Vale Aiden Halligan – A good man and selfless leader

05 May 2015


Professor Aiden Halligan
Vale Professor Aiden Halligan

By Kevin Hardy

Every year for the past four years I’ve had the privilege of catching up with Professor Aidan Halligan in London. We talked about many things, but in particular, we talked about leadership, clinicians in leadership, clinical quality, patient safety and building on the positive messages rather than dwelling on the negatives of situations. We met up this year on 21 April. I had no idea that this would be the last conversation we would share. Aidan died on 27 April 2015, aged 57. I will miss him.

Aidan was Director Well North, a Public Health England initiative to improve the health of the underprivileged across the North of England. He was Principal of the NHS Staff College for Leadership Development, and, Chair of Pathway, a charity developing NHS services for the homeless.

Aidan had a natural gift for leadership but the measure of the man was his character and his moral code. He was a humble and gentle man driven to make the relationship and the clinical care of patients a human experience. He was seemingly personally pained by stories of sub-optimal care.

He was a passionate advocate for leadership that was courageous, inspirational, compassionate and accountable.  He wrote with deep conviction about accountability in relation to the Mid Staffordshire “affair” in the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine – The Francis Report: What you permit you promote (click here to download PDF)

Aiden was blessed with an Irish charm to enveigle his way into settings where he could advocate for “just causes”. He was determined and resolute. Amongst quotes that came easily to Aiden was a quote from Martin Luther King: “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter. In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”

Whenever I met with Aiden he was always wanting to share stories about life’s experiences and was always interested in what drove and motivated you. I sometimes thought he “tilted at windmills” but if so, every system needs an Aidan Halligan to help us hold the mirror up for self assessment and strive to make things better.

He wasn’t someone who learnt through other people’s experiences alone. He was very much like “The Man in the Arena” referred to in Roosevelt’s speech at the Sorbonne. He ‘got into the arena, strove to do the deeds, and personally know great devotions, and great enthusiasms. Spend himself on a worthy cause’. He preferred to experience situations first hand, including spending time in “hotspots and war zones” with the British Army. He wanted to learn more about people’s capacity to operate under extreme pressure in what he described as informal and formal leadership roles. He took those lessons back to training clinicians in leadership. He discussed observing first hand, leadership and teamwork in action. How it developed trust and respect. How there was a common purpose. How it gave people the courage to go beyond.

Some of Aiden’s insight and wisdom on leadership is evident in this short video:

Vale Aidan. You made me a better person for knowing you.