Leadership Repertoires

Leadership Repertoires

In this chapter we will explore:

  • The concept of a leadership repertoire
  • Cognitive, emotional, and intuitive competencies that contribute to your repertoire
  • The impact of over‐ and under‐expression of those competencies
  • Flexing this repertoire according to context

3.1 Introduction

What makes a good leader?

The search for the essence of ‘leadership’ has been like the search for the Holy Grail, has existed for longer, and has absorbed huge amounts of research time and paper. The published literature on leadership is huge and complex, which suggests that there is no easy answer.

There are many approaches to examining and explaining leadership, and they all have much to offer but no one fits every situation perfectly. What leadership is and should be in an ‘every‐day’ veterinary setting, for example, may be very different from leadership in a large global corporation. Much of the leadership research has, inevitably, been carried out where resources are available to support it such as big business, the military and among college students. There is a body of evidence from human healthcare and this can be mined as a useful source. Nevertheless, there is a need to contextualise leadership for veterinary settings.

There are various leadership theories to draw on when collating ideas on what attributes make for good leadership. A number of leadership theories have been espoused over the years, such as trait theory, goal path, leader‐member exchange, transactional, authentic, transformational, charismatic, servant, and relational leadership, and these are described in depth elsewhere (Uhl‐Bien 2006; Northouse 2019; Yukl and Gardner 2020). Trait theory was one of the earlier ways of examining leadership and assumed that there were ‘natural born leaders’, with definable and immutable characteristics. Unsurprisingly, these early studies indicate that those who advanced into leadership positions (particularly in military and business settings) shared characteristics that fit the conscious and unconscious biases prevalent at the time and in the organisations under study. The ‘great leader’ concept is, however, unhelpful when we are looking to develop leadership throughout complex, dynamic, volatile, and uncertain circumstances. Leadership takes many shapes and forms and is clearly fluid and situational. We can find as many examples of ‘good enough’ leadership that do not fit the assumptions as we can those that do, and of individuals stepping into leadership authentically from ‘untraditional’ positions.

From these various perspectives, it is reasonable to draw together a repertoire of competencies that are shared, to some degree or another, across many of the different leadership theories and approaches. Many of these may seem like common sense, and some will have more of an underlying evidence base than others. Each of us will have a different repertoire, which we can develop and use in ways that suit us. The aim is not to outline what a leader should look like but rather to provide a palate of competencies around which one can construct a leadership repertoire in a way that is accessible and appropriate. Veterinary professionals should find that their development and experiential learning has selected for, emphasised (sometimes overemphasised), and developed many of these competencies which are deployed in day‐to‐day practise.

In this attempt to draw together a set of competencies, I have broken them into cognitive, emotional, and intuitive (Figure 3.1). I have also tried to condense things as much as reasonably possible and, as well as defining each competence, examined its significance and the effects of both its under‐ and over‐emphasis. There is an underlying assumption that these competencies can be developed and modified as needed and in the following chapter (‘Self‐Leadership’) we will look at how to gain awareness of, and adapt, your own leadership repertoire. There is an additional assumption that different situations will require deployment of different repertoires.

Schematic illustration of components of leadership repertoire.

Figure 3.1 Components of leadership repertoire. Cognitive, emotional, and intuitive competencies that may be associated with ‘good‐enough’ leadership.

3.2 Cognitive Competencies

These help with the necessary knowledge and understanding underpinning the leadership role. Some are more trait‐like than others, but together they contribute to the effectiveness of leadership through the ability to make sense and meaning.

3.2.1 Curiosity and Growth Mindedness

We are used to applying our curiosity in the service of our technical role and this can be directed to nontechnical challenges too. Carol Dweck says:

Individuals who believe their talents can be developed (through hard work, good strategies, and input from others) have a growth mindset. They tend to achieve more than those with a more fixed mindset (those who believe their talents are innate gifts). This is because they worry less about looking smart and they put more energy into learning. (Dweck 2016)

A desire to understand people and what is happening in and around you, and a desire and willingness to learn and grow is a fundamental competency for leadership upon which all others are based. Underlying all of this is the concept of neuroplasticity and a trust in our ability to change how we think, behave, and feel (see Chapter 12).

