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Leadership is a critical skill that evolves over time. The past two years have taught us, amongst other things, that how we lead teams during crises is more important than ever. In our two-part series for May and June, we explore what leadership in medicine means for doctors.

If you are new to leadership or do not have much experience leading, then this month’s article is for you.

For experienced leaders who want to know how leadership has changed in the past two years, then the June article is for you.

Why doctors need leadership skills

When you begin your career in medicine, the last thing you likely think about is leadership. Your priority is studying and attaining your qualifications. Yet, once you reach a certain level in your career path, leadership becomes a fundamental aspect to be successful in your role.

Whether you realise it or not, learning and implementing appropriate leadership skills will not only help you, but also the teams working with, and for, you.

In this article, we delve into the difference between leadership and management, why doctors need to learn leadership skills, and the key leadership opportunities these skills will open up.

If you are a trainee in the early stages of your medical career, we hope the information will help you see that leadership is something that can be learned.

Leadership versus management

It’s fair to say that not all managers are leaders and not all leaders are managers. This can be confusing if you are not clear on the definitions of leading and managing. In simple terms:

A manager focuses on the execution of the outcomes required to satisfy the company’s vision. They set the priorities, KPIs, budgets and spend. They direct their teams on what they need to deliver.

A leader focuses on defining the company’s vision. They coach, mentor, inspire and motivate people to use their creativity and think outside the box. They drive the energy and provide opportunities for people to grow, both professionally and personally.

Although both roles play an important part in any organisation, it is leadership that doctors will find more challenging as it has many guises.

Defining what leadership means for you

Often when people consider leadership, their minds turn to public figures – Ardern, Merkel, Obama, Churchill. Yet, leaders are around us every day – the unknown quiet achievers who move others toward achievement of a common goal.

What does leadership mean to you? It means different things to different people, and there is no wrong answer. Many of the responses doctors give do not refer at all to examples of powerful people, but rather generally anyone within the medical multidisciplinary and allied health teams who can direct the group toward successful outcomes for patients through a combined effort.

To me leadership means taking responsibility and setting standards of excellence and integrity for others to identify with and possibly use to help them grow to achieve whatever pursuits they are focused on.

So, what does leadership mean to you? A common question you will encounter at interviews, it is worth spending the time thinking how you would define leadership for you (not what you think people want to hear).

Learning leadership skills

No matter what your specialty, you will be working with teams in various capacities. Those teams will look to you for inspiration and motivation, so be ready!

Leadership does not come naturally to most people, which is why organisations provide training in leadership skills. Understanding the personality types of your teams, their communication preferences, and their career goals, will help you help them. Developing leadership capabilities will also assist you to attain specialty training and employment positions.

In your current employment, is there a leader who supports and encourages you? Are they interested in seeing you succeed, rather than being judgemental? Look for others in your organisation who stand out as a leader, those you would like to emulate. Hone in on the qualities you admire and watch how they communicate with people around them. These are skills you can have, too, either by watching and learning or attending training and putting those skills into practice.

You can start now. Make a list of the leadership qualities you admire. These should align with your core values on a personal level. Talk to your manager about attending leadership training so you can better understand and lead people. You will gain confidence to apply for leadership roles and apply the skills in your current relationships. Remembering what leadership means to you and how it aligns with your core values, these new skills will also help you understand your patients and how best to communicate with them.

Knowing the important role that leadership in medicine plays in your career choices, you will discover more opportunities to undertake leadership activities.

If you would like to find out more, and how career coaching can help you prepare for leadership roles, contact Anita at [email protected] or 0437 527 597

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