How to be bold?

Salma Yasmeen blog image

Salma Yasmeen is the director of strategy for South West Yorkshire Partnership NHS Foundation Trust. In this blog, for International Women’s Day, she explores her leadership journey and what being bold means to her.

For me, being bold is about many things. It’s about taking a leap of faith in the face of uncertainty, being part of creating something that matters, while living my values and being authentic.

My journey started in the Yorkshire town of Huddersfield, a place I feel deeply connected to. My parents believed that education and opportunities were important for everyone, and taught me the importance of using my values as a compass for life. My first mentor was my mother, and to this day she remains my greatest inspiration and role model.

After working as a frontline nurse and manager in hospitals and the community, I left the safety of the NHS to develop new ways of supporting diverse communities in mental health. I had no route map that I could refer to and it was a tough lesson holding my nerve in the face of uncertainty. Looking back, as CEO of what became a registered charity, what carried me through was having supportive mentors and developing strong networks made up of people all working towards something much bigger than all of us.

Most careers take interesting twists and turns, and in 2011, I swapped Castle Hill in Huddersfield for Kingdom Tower in Saudi Arabia. King Fahad Medical City is made up of eight acute specialist hospitals and national centres and it was here that I spent a challenging and rewarding five years. 

My initial challenge was co-creating a strategy that empowered nurses to be effective partners in care, implementing best practices that held meaning locally. This was no simple task considering the 4000 nurses spoke 30 plus different languages.

People often ask me about the Saudi culture, particularly in relation to women. I found that it was important not to impose my world view, to take off my own glasses and to understand the culture from the perspectives and lived realities of women in Saudi.  

I was privileged to meet many inspiring Saudi women, both within the medical city and those in high-profile positions leading change on many frontiers. What I learnt was the importance of understanding culture through the perspectives of others. I pay tribute to my many colleagues, both male and female, that helped me to look in the mirror and recognise how I could continue to make a positive impact as a leader in a different culture and country.  

My advice to other female leaders is to understand what truly matters to you, what you care deeply about, and let that guide you in what you do in your career. Regularly hold up the mirror and carefully look back at the reflection, be open to see and celebrate the best of you as well as face all that you need to continue to develop.   

I have also found that coaching is absolutely essential. I found that a good coach provided protected space for me to explore and develop my leadership style and impact while holding my integrity at times of challenge and conflict.

Seek support from others, wherever this may be. In Saudi, women-only shopping malls and restaurants were the norm. These spaces allow for support, sharing of experiences, and celebration. Networks that allow this, in whatever form, are really important. Look up and sideways to continue to learn from women that you admire or respect. A colleague stood out to me recently - it wasn’t about what she said, but how she held her space authentically.

And finally, whilst being a bold leader is important, we have to remember that compassion is key. Have compassion for yourself and others, because being a leader is tough, particularly within the current context. In our world of health and care, compassion becomes ever more crucial.

Find out more about how to join the HSJ Women Leaders Network, and get involved in the conversation for International Women's Day using the hashtag #beboldforchange.

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