Leadership requires adaptability both in the moment and over time. We can find ourselves in unfamiliar territory where we need to develop new understanding and ways of being. There are a number of reasons why we can be fixed into old and unhelpful ways of thinking. At times of stress, for example, we tend to fall back on familiar and comfortable thought patterns and behaviours. Changing our thinking can, therefore, be most difficult when change is most needed, unless we have access to internal and external support and may have even prepared for the need for change ahead of time.

We should not, however, change for change’s sake. Curiosity that moves into overanalysis, or distracts from the matter in hand, or manifests as a need for ever more information before decisions are made is paralysing, unhelpful, and frustrating. Sometimes we need to save our questions for later if there is a need to decide now, e.g. at times of chaos and crisis.

3.2.2 Cognitive Capability

Various forms of intelligence (e.g. verbal–linguistic, logical‐mathematical, interpersonal) have been described, and the importance of emotional intelligence in leadership is discussed later on (Gardner 1993). Whilst the exact balance of the different intelligences needed is likely to differ according to the situation, leadership in a complex dynamic arena requires a certain level of cognitive capability in order to assimilate, understand, assess, and respond to the short and long‐term challenges.

If one cannot understand, intuitively or explicitly, the situation, it is possible that the wrong choices and decisions will be made. In the context of veterinary medicine, where academic intelligence is not in short supply, credibility is lost if there is no capacity to work with smart people. Whilst this does not, necessarily, mean leaders have to be as technically capable or well qualified as those they are leading, they do need a baseline level of ‘smarts’ (Goffee and Jones 2007).

There are brilliant leaders and there are brilliant people who make good leaders. But we all know that there are brilliant people who make poor leaders. This is why it is important to recognise that different intelligences are measured in different ways and that the ability to pass examinations and achieve high professional proficiency (e.g. in the pursuit of a veterinary career) is no guarantee of, or requirement for, effective leadership.

3.2.3 Mental Modelling

This is related to cognitive complexity. In ‘adaptive leadership’ theory this is described as ‘stepping onto the balcony’ (Northouse 2019). It represents the ability to take an overview of the whole picture, like you are looking at the dance floor and seeing the dancers from the balcony. Individual dancers are less important than being able to see the sway and rhythm of the whole crowd below, where there is movement, where there is stillness, what is the shape of the whole, who is doing the work and who is not. It can be achieved by ensuring you interact with the breadth as well as the depth of the group, by holding opinions lightly (including your own), by sense‐checking and being objective. Gaining this mental model can help with determining pressure points and bottlenecks, planning interventions and understanding potential responses. This capacity is as important for the theatre supervisor planning the day ahead as it is for the course director developing a new curriculum.

Too much time spent looking from on high and not getting down on the dance floor is counterproductive. It is important to be in, and feel, the ebb‐and‐flow of interaction around you as well as to take a step back. Sometimes examining the detail is necessary. On the other hand, the leader who gets bogged down in detail will lose the sight of the whole picture and may well miss critical events. Loss of the big picture and tunnel vision, often as a response to stress and uncertainty, is a common underpinning characteristic of systems failure, including medical error (Syed 2016).

3.2.4 Comfort with Complexity

Leadership in complex situations is not linear and cause‐effect‐solution pathways are rarely useful. Good leadership requires an ability to appreciate complexity, that there may be more than one potential solution or where optimal outcomes overall may have unwelcome, unpredictable and/or unintended consequences elsewhere in the organisation. Developing the capacity to accept and hold this complexity without being crippled by doubt, fear, and the need to understand is necessary to be able to function and take action. In complex systems, seeing the effect of action, and being prepared to adapt accordingly, might be the only way to move forwards.

