Designated Managing Director Jane Braithwaite continues her ‘The power of people’ series by exploring the ways in which leadership skills can be enhanced and highlights the support and tools available to help achieve this.
Some leaders make leadership look easy. They come across with both charm and sincerity, generating enthusiasm and support for their ideas and attracting a loyal following.
We watch these impressive individuals in awe, admiring the seemingly natural ability they were lucky enough to be born with.
To a certain extent, it may be true that some people have personality traits well suited to a leadership role, but leadership skills can be learned, developed and improved both by experience and more formal training.
Good leaders energise their teams to succeed and, in every organisation, the ability to do this is an advantage, enabling them to achieve more and to progress at pace. A lack of leadership leads to slow decisions or, worse, no decisions and a lack of progress.
In the past, we have spoken about our three ‘C’s of leadership:
Clarity – Clarity of purpose and a relentless determination to achieve that purpose;
Communication – To communicate effectively with the team and generate enthusiasm to achieve the team’s purpose;
Care – A genuine dedication to the well-being and development of the team.
When we consider the great leaders of our time – for example, Winston Churchill and Nelson Mandela – we see a consistently strong sense of purpose or cause and an absolute determination to achieve success.
And looking at the skills of business leaders such as Tim Cook of Apple and Sheryl Sandberg of Facebook, we recognise the same traits of a strong sense of purpose, but also a huge commitment to building the best team, empowering the team and recognising individuals for the success they achieve.
A leader who has taken centre stage in the last few months is Brigadier Phillip Prosser, who stepped up to the podium as part of the Government’s Covid campaign on 7 January.
Originally from Wales, Prosser was commissioned into the military in 1992 having completed a degree in engineering. He went on to serve on several occasions in Bosnia, Iraq and Afghanistan prior to serving on home soil as part of the PPE distribution campaign in 2020 and most recently taking lead of the logistics of the campaign to roll out the Covid vaccine.
As he admitted himself, he has ‘never battled a virus before’ and so provides a great example of how strong leadership skills can be applied to very different situations.
Prosser talks about his current role as a ‘noble purpose’ which marks ‘the beginning of the end of Covid’. This ‘noble purpose’ is his cause and his determination to succeed is obvious and it is clear he has a very strong sense of purpose in his role as the leader of this current campaign.
Strong, clear communications are demonstrated as he delivers key messages with absolute clarity, and while there are no wasted words, he commands trust and builds a belief that he can deliver as illustrated in the following statement.
‘It is my role to deliver combat supplies to UK forces in time of war. My team are used to complexity and building supply chains at speed in the most arduous and challenging conditions. We aim to deliver vaccine as soon after it is supplied as possible, not leaving vast quantities in the warehouse – it needs to be in arms not on shelves.’
Factors to succeed
When asked about achieving such ambitious targets, he describes three factors needed to succeed.
In every conversation I have witnessed, Prosser raises the profile of the NHS team alongside his own team, referring to two world-class institutions and describing the ‘heroic efforts’ being made.
He appears to be a leader who would step back from congratulations and deflect the compliments and recognition towards the team that he leads.
How does the military train such effective leaders? Most significantly, they deliver extensive leadership training that is very carefully planned and far more comprehensive than we typically see in business and other government organisations.
Promoted without training
In many businesses, if someone is good at doing their functional role, they are often promoted into a leadership role with very limited training and rely on their natural ability rather to lead.
The ethos of the military is to serve, and doing so is a duty that affects the style of their leaders. A military leader takes responsibility for the well-being of their team and their extended community and prioritises their need.
In a crisis, the team must be motivated and inspired by their leader and they must also have total trust and confidence in them. Often their lives will depend on their leader.
The style of leadership, exhibited by the military is known as transformational leadership, and was initially introduced by leadership expert James MacGregor Burns, who gives us this definition.
Transformational leadership occurs when one or more persons engage with others in such a way that leaders and followers raise one another to higher levels of motivation and morality.
Transformational leadership is widely believed to be the optimal style of leadership largely because most individuals want to experience this type of leadership in their professional lives. Transformational leaders inspire and motivