles in Devon then, later, in Sheffield.
“At this point, I still didn’t know what I wanted to do, I felt almost felt like I was floating through and doing a job as a means to an end.”
It was when she began her job as admin support in the criminal justice system that her career began in earnest. Here, the work interested her and she was promoted through the ranks. Alexis met her first mentor who invested in her and guided her towards information governance.
“I had a really good advocate and a mentor who saw potential in me and gave me that empowerment, I suppose, to start to believe in myself because I thought ‘I’ve not got that education, I’ve always done admin roles, I’ll just be doing admin roles and that will be that’. He believed in me, and he saw something special in me.”
Alexis’ skills in information governance led her towards the NHS, and she spent some time as an information governance manager and then Head of Information Governance, before joining Connected Nottinghamshire in a change management and governance role – which led to her current role as Head of Strategy and Transformation.
“All of this was building my confidence because I felt like I’ve got this specialty, I’m an expert in something. So I’m kind of unique, and I’ve got some skills that were quite valuable to people. I got promoted quite quickly because I suppose I’m more visionary, I can see a wider picture. I like to bring people together to develop them rather than working in isolation.”
The concept of whether you need to be technical to be a technical leader is one we have discussed with many leaders from across the NHS. In Alexis’ role, digital transformation is about people and change and the digital is the enabler. The ability to invoke change is far more important than technical skills.
When Alexis started in technical roles, she would often be in boardrooms predominantly with men with digital technology skills who would talk very technically around subjects and answer questions technically without actually providing a solution.
“I think this is shifting now. We’re seeing the dynamics change. There’s a lot more female digital leaders sat around that table. Some of them do have technology backgrounds, so they do know a level of detail. But actually, I think the best ones are the ones that don’t, because they look at the people element, they look at the bigger picture, rather than always trying to jump to the technology that’s going to solve the problem.”
The key to leadership itself is knowing when to turn to others for expertise, support and advice on individual problems. It’s also important to recognise that it is impossible to know everything and to accept challenges to decisions.
“As a digital leader, it’s about putting that ego aside and not making decisions in isolation, knowing when and who to speak to, at any point in time, to help you shape the best way forward.”
We have spoken to many women about imposter syndrome and how women can find it harder to speak out in boardroom situations, or be seen as aggressive rather than assertive when they do. Alexis is purposefully working to break this cycle with the young female pipeline talent that she has coming through her team by setting up situations in which they have to speak up. By doing this in a safe space, and encouraging them to challenge her, she is instilling the confidence in them to continue to do that throughout their careers.
“It is a bit orchestrated in some ways, but it’s just giving them that kind of confidence in a safe environment to enable them to then be able to take that with them.”
Challenges occur in every career, and changing roles and starting new jobs have never phased Alexis – rather, she has seen them as exciting new opportunities to learn. Her particular challenge came when she was diagnosed with cancer and had to undergo an intense period of chemo radiation and brachytherapy.
“I felt like I still had to continue to work through that time so that I didn’t get forgotten about or somebody didn’t jump into my shoes and get the opportunities because I wasn’t there.”
Following this stressful and difficult time, after a period of recovery, the experience gave Alexis more drive to do more and to succeed. With her mantra that you only have one life and you have to live it, she has made sure that she doesn’t let any opportunity pass her by.
“Perhaps it has shaped where I’ve gone with it because you know, if that hadn’t happened to me at that point in time, would I have continued coasting, or did I then seize an opportunity for myself and say, ‘You know what, you only get one shot at this, you’ve got to make the most of it.’?”
For those hoping to follow in Alexis’ footsteps, her main advice is to ensure that you empower and enable those coming behind you, and make sure that they not only have the opportunities and experiences that you did, but become better than you did.
Alongside this, don’t worry about not having a formal qualification. Instead, focus on your journey and allow your thirst for information and knowledge to drive you forward. Don’t be afraid to ask questions and ask for clarification when things are unclear.
“Don’t be afraid to speak out, don’t be sat there thinking, I’m out of my depth. I shouldn’t be here because I don’t know what people are talking about. Because actually, really good leadership is acknowledging when you don’t know, asking and continuing to learn.”
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