Overthinking complexity can lead into a maze of overcomplication that is difficult to get out of. On the other hand, not recognising complexity can lead to a failure to account and plan for, and adapt to, unpredictable outcomes. The simplicity minded leader will carry on with the same approach even when it is clear to those looking on that it is not having the desired consequences and that a different tack might be needed. In a veterinary context this is akin to increasing the dose of an antibiotic in the face of anti‐microbial resistance.

3.2.5 Systems Literacy

This is an awareness of how different organisation systems function. The veterinary professions are complex open systems, as discussed (Chapter 2), and different organisations will have different dynamics (Chapter 6). A good‐enough leader has awareness of the system in which they are leading, and this comes, in part, from an ability to step on the balcony and to hold complexity. But it also includes much more ‘mundane’ information such as who reports to who, who holds the purse strings, what interactions there are between departments and individuals, what mechanisms are in place to get things done, what gets in the way of effective functioning.

Whilst understanding the system around you, it is important not to get too bogged down in ‘one way of doing things’. Have a look at other organisations and systems. How do they work, and what are their key features? Get involved elsewhere if you have time and inclination; there are plenty of commercial, voluntary, professional, and charitable organisations that would be happy to provide a great learning experience in exchange for your services (See Chapter 6).

If you do not understand the way organisational systems work, you cannot know which levers to pull or, thinking strategically, might need to be changed to enhance the efficacy of your own domain.

3.2.6 Political Awareness

All human organisations are social and, therefore, political. Politics is about the use of power and influence to get what you want (implicitly in service of the group – see ‘Socialized Power Motivation’). Part of leadership is assessing and understanding who wants what, who they might be influencing to get what they want, what power they yield (see Chapters 5 and 6), who they are in conflict with, and how to balance leadership needs with potentially unaligned needs of others by use of power and influence.

‘Playing politics’ is not a complimentary attribution and in leadership you have to be careful with the use of your political power. If it is yielded in a way that is deemed unfair and/or self‐interested, your leadership function will, ultimately, be compromised. You are at risk of becoming surrounded by acolytes rather than supporters.

On the other hand, if you are too naïve and do not appreciate the currents of power that are ebbing and flowing around you, you run the risk of being undermined and losing credibility so that your ability to lead is dangerously compromised or you are even bypassed completely.

3.2.7 Environmental Awareness

Veterinary leadership occurs in a complex socio‐political environment. An awareness of the external environment, be it market forces, social movements, veterinary politics, or changing business dynamics, are important for being able to function and make sensible decisions. Even for those who are leading at a less strategic level, it helps to be able to understand and, if necessary, explain, why things are being done in certain ways and to be able to outline the wider context. For those at the upper ends of organisations, being able to read and respond to external influences is a critical leadership competence.

This does not mean all veterinary leaders have to plunge into veterinary politics; this can be a distraction from your primary purpose. But leadership should be well read, well‐networked, and able to appreciate and understand the factors and powers that might be driving critical issues in one direction or another.

3.2.8 Strategic Vision

This combines most of the other competencies above so you can conceive of and visualise how your team, division, practice, or organisation needs to look in the future so as to maintain its efficacy and support its mission. It requires imagination and creativity grounded in the art of the possible and a broad understanding of what, and how, to change to get there.

Visionaries are legendary, but rarely do they succeed as leaders. When they do, we laud them and examine their brilliance, such as with Steve Jobs of Apple Computers, but there are few books written about visionaries who fail. Strategic vision needs to be tempered with confidence, certainty, and accuracy, and with caution, careful judgement, and appropriate sense‐checking and scrutiny.

Those who cannot read or react to inevitably changing circumstances (the world is changing all the time) run the risk of their position, role and function ossifying and becoming irrelevant or worthless as others adapt and evolve around them.

