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Anybody can be a leader. In fact, many jobs and roles include leadership as a fundamental human, or soft, skill. However, being a leader and actually leading are two different things. If a person knows how to play tennis but if they only watch others play, then would you call them a tennis player? No. In the same way a person can only be called a leader if they put into practice the skills of leadership.

While a leader can exercise their leadership skills, how do they learn those skills? While there are many leadership courses available, not everyone is provided with the appropriate training. They are often left on their own with little or no support from management or senior staff. This can result in a lack of confidence when called upon to make decisions. Or worse, there is no one suitably skilled to make a decision.

Leadership culture and great leaders

Your leadership style and values may or may not align with those of your organisation, depending on the leadership culture. Some value people over tasks, making teams a high priority, while others are too focused on the outcomes of tasks. Regardless of the company’s culture, you have an opportunity to build and strengthen your leadership skills. Be the leader that inspires, someone others want to be.

In a Harvard Business Review article published in 1998 called ‘What Makes a Leader?’, Daniel Goleman talks about what differentiates great leaders from merely good leaders: emotional intelligence (EI). Five EI skills specifically:

·      Self-awareness: knowing your own strengths, weaknesses, values, and goals

·      Self-regulation: keeping emotions in check and remaining calm when problems arise

·      Motivation: not giving up when something fails. Looking for out-of-the-box solutions

·      Empathy: being sensitive to other people’s feelings. Understanding how to communicate with different personalities

·      Social skill: building rapport with others to persuade them to move in desired directions

These skills apply to both the leader and teams. The stronger the EI skills, the higher performing the teams. As the article states, we are all born with certain levels of EI skills. It’s what you do with those skills that will impact your success as a leader.

When you look at EI skills in the roles of doctors, you will need to draw on all five essential skills:

Self-awareness: understanding the strengths and weaknesses of your team members so you know when to delegate. As a leader you can’t, and shouldn’t, do everything yourself. Let your team know their contribution matters.

Self-regulation: when a team member, or even you, makes a mistake, don’t automatically get upset and lay blame. Be sure everyone understands the consequences then work as a team to find a solution. Maintaining calm reflects on the team so they can stay focused.

Motivation: there are constant battles with funding, resources, assets. While they may not be easily solved, your drive to push through the battles and roadblocks will motivate your team to keep going.

Empathy: being aware that everyone has a bad day and may have a personal or work-related issue affecting them. While they may not confide in you, you can be mindful of their emotional state and offer support options.

Social skill: building relationships with your teams, colleagues and management is key to obtaining their support for opportunities you identify for change in your organisation.

Think about how these EI skills fit into your leadership role, and which ones you could improve on. Ask your team for feedback (and be open to honesty). You may be surprised at how they perceive you.

Top 10 essential leadership qualities for doctors

Once you understand the culture in your organisation, you can go deeper into what makes a great team. While there will be a mix of different personalities and skillsets, these can be the exact qualities that complement each other and make a team successful and productive.

 As you work with many people during your career, if you remember the following 10 leadership qualities, you will generally find your teams will thrive:

·      Being a team player, and working alongside your teammates

·      Respectful behaviour, of both your teams and patients

·      Building people up, providing encouragement and positive feedback

·      Acting with integrity, being a role model who demonstrates ethical behaviour

·      Encouraging contribution, showing appreciation for each team member’s ideas and suggestions

·      Planning, letting team members have a say in upcoming projects or patient care

·      Encouraging improvement and innovation, allowing each team member to speak up without fear of dismissal or ridicule

·      Making decisions, allowing team members to put forward their views based on their evaluation and knowledge

·      Model an assertive approach, not being afraid to make the final decision if required, taking responsibility for the decision making and the consequences

·      Trust, in each other and of oneself, whether it be trusting a team member to perform a task without supervision or trusting yourself as the leader to delegate and believe in your team

There are many more qualities that we could have included, however these are the top 10 that we feel will have the biggest impact.

Which leadership qualities would you add to this list?

How to recognise the 6 warning signs of poor leadership

Knowing what great leadership looks like can be reinforced by knowing what is defined as poor leadership (or room for improvement). As we mentioned earlier, leadership can be learned so if any of the following signs seems familiar, don’t despair. There are many tools available to help you improve these skills. Being a bad leader doesn’t make you a bad person. It means there are things you need to be aware of, qualities to work on, to make sure your team members don’t feel compelled to leave.

The following are six clear signs that your team needs you to step up before they step away for good:

Micromanagement: People become demotivated because you are micromanaging them every day and don’t trust them to do their job

Criticism: People become defensive because you are constantly criticising them and never show appreciation or thank them for their efforts

Contempt: People will not speak up in meetings because you dismiss anything they say, including any concerns raised

Absent: People feel disconnected from you because you are not present, not contactable, and not involved with them

Lack of career support: People are looking externally for jobs because they feel you have no interest in their career path and aspirations

Uninterested: People are not confiding in you because they see that you are not interested in getting to know them on both a personal and work level

If you’ve noticed higher than usual staff turnover recently, it may be time to reconnect with your teams.

In summary

Remember, leadership is constantly evolving and adapting and so should we. It is not a skill that you attain then forget. Now that you know a little more about what makes a great leader, you can work on applying the skills to your current and future roles.

I will leave you with this thought: A leader is only as good as their team. If a team is not performing well, it’s a direct reflection on the leader. The ultimate goal is to build a team strong enough that no one knows who the leader is.

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