Variation persists in the quality of board-level leadership of hospitals. The consequences of poor leadership can be catastrophic for patients. The year 2019 marks 50 years of public inquiries into healthcare failures in the UK. The aim of this article is to enhance our understanding of context-specific effectiveness of healthcare board practices, drawing on an empirical study of changes in hospital board leadership in England. The study suggests leadership behaviours that lay the conditions for better organisation performance. We locate our findings within the wider theoretical debates about corporate governance, responding to calls for theoretical pluralism and insights into the effects of discretionary effort on the part of board members. We conclude by proposing a framework for the ‘restless’ board from a multi-theoretic standpoint, and suggest a repertoire specifically for healthcare boards. This comprises a suite of board roles as conscience of the organisation, sensor, shock absorber, diplomat and coach, with accompanying dyadic behaviours to match particular organisation aims and priorities. The repertoire indicates the importance of a cluster of leadership practices to fulfil the purposes of healthcare boards in differing, complex and challenging contexts.