3.2.9 Creativity

Complex, dynamic, unfamiliar, and unanticipated situations require creative solutions. What worked then may not work now, so leaders have to think (and feel) on their feet and be imaginative. This may well be in collaboration with others and, for those with a technical bent, may be difficult without skills of delegation, empowerment, and trust. Creativity is about seeing things a different way and not taking certain ways of doing things for granted. That is how we always do things round here is the death knell of creativity.

Being creative for creativity’s sake is not helpful. Colleagues will soon become frustrated or disillusioned with the leader who is always looking to be different; if it aint broke, dont fix it. Save your creativity for when it is really needed and when the elegant, creative solution sweeps all objections before it. But do not stifle creativity, welcome, and respect all suggestions and reward (even with a simple ‘Thank you’) ideas that seem off the wall. The person with the wacky idea now might be the one with the life‐saving suggestion in the future.

3.2.10 Organisational Ability

Unless you have someone to organise for you which, for most leaders in a veterinary context is unlikely (and only then when you have scaled some heights using your own resources), a basic ability to organise yourself and your time is a prerequisite. For those who are maintaining a clinical/technical role, time management is critical so that you can dedicate the necessary resources to your leadership functions without burning out. This means a certain degree of ruthlessness and focus are helpful to be able to concentrate on what really matters and not be distracted by less‐important issues. Similarly, envisioning and then delivering change requires the ability to organise one’s thoughts, prioritise and plan before one can communicate your ideas effectively. Once plans are in motion, part of the leadership function is to organise for the necessary resources to be available and in the right place at the right time.

One can get easily trapped in over‐organising and micromanagement and, ironically, become inefficient and less effective as a result. Trust, delegation of authority and responsibility, and empowerment are the allies of the busy leader.

Being disorganised means you do not have the time to concentrate on the things that matter, whether that be the people around you, networking, communication, change management or the other primary purposes of leadership. Poor organisation means you do not deliver yourself, your resources, your ideas, your insight, and your leadership and leads to loss of trust, disillusionment, cynicism and a frustrated, entrenched and self‐protective society.

3.2.11 Wisdom, Objectivity, and Humility

Wisdom is that elusive ability to say, or not say, and do, or not do, the right thing at the right time. Wisdom is not based on knowledge, but it is based on understanding and is, to a degree, a synthesis and is often based on experience, reflectivity, and humility. The ability to see things objectively, as they are, and not be swayed by prejudice or emotion, helps leaders be, and become, wise. Applied wisdom in leadership means choosing a right path from the tangle of complexity and showing others where it might lead (Cacciope 1997).

Wisdom is fine, but in leadership, where decisions have to be made and things have to get done, it does not mean doing nothing; unless doing nothing is the right thing to do. Believing completely in your own brain power and powers of intuition, however, are the opposite of wisdom and lead to hubris, overconfidence and potential catastrophe. This is seen on a grand scale, but it could be applied to much smaller scale, such as the veterinary clinician who is so wedded to a particular way of doing things and a belief in their own brilliance that they do not see the risk to their patient of doggedly pursuing a futile treatment plan, when the wise decision would be to stop, take stock, seek other opinions and be humble.

3.3 Emotional Competencies

3.3.1 Self‐Awareness and Self‐Leadership

Self‐leadership is about applying awareness, motivation, regulation, development, support, and compassion to your own circumstance. You don’t own a racehorse, keep it in a rough paddock, not exercise it, not groom it or pick its feet, not worm it and not care for it devotedly, and expect it to win the Derby. Chapter 4 is devoted to ‘Leading Yourself’ because this is such an important aspect of exercising leadership.

3.3.2 Internal Locus of Control

Those with a strong internal locus of control believe that events in their lives are determined more by their own actions than by chance or uncontrollable forces (Yukl and Gardner 2020). This belief supports leadership because if you believed you were at the mercy of external forces or events (external locus of control), what would be the point of trying to lead? Of course, having an internal locus of control is reasonable but believing you are invincible and can control all things is delusional and, in leadership, is likely to lead to irrational and high‐risk behaviours.

