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14/10/14
Leading a multidisciplinary healthcare team is both a privilege and a challenge. The first thing I noticed on taking up my position was the greater degree of responsibility that was placed upon me, but more importantly I realised how little I had been prepared for the task. Healthcare leadership is still dominated by doctors and I can not help feeling this is an historic remnant of ‘Doctor knows best.’ There seems to be a false belief in healthcare that because you are able to treat patients you are automatically capable of leading a team. However, it is obvious they are two entirely different roles requiring two very different skill sets.
 
 


There is no magic formula for leadership; trying to copy someone else is likely to result in a lack of authenticity and leadership gestures that may seem a little clumsy. Leading a team is a dynamic and highly personal process and there are a wide variety of possible styles that you could employ. The best leaders, those who achieve the best results, will often be learning equal amounts about their own skills and behaviours as they do about those of their team. As with any skill, everyone has their own innate level of ability to lead people successfully and I believe the skill of leadership is having the self-awareness to know the limit of your abilities and the strengths of others. Below are some tips I have learnt through my experience of leading a healthcare team.
 
Accept that everybody is different
This is possibly the most important tip. Whilst all healthcare professionals generally share some common motivations, desires and attributes, you will get the best out of people if you treat them as individuals. Techniques that work with one individual may not work with another, or another group, so take time to get to know your team well. You may identify an individual’s personality type which may improve your working relationship with them.
 
Walk the walk
Good leadership techniques are borne out of mutual respect and appreciation between all parties, so all leaders should begin by setting a standard that he or she would expect from others. Colleagues will quickly lose respect for someone who does not demonstrate a commitment to undertake tasks they expect others to do. If you want people to work long hours and take pride in their work, then you should demonstrate that you have these capabilities too. Being a leader does not mean sending edicts down from on high, but rolling your sleeves up and sharing the work.
 
Invest in relationships
It sounds obvious, but good leadership is not merely about making successful demands on your team. There are a few tried and tested ways of ensuring that your team performs well. Arguably, the best way of achieving this is to invest in each personal relationship; going out of your way to do things purely for the benefit of the team and its individuals. If you do not manage to do this, there is a danger that your team will associate you solely with requests for work, and this may create a negative psychology in the very people that you are trying to lead.
 
Choose your words carefully – They matter!
Your evaluation and feedback of the work produced by one of your team is one of the key areas by which you can either greatly increase loyalty, performance and respect, or greatly diminish it. Human beings hate to be criticised, and will generally go on the defensive when placed in this position, so choose your words carefully if you want to enthuse rather than deflate.
 
Be a helping hand
Successful leaders have the ability to be able to display empathy for a colleague’s challenges, and in many cases are in a position to offer help and support. This is an essential part of leadership as people generally respond well to professional relationships where the other party seems to be doing things with them. Most employees will gladly undertake tasks if they feel they are being helped and supported.
 
Have clear channels of communication
Good communication is vital to good leadership and it is essential that you establish a line of regular communication that suits both you and your team. Communication is bi-directional, your team need to hear from you, but you have to listen to them. If your team only ever hear your voice but you never get them to tell you their feelings and observations you will struggle. Ideally, once a week you should aim to set aside some dedicated time for communicating news to your team, and allow them to update you on their projects. Sessions like this really encourage team spirit, a feeling of togetherness and can be a highly effective way of identifying challenges and celebrating successes as a team.
 
It is the result that matters
Avoid being domineering. Insisting that things have to be done exclusively your way often leads to your team withdrawing from you. Just because you think it is a good idea does not necessarily mean that it is the best idea; listen to your team. The people who are closest to the patients often have the best ideas on how to improve the care they deliver. Being a steward who creates the environment within which your team can grow and improve is likely to deliver greater results than a dictatorship. Encouraging your team, rather than giving orders, is more likely to foster engagement.
 
In summary, leadership is about people not power. The best leaders spend time talking and listening, rather than simply telling others how to act. It is often said that leadership is a lonely path to tread; this is not true, you are surrounded by your team - spend time with them, chances are they are brilliant.

 
by Dr Paul Jarvis