Objective The aim of the present study was to develop a positive organisational scholarship in health care approach to health management, informed by health managers and health professionals’ experiences of brilliance in health care delivery. Methods A sample of postgraduate students with professional and/or management experience within a health service was invited to share their experiences of brilliant health services via online discussions and a survey running on the SurveyMonkey platform. A lexical analysis of student contributions was conducted using the individual as the unit of analysis. Results Using lexical analysis, the examination of themes in the concept map, the relationships between themes and the relationships between concepts identified ‘care’ as the most important concept in recognising brilliance in health care, followed by the concepts of ‘staff’ and ‘patient’. Conclusions The research presents empirical material to support the emergence of an evidence-based health professional perspective of brilliance in health management. The findings support other studies that have drawn on both quantitative and qualitative materials to explore brilliance in health care. Pockets of brilliance have been previously identified as catalysts for changing health care systems. Both quality, seen as driven from the outside, and excellence, driven from within individuals, are necessary to produce brilliance. What is known about the topic? The quest for brilliance in health care is not easy but essential to reinvigorating and energising health professionals to pursue the highest possible standards of health care delivery. What does this paper add? Using an innovative methodology, the present study identified the key drivers that health care professionals believe are vital to moving in the direction of identifying brilliant performance. What are the implications for practitioners? This work presents evidence on the perceptions of leadership and management practices associated with brilliant health management. Lessons learned from exceptionally well-delivered services contain different templates for change than those dealing with failures, errors, misconduct and the resulting negativity.