3.3.3 Self‐Confidence

Do you need self‐confidence to take on leadership? Many leaders may be racked with doubts and strong feelings of impostor syndrome but, paradoxically, manage to have the confidence to take on leadership and the ability to project confidence externally, whatever may be hidden inside. This shows an ability to silence the inner critic enough to get on with the job. Of course, this self‐confidence is helped if others show that they have confidence in you and if you have the right support.

Overconfidence and hubris are dangerous. Leadership that plays down real danger and has an excessive belief in its own powers is at risk of shutting down dissent and taking decisions that turn out to be catastrophic.

On the other hand, when someone in a leadership position lacks confidence (including the confidence to be vulnerable), it can lead to arguments, power struggles and a breakdown of group cohesion.

3.3.4 Compassion

Compassion is the feeling that arises when you are confronted with another’s suffering and feel motivated to relieve that suffering (Hess‐Holden et al. 2019). It is related to, but not the same as, empathy. Veterinary medicine is, by definition, a compassionate profession and full of those who are motivated by compassion for their fellow creatures. A desire to relieve suffering is a powerful motivator and drives great good. For leadership, a compassionate mission is easy to promote and align with, perhaps more when compassion is aimed at the animals under our care than ourselves and our colleagues. Compassion for people can be lost when the needs of our animal charges are manifest but those in leadership must ensure that there is compassion for, and care of, their people too.

Too much compassion can be overwhelming and, when compassion for others is sustained and not balanced by compassion for ourselves and support from others (including leadership), it can be draining and lead to compassion fatigue. This is a state of profound physical and emotional exhaustion and a marked reduction in our ability to empathise. It has been characterised as a secondary traumatic stress and is a serious risk in caregivers, particularly at times of high demand (Cohen 2007).

‘I just don’t care!’ are hardly the words you would want to hear from a leader. There are plenty of examples of leadership that is not compassionate, and outcomes are rarely encouraging. At best, followers may feel unappreciated, uncared for, disposable. At worst, they may be physically and emotionally damage, depersonalised, and capable of imposing great harm on others.

3.3.5 Energy

An achievement orientation is a common attribute in professionals and often a necessary driver to get through professional training (see Chapter 5). When this is applied to leadership, it means wanting and having the energy to drive positive outcomes for the group and organisation.

Achievement orientation that is not tempered by socialised power motivation and becomes all about ‘Me. Me. Me!’ is not a good sign in a leader. There is nothing wrong with wanting to be recognised for that achievement where your leadership contribution was significant. And there is nothing wrong with climbing a ladder, if that is what you want, but it should be on the back of results achieved through proper process, not manipulation of others, and not until true achievements have been delivered and are sustainable.

No one wants a leader who does not care and is not interested in making things better. In leadership, it is a reasonable expectation that you will deliver and achieve something in exchange for status and privilege.

3.3.6 Socialised Power Motivation

The willingness to exercise power is essential for leadership and can feel uncomfortable, certainly when one first moves into leadership. Some professionals have a low ‘formal’ power motivation and do not want to bear the responsibility of leadership. This motivation can grow and may be specific to a given situational need. A socialised power motivation means you are willing to exercise power in the service of the greater good, not just for your own ends (a personalised power motivation). In the veterinary professions, which have a compassionate and broadly altruistic background, only a socialised power motivation is likely to be authentic and aligned with those around you.

With an excess of power motivation might the risk of moving into areas of overcontrol and a damaging focus on ends as opposed to means. When power motivation is not social, but is personalised, ends are for personal gain and might well be at the expense of others.

Without some drive to take on leadership, however, no one would step into leadership roles and we have seen the importance and benefit of leadership. Wanting to take on leadership is not something to be ashamed of, as long as the goals are benign.

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

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