Newly-appointed professor brings fresh perspectives on Leadership Development

To improve healthcare work, and working conditions for healthcare professionals, you need good leaders. Sofia Kjellström, a newly-appointed professor at the School of Health and Welfare, has been looking at how leaders develop and what kind of support they need to improve further.

Sofia Kjellström, new Professor of Quality Improvement and Leadership. (image: Patrik Svedberg)

Becoming a full Professor of Quality Improvement and Leadership was probably in the stars for Sofia Kjellström. Improvement and change have been a passion since she was very young.

“Wanting to improve things must be in my genes,” she explains. “Even as a teenager, when we had parties, I was always thinking: How can we make the next one even better? Since I was young, I’ve had a great interest in environmental issues, a desire to improve society and help people. Put simply, I just want to make the world a better place. So, it feels great to have this professorship as it’s tied to things I’m passionate about.”

The field of Quality Improvement is transdisciplinary. It’s a field that Sofia Kjellström feels at home in since she herself has worked in different disciplines (she has previously been Associate Professor of Welfare and Social Sciences, and Gerontology) and has a multi-disciplinary approach. She has an international reputation as an expert in the field of Adult Development and she has used this in her research, and in her studies on Leadership Development.

“As adults, we continue to develop and make meaning of our experiences in different and more complex ways. The way that you develop influences the change you want to do or what tools you use to bring about quality improvement. A young adult’s identity is often tied up with the group and how the ‘other’ sees them. This might explain why some leaders are preoccupied with reputation and have a hard time making unpopular decisions. Some adults develop a more self-authoring mindset. They come to realise that they want more group involvement in a decision. To genuinely appreciate stakeholders’ views is a developmental achievement,” explains Sofia Kjellström.

Leadership Development is important because it leads to quality improvement for an organisation. Sofia Kjellström has seen evidence of this in her previous studies on primary care units.

“In well-functioning Primary Care Units where the leadership was good, we saw that the leaders had created time and space for good quality work among their employees.”

So how do we create these good leaders? According to Sofia Kjellström, leadership research has often focused on the character of the leader or their specific actions. Her research encourages organisations to focus more on support and coaching for leaders using different methods. In an on-going project, she is creating a dialogue map for HR professionals and leaders to introduce conversations about individual and collective leadership methods. Another project explores the kinds of experiences that create growth of more complex mindsets and how can these be coached.

Moreover, this support shouldn’t just involve the top person. One of the big movements in the field of Leadership Development, explains Sofia Kjellström, is to work in a more collective way.

“It doesn’t necessarily help to send just the leader alone on a development course or a retreat. Often, it’s better to coach the whole team. That way, the whole team gets to where they need to be.”

As part of a team herself, she appreciates that she has got to where she is today through supportive colleagues and a friendly work environment at the School of Health and Welfare.

“Becoming a full professor is an individual achievement, and I feel very happy and proud of this appointment, but it’s also a matter of the kind of support you are given. Jönköping Academy, a small but expanding centre, is a great environment to work in. We are a creative group, we help each other, and we try to focus on experiencing joy at work.”