Leadership in Practise

Leadership in Practise

In this final chapter we will explore:

  • The range and impact of leadership in practise
  • The leadership choices available to you

13.1 Introduction

In leadership roles, your behaviour is scrutinised, copied, and sets the mark for everyone else. Do not discount the significance of your presence and your choices of how to behave. And you do have a choice. People notice, and there is no escaping this.

The key to delivering leadership behaviours which are effective and may mean changing your way of being is to value leadership as a function, and value the role you play in delivering it. This means detaching some of the self‐esteem you gain from exercising the technical aspects of your professional skills and attaching them to leadership and gaining pleasure from (perhaps) less immediate feedback on your choices and actions, and from seeing others achieve, grow, and gain recognition.

This final chapter is more directive and suggests ways to ‘be’ in your leadership.

13.2 Choose Your Behaviours

Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.

Viktor E. Frankl

Behavioural flexibility means the ability to alter your leadership behaviours according to the situation. It means choosing the right response based on what is the overriding need at the time, the needs and character of the individuals involved, and your reading of the dynamics. You should have a box of behaviours that you can go to, that are part of your repertoire, and that you can put on like familiar clothes. It ensures maintenance of a leadership function whilst adapting to changing circumstances (from simple through to chaotic).

Do not change for change’s sake. Inconsistent behaviour in consistent situations is disorienting. If you are bright and cheery one day and grumpy the next, but nothing has changed otherwise, that is stressful to be around. Self‐awareness and self‐regulation are key.

Being laid back and relaxed when there is a need for decisive action or treating every situation as a crisis because these are the only behaviours you can display, is not helpful. Displaying unexpected behaviours can make powerful points. The laidback leader who suddenly becomes focussed, energised, and highly directive is likely to make the point, quite clearly, that the situation is serious and requires everyone to switch on. The leader who is typically all action will make a powerful impact when they stop, slow down, and think before moving.

13.3 Be Brave and Authentic

Having to be brave as a leader sounds like leadership is something to be feared. That is not the case, but it does require courage to step into the unknown, and take others there with you, despite your doubts. It also requires courage to be your authentic self in leadership, because without the armours against shame (foreboding joy, perfectionism, victimhood or persecution, over sharing, controlling, cynicism, criticism, cool, and cruelty), you are vulnerable (Brown 2018). But is only by being vulnerable and authentic that you can be receptive to the ebbs and flows of the social movements around you, be in true relationship with others and open to accepting your fallibility and asking for help when things are tough.

Being authentic does not mean you have to be wide open, warts, and all. There may be areas of your life and experience that you have every right to keep private. There is a big difference between this and trying to be something you are not, which is tiring and stressful. People will know if you are being a fraud and will accept (forgive even), fallibilities that are part of you. You do not have to be perfect to be a good‐enough leader.

13.4 Be Decisive and Assertive

You have listened, weighed up the options, thought about the pros and cons, and everyone is waiting. Make a decision! Time is lost, momentum is lost, information is lost, if you wait for the perfect time to act. If you are going to fail, fail fast, and be prepared to learn and change. In leadership there are few decisions that are irreversible or immediately damaging. This mindset is contrary to decision‐making in emergent clinical situations where decisions may, indeed, be a matter of life or death. This is not an excuse, all it means is that you must understand what the stakes are and have the cognitive flexibility to adapt, and the skills to support others as needed.

Being assertive is not the same as being aggressive. It does mean being able to resist pressure to go where you do not want to go, to hold fast to a decision (until it is no longer right to do so) and to have the ability to say ‘No’. When your mindset and training has conditioned you to please others, rather than yourself, this can be difficult, but the road of acquiescence leads to burnout.

Decisions need to be made at the right time and in the right way. At times of crisis, leadership may have to be very directive and make swift decisions – this will be reassuring for followers who are anxious and in need of certainty. In calmer times, with complex problems and significant change resistance, you may need to take lots of time and ensure there is communication and collaboration across a team before a decision is made.

13.5 Be Honest, Fair, and Transparent

Do not lie. It is as simple as that. If leadership is caught telling untruths, the loss of trust in an organisation can be catastrophic. This is true of lies by omission where there is no sound justification and where honesty would be deemed in the interests of the group. Veterinary professionals are smart people, with a high need for information, and will readily build a picture from snippets, filling in the gaps to fit a narrative. Better the right picture is built from truth than the wrong one from inaccuracies. Fairness means treating people as you would wish to be treated. It does not necessarily mean treating people equally, but it does mean not favouring friends, those who can reward you unjustifiably and being consistent in your actions whoever is affected and whatever their relationship with you. Transparency means do not hide what does not need to be hidden. Share information – you will be surprised how carefully it will be treated.

