Leadership Apprenticeship: A learning experience like no other

Dr Sara Matley

Dr Sara Matley is a Consultant Clinical Psychologist in the Paediatric Psychology Department at Leeds Children’s Hospital. She works in the Congenital Cardiology department providing a lifespan service, working with patients with an antenatal diagnosis right through to adults. Sara also has a managerial role which covers Congenital Cardiology, Critical Care, including Paediatric intensive care and the neonatal unit, and she manages the staff support service across the Children’s Hospital as well.

In 2020, when looking for a new challenge, Sara struggled to find something that would push her “out of the NHS thinking box”. 

There were plenty of courses on offer focussing on NHS management, but I wanted to explore skills, ideas and areas that were relevant to the NHS but outside of the NHS environment.

The Leeds University Business School Leadership Apprenticeship programme was the ideal solution; an innovative programme for senior managers working in the public or private sector. The programme is funded by employers through the UK Apprenticeship Levy Scheme, and it provided a great opportunity for Sara to expand her skills without having to self-fund.

The Business School’s excellent reputation, known for its quality of teaching and research was also a major attraction. “I feel very privileged to have had this opportunity to be part of and work in the Business School – it’s a well-respected, quality establishment, which exposed us to people and opportunities in learning that perhaps other places wouldn’t have provided.”

The benefit of public and private sector experiences

Sara’s group was the first cohort and despite a few teething problems, and the fact that the pandemic meant that the hybrid teaching model providing a mixture of virtual and face-to-face sessions had to be quickly adapted to being all online, Sara felt that the course was extremely valuable. One of the best things, she feels, was the blend of public and private sector. In fact, working alongside others from all different professional backgrounds and building networks is a valuable benefit of the course that many participants take forward.

The course also got Sara thinking and reflecting on both her role as a clinical psychologist and as a leader. The course really emphasizes the importance of reflective practice, which as a clinician she is used to, but she felt that this could be something incredibly beneficial in the business sector. It also made her realise how her skill set is valuable both inside and outside the NHS, which was a huge confidence boost.

 “There is a view that the public sector don’t know about the real world. But things like efficiency and systems working are absolutely core and fundamental to the NHS,” she says. “We maybe just use different language, and don’t have the resources at our fingertips like the private sector. So even though there were lots of differences, there were also lots of similarities and that was really useful to have that gel of the two.”

Expert facilitators 

Sara enjoyed the range of modules the course offered, with leading academics and industry experts delivering practical insights organisational leadership, digital transformation and change management. “The Managing Change and Innovation module with Prof. John Heyes who has written the main textbook on managing change – those workshops were fabulous,” she explains. And although some parts of the course were less relevant to her role and covered things she may not take forward, the awareness of the areas explored has built her confidence in her business knowledge.

In fact, building confidence in herself as a leader is one of the main benefits of the course for her. She feels confident and secure in her knowledge and feels she can contribute in a much freer way.

The Managing Change and Innovation module with Prof. John Heyes who has written the main textbook on managing change – those workshops were fabulous

Giving people everyday practical skills

One example where the course has already had a tangible impact on her working life is an issue she had been struggling with for a long time. “The strategy module enabled me to see the problem and change my language when communicating with NHS business managers,” she explains. “Reframing the issue as a ‘trade off’ – and explaining we can do that but this will happen - meant it was responded to immediately. Framing it differently was a very powerful thing to do.”

The course has also had a very real impact on her personal development. “People who work in the NHS do so because they want to help people. And I was able to identify how unhelpful my level of empathy can be, in terms of leadership and management. It can be incredibly helpful too of course, but for me, it helped me differentiate between being a clinician and having that empathy, but how that can interfere sometimes with business decisions.”

Overall, the course was a real confidence boost in herself as a leader. It helped clarify the skills and tools she already had and helped her further extend them. “It was interesting, varied and really useful, she says. But it wasn’t without its challenges. “It was an awful lot of work, on top of working as well. It has been a challenge, but for me it has certainly been a challenge that was worthwhile.”

Find out more about the Leeds Executive Leadership Level-7 Apprenticeship.