Sunday, 10 July 2011

Everyday leadership - start today!

In my last blog, I wrote about Bernhard Hinault and the Tour de France as an exemplar of leadership. I had wanted to make the point, that sometimes being a leader might involve putting yourself second, but I’m not sure that I made the point terribly well. Ho hum.

Leadership in medicine is a complicated beast. We often get distracted by the challenge of creating change in the NHS, and forget that a lot of leadership involves enabling people to perform at their best. I was reminded about how bad we can be at supporting each other during a conversation I had with some colleagues: we were talking about doctors who struggle with the different pressures that the job entails, and one of them said that when working for consultants who don’t provide enough support, some doctors flounder, while others just deal with it and get the job done. I pointed out that not doing anything about an unsupportive consultant did not amount to ‘dealing with it’ and that it is a shame that the language of contemporary medical practice in the NHS labels it as such.  

Leadership involves a great deal of personal reflection. It is very difficult to change and improve an organisation if you are not prepared to change and improve yourself. This is based on the observation that it doesn’t matter how effective you are, there are always elements that can be improved. This involves developing the language, knowledge and wherewithall to identify your personal preferences and challenges, and being able to deal with them. In every success and failure you experience - in fact, in every conversation and argument you ever have - there is a great deal of you playing a part. Leadership asks that you have the self-awareness to examine what you contribute to each of those situations, and learn from it. Leadership is about examining your ability to help other people reach higher, from the ordinary and the mundane, to the truly gifted; it is not just about talent spotting, it is about nurturing your colleagues every day.

Leadership in clinical practice is not just about what you go on to achieve in your senior career, and we can all be successful leaders without all having to achieve some stellar professional orbits. There are decisions we can make now that can have an impact straight away: we can all take the time to support our colleagues and help them achieve as much as they are able to; we can all be the ones who look for those small and constant improvements to the services we work in, and we can all be the ones who, no matter how shitty a time we are having at work, remind each other that it is, and always should be about the patient, and the care that they receive.

Leadership is not just about strategy and vision, it is about being the person who helps everyone else perform better and reach higher, and that is something that we can all strive to achieve from toda

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