Of course, there are times where you cannot share information when the honest action is to say just that. If people trust in you and your integrity, they will accept it (reluctantly). And if you do not know, say so. There is no shame in not knowing, and there should be pride and joy in trying to understand.

13.6 Have Integrity and Trustworthiness

Integrity, literally wholeness, means having, and adhering to, a clear set of principles and taking responsibility. It ensures believability and trustworthiness. It means not doing what goes against your principles and it means doing what you say you are going to do, when you said you were going to do it.

Of course, there is a downside to integrity. If you find yourself in a leadership situation where your principles are compromised, and you cannot change the circumstances or they are of your own creation, if you have integrity, you should step aside. That, of course, comes with its own downside, for you and potentially for the group, so you need to be very clear on where your lines are drawn, and visible to others. If you are not true to yourself, how can you expect others to be true to you?

13.7 Own Your Failures

You are not perfect, and you will fail. A failure is just that, however. It is not a disaster. If you own your failures, reflect on them, forgive yourself, and learn from them, you will be a great role model. For professionals conditioned to avoid failure and, often, ‘Be Perfect’, failure can be a source of painful shame and this can, itself, dissuade professionals from risking leadership.

Holding tight to one opinion or direction in the face of overwhelming evidence, blaming others, or simply failing to acknowledge failure is asking for bigger failures and for a team that blames others, avoids responsibility, and indulges in self‐protection.

13.8 Be Grateful and Positive

Veterinary professionals may be wired to focus on the negative and constantly be on the lookout for what is wrong and what can be improved. Whilst this is one way to create high performance, it can be exhausting and run serious risk of burnout. So, it is leadership’s job to feel gratitude, show gratitude, acknowledge, and celebrate achievement and effort, bringing the focus onto the good that has been done. Even if someone’s effort is ultimately fruitless, it can still be something to praise and be grateful for.

You do not need to be a cheerleader. There is little more infuriating than the individual who is relentlessly positive in the face of cruel reality – this is not authentic. For many veterinary professionals, concerned with animal welfare daily, death and sadness are common occurrences and must be faced and acknowledged. There is a balance to be struck between acknowledging the challenges on the one hand and being grateful for the time, effort, and professionalism on the other.

It is easy to create a vortex of self‐criticism and expectation that sucks morale and energy. If every incidence of animal pain, death, or suffering (which are, regrettably, inevitable) is seen as a failure and source of shame, that must be picked over and analysed for what went wrong, or used for self‐flagellation, it can be a miserable place to be. Enlightened leadership counters this darkness with lightness, balance, clarity, and humour.

13.9 Understand the Organisation

Get to know the organisation of which you are part. Try to feel the ebbs and flows of relationships. Who talks to whom, who socialise together? Where is the power, and what form does it take? What is the organisation for? What is the shared purpose or are there multiple, possibly conflicting, purposes? What might the underlying anxieties be, and how do they play out? What stories are told? What is ‘the smell of the place’?

13.10 Get to Know the People

Listen. Build relationships and allow people to get to know you. Understand who people are, and what their lives are like outside of work. Connections and relationships are the currency of teamwork and development of collective intelligence, trust, and psychological safety. They are, ultimately, where we find support and meaning in work and leadership.

13.11 Think of the Group

Servant leadership is a concept that emphasises that leadership is in service to the needs of the group (Northouse 2019). It is right and proper that leadership should put the greater good front and centre. The purpose of the group should be clear, and if not, leadership should clarify it, and actions should be taken with that in mind. In leadership we should be constantly asking whether actions are furthering the group needs, what else needs to be done, what needs to be done differently, what do we need to stop doing?

There is a difference between service and sacrifice. Only in exceptional circumstances, which would hopefully not occur in veterinary medicine, are leaders expected to sacrifice themselves for the sake of the group. Indeed, there is a very reasonable argument that to do so would, in fact, be detrimental in the longer term. Leadership needs to be present, and whole, and functioning because it is there to do a job. This means that leadership must be prepared to ask others to do difficult jobs and accept the outcomes. Much more difficult for military commanders than in veterinary medicine, but a reality, nevertheless.

13.12 Align and Create Direction

Be clear what direction the group is going. Sense check and probe to determine what others think is the right direction and agree on the route. On the smallest scale this might be as simple as being clear what patient is being operated on, what procedure is being done, and who is responsible for what activity. On a larger scale this means developing and communicating clear strategy, building systems, structures, and processes to enact this, and encouraging and modelling the behaviours and values necessary.

Nov 6, 2022 | Posted by in SMALL ANIMAL | Comments Off on Leadership in Practise

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