Top Tips for life long leadership

Published: 17 October 2019 Ezine

By Pamela Parker, consultant sonographer, Hull University Teaching Hospitals Nhs Trust and president elect, British Medical Ultrasound Society. 

When asked to write something about leadership at a national level, I was very flattered; in all honesty I hadn’t considered myself in that role.

I recognise that I have been a leader in many walks of life: a Brownie sixer, a Rainbow guide leader (called Rupert, although why I didn’t choose Yogi is beyond me), the work’s team netball captain, and first at the bar at the BMUS annual scientific meetings, of course. But a national leader sounded far too grand, so I have taken some time out to reflect on this. Is it a befitting title?

Top Tip Number 1 - Know your vision
The first question I asked myself was “Well, what is a good leader?” If one is to be seen as a national leader, what are the qualities that underpin that? The best definition I found is that 'leadership is the art of motivating a group of people to act towards achieving a common goal'.1

To make that happen though, I believe you need to have a common goal that the team, including the leader themselves, can buy into. Even in difficult circumstances, having that agreed shared goal and understanding will often produce the results required. In the challenging world of the ever changing NHS it can be difficult to identify and agree that commonality.

Number 2 - Play to your strengths
A good leader is often noted to be charismatic and confident, which are traits often ingrained, or so it seems. However, good leadership skills can be learnt, nurtured and developed over time. Reflecting on actions will help develop those much needed skills. My own leadership development certainly started in childhood; headstrong and independent were commonly used in school reports. Indeed, my experiences in girl guiding helped me form an understanding of how to encourage others to get the 'job done'. There was no way I was sleeping outside if the tent didn’t go up.

Number 3 - Remember we are all different but have shared base needs
Childhood skills do transfer into our adult being and I have certainly drawn down tips I learnt in a campsite or netball pitch to help me work in a team. Moving into a work environment with a larger team, all with their own opinions, perspectives and goals, is daunting. One of the first learning experiences I had was Leading an Empowered Organisation (LEO) course. This opened my eyes to differences inherent in a team and the hierarchy of needs2 commonly forgotten in between busy schedules and rising demands.

Number 4 - Share the difficulties
What that LEO course did teach me was the need to empower your team, small or large, to be able to make the change. It is very easy for team members to be managed, to be directed and told what to do. Not all team members like this approach but it is comfortable and known. 

In a managed team there is always that common manager, the person to blame, the person to direct. Leading a team and being a good leader requires the team to know what the mission is, what they are aiming for. The team needs to own the problem and feel and believe they are part of the solution. No one said leadership was easy! Fnd a friend or work buddy to offload to outside of the team.

Number 5 - Take a leap of faith and allow the team to follow
When I started my role as ultrasound lead in 2006, I built a virtual boat and invited the team aboard. I had a goal to become an exemplar department and I asked the team to join me. We agreed what that destination was and how we could get there. My boat had a full crew and off we sailed. 

Without doubt we have hit a few rocks, particularly in the early days when their captain wasn’t quite sure how to sail. We took a few wrong turns when the captain disregarded the experienced navigator, and a few storms passed when some of the crew members got cabin fever, but I’d say our destination is very much in sight. This captain now has a fleet of other such boats she is sailing to destinations new. 

Number 6 - Talk, listen and communicate
The talk of crews, boats and destinations may feel a million miles away from ultrasound and #MUAM but sometimes analogies are the best way to get a vision across. It worked for our team and I still have my pirate captain hat that the team gave me to prove their commitment to the vision from the very start.

The key skills I needed to get this buy-in were communication, communication, communication. Inspiring your team requires them to understand what is required of them and keeping open lines of communication is essential. Yes, sometimes there are confidential items that cannot be shared, but honesty about this will negate the issues that could arise. Open communication from your team is a necessity, along with a thick skin.

Leading does not always make you popular but being open to critique and questioning garners respect, an essential component of good leadership. Find the time to talk, listen, communicate, and reap the benefits

New teams, new challenges and new goals
My role as a leader has taken me outside of my comfort zone at times but has opened doors beyond those I ever imagined possible. Not only as a Brownie guide but in my first leadership role. 

Leading my team has been an amazing honour and I do believe we are reaching our goal of being an exemplar department. My time as department lead has come to an end as I start on my own path as a consultant sonographer, but I have passed the helm to a new team of leaders with their own vision and exciting new ventures. My leadership nationally though continues. We must always remember that our team are people all working to provide excellent patient care and with a sense of pride in their role. To lead well is to respect this and enhance the good in all of them. 

With that thought I will leave with you with my final top tip: “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” 
Maya Angelou.3