Memo Musa: Morale, leadership, and football boots

1 July 2013

FIONA CASSIE talks to new NZNO chief executive MEMO MUSA 20 days into the job about his new role, new constitutions, and nursing leadership … plus a little bit about football and gardening.

Boots, shinguards, socks, and footballs ... the first impression you will get of the Musa household will make clear their love of “the beautiful game”.

“We’re a family who are fanatics for football. My wife is a referee. I play. I referee. My daughter has refereed and she played for reps in Whanganui.”

Not to forget the soccer star of the family, the 21-year-old UK-based James Musa, who has played for the Phoenix and New Zealand’s Under-23 Olympic team in London. He’s just finished a year with the under-21 squad of premiere league club Fulham and most recently played with the New Zealand A football team against Jordan.

“Come to our household and the only thing you will see is socks, boots, and footballs. That’s how I relax,” says Musa. It is unlikely his son, or his 18 year-old daughter now studying at Victoria University, will follow in their father’s footsteps and become nurses, but they share the family passion for football.

That passion saw Musa start his new job as head of the New Zealand Nurses Organisation with his arm in a sling after surgery to repair a football-related shoulder injury that has kept him off the pitch so far this season.

This has allowed him to dedicate even more attention to his new role, which is demanding enough as it coincides with NZNO embedding a new constitution and a new joint leadership model and the upcoming election of a new governance board.

Talking to Nursing Review just 20 days into the job, Musa was still in the midst of handover and meeting stakeholders (internally and externally) but was also gathering first impressions of the state of the sector and his likely priorities for the coming year.

He left his first National Nursing Organisations’ meeting (the semi-regular gatherings of the head of the nine national nursing bodies) heartened that there were good cohesion amongst the national nursing leaders.

“My impression was that nursing leadership was in a good place and there’s a common understanding of the value that nursing can bring to the health and disability system.”

Survey finds low morale and loss of nursing leadership

While nationally leadership is cohesive, there are concerns emerging at the loss of leadership roles elsewhere in the health system.

NZNO leader researcher Leonie Walker recently wrote in Kaitiaki about the results of its third biennial nurse employment survey (carried out in February this year), which indicated declining morale since the first survey in 2008.

Of the survey’s nearly 1500 respondents (a 30 per cent response rate to the random sample survey), nearly a quarter reported they had experienced significant restructuring in their workplace, 27 per cent reported reductions in senior nursing leadership and changes to skill mix, and 43 per cent of those affected were questioning their nursing future.

Musa says it is still early days in his role, but he believes NZNO will continue to advocate to district health boards (DHBs) and other providers that reducing nursing leadership roles – either through restructuring or changes in service model – is an unwise move.

He says the Care Capacity Demand Management (CCDM) system, which NZNO wants rolled out to DHBs across the country, supports this by showing how nursing leaders and decision-makers in key places in an organisation contribute to a more efficient system, as well as helping deliver safe and good quality care.

With DHBs still under tight fiscal constraint, he says NZNO advocates for nursing to be at the table right from the start in any discussions about changes in structure or services so they can provide a nursing voice and nursing evidence.

“So nurses are actually heard and seen to contribute to whatever changes are taking place rather than just being at the receiving end,” says Musa. “From my perspective, there should be no excuse for not engaging and involving nurses in the work that’s been done by health providers as the mechanisms are there.”

Leadership pathway

Musa’s own pathway to his current role included being Whanganui DHB CEO chief executive from 2001-2008 (see also April News Feed story at for more on his background career). His mother was also a nursing leader. She was the director of nursing of a hospital in Bulawayo, the second largest city in Zimbabwe.

Musa left Zimbabwe as a teenager to study in England, but his parents and family remain living there. With Zimbabwe’s recent history, one has to ask what it is like to be outside looking in.

“Zimbabwe is a good country. It’s gone through a lot of changes. I’ve remained in close contact with my family all the way throughout.”

Today’s technology means he is contact with his family every other day. The last time he saw them in person was when he went to South Africa for the 2010 football World Cup.

Meanwhile, NZNO not only has a new CEO but also a new constitution. Yet to meet with many stakeholders – both inside and outside the organisation – he is still formulating his own priorities as CEO for the coming year as he gains an understanding of the structure, systems, and culture of the organisation in the midst of major change.

“The challenge for me is we already have a strategy that goes to 2015 and we have a new board starting (to be elected in September) with a new constitution.”

He says one “crystal clear” priority for the coming year for him is ensuring the new constitution – which outlines the structures of NZNO and how it should work – is well understood by both members and staff.

“If you can’t understand the constitution and what it means, then delivering against the strategy becomes a huge challenge.”

The footballer in him is keen to be back on the pitch again as soon as he gets sign-off from his surgeon. In the interim, his other way of relaxing is gardening, and the other first impression you might have of the Musa household is its productive veggie garden. Having kept the family fed in carrots, potatoes, silver beet, broccoli, and cabbage over the summer and autumn, this is one health CEO walking the talk when it comes to being healthy and self-sufficient.