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To explore nurses' archived accounts of Matron Muriel Powell's management and leadership style and the impact of this on the implementation and sustainability of innovation in the workplace.In popular discourse, the matron has become an emblem of leadership. Although the title disappeared in the UK in the late 1960s as part of the re-organization recommended by the Salmon Report, it re-appeared in 2002 in an attempt to improve care standards by reasserting a strong nursing presence and clinical leadership role.Secondary data analysis using qualitative thematic analysis.This paper draws on interview data held in the ‘Nurses Voices’ archive. The interview transcripts of 132 nurses who trained or worked at St George's hospital in 1920–1980 were analysed in depth between March 2011–January 2012 and themes were generated inductively by grouping together emergent codes in the data with similar meaning.Looking back, the nurses recalled strong memories of the leadership of Matron Powell. Her presence emerged as a significant influence throughout the interviews. Two resonant themes were identified: innovation and open communication.Through her visibility and direct access with patients and staff, Dame Muriel Powell showed what we would now call transformative leadership qualities. Her leadership created a culture of open communication and innovation that initiated change in the organization and the nursing workforce. Looking back and learning from historical figures can deepen understanding and provide pointers for the nurse leaders of today.