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How to become a resilient leader

In the final part of our series on resilience in general practice, Fiona Dalziel highlights the benefits of resilient leadership and looks at how GPs and practice managers can develop as leaders.

Resilient leaders know their own strengths and weakenesses (Picture: iStock)
Resilient leaders know their own strengths and weakenesses (Picture: iStock)

General practice today needs resilient leadership. Luckily, some GP leaders in recent years have had a real impact and continue to do so. They work at a UK level, influencing thinking and challenging assumptions. They are able to weather setbacks and disappointment and keep bouncing back with positivity and optimism.

Many GPs, especially those newer to the profession, feel understandably overwhelmed by the challenge of becoming a leader.  But, at this crucial point in the history of general practice, it is important that the leaders of the future are able to start moving forward. How can today’s GPs or practice managers become tomorrow’s resilient leaders?  

Challenge 1: Start small

In fact, start in your own practice. This is an organisation you know and understand and on whose future you can have an impact. If you have never led something in the practice before, consider the following:

Volunteer to lead on something you have not been involved in before – this may be a QOF area. Don’t be put off if you are not a partner.

Volunteer to investigate something and present a paper with recommendations. This may well involve consulting with key individuals, data collection, delegation (perhaps of the data collection), management of change and some of your own time and energy.

Challenge 2: Know your preferred leadership style

Resilient leaders have good self-knowledge. They understand their own strengths and weaknesses and push themselves beyond their comfort zone. They believe in their abilities and that they are doing the right thing.

Additionally, a good leader is aware of his or her own leadership style. In general practice, many leaders are consultative, collaborative and psychologically-close.

However, it is important to be able to change styles according to circumstances. At times, decisive, forceful action may be appropriate. In an emergency situation, there may be no time to ask everyone how they feel about what is happening.

Leaders who are successful are resilient; they are able to respond to a situation in the style which most suits the circumstances.

Ask yourself:

  • What is my normal leadership style?
  • What is my leadership style under pressure?
  • What is my ideal leadership style?
  • What can I do to find out more about my leadership style?
  • Most good leadership training will cover these topics.

Challenge 3: Have a plan

Resilient individuals set challenging but achievable goals for themselves; a successful leader will have a plan. A sense of direction with identifiable milestones may feel like a distant dream at times, and at these times it is doubly important.  An organisation that is able to respond to pressure and bounce back from problems is an organisation that already has effective leadership in place.  That leader will have helped establish the plan and will be able to adapt it to cope with the unexpected.

Ask yourself:

  • Does the practice have an established sense of direction?
  • How well do we cope as an organisation when we are under pressure?
  • What can we do to strengthen our sense of direction?
  • What can we do to clarify and strengthen leadership in the practice?
  • What do I want my role to be in this?

Challenge 4: Ensure decision-making processes are effective

Many practices under pressure feel that there is little time and energy to have coffee together, never mind meet and plan. Established decision-making processes become undermined and decisions lose their credibility when made in the corridor at what used to be coffee time.  Resentment and other negative emotions take hold. This is an opportunity to look again at what is happening and re-establish sound systems for deciding what to do next.

Ask yourself:

  • Are our meetings held at the right time and place?
  • Are key individuals regularly missing, arriving late and leaving early?
  • Is important information distributed before the meeting to allow consideration of its impact?
  • Does everyone know what we will be discussing and in what order?

Consider consulting with colleagues individually and presenting a paper with suggestions of a way forward.

Challenge 5: Stay calm when it all goes pear-shaped

A leader is never more under the microscope than at times of challenge.  The whole team will look to the leader’s reactions and will follow the leader’s example in terms of their own reaction to a difficult situation. A leader who panics loses respect and credibility; clearly, this is not an example of resilient leadership behaviour.

In a crisis, the resilient leader will:

  • Have a plan and remain unrelentingly optimistic
  • Keep trouble-makers involved to minimise and control their impact
  • React decisively
  • Communicate as much as possible in order to provide reassurance
  • Retain a sense of humour and positivity
  • Take advice from a variety of trusted sources
  • Give people time to think about and react to unpopular decisions

Ask yourself:

  • How do I respond to a crisis?
  • What kind of impression may that have on the rest of the team?
  • How good am I at communicating when under pressure?
  • Does my sense of positivity and optimism disappear?

Fiona Dalziel FRCGP (Hon) is a practice management consultant www.dlpracticemanagement.co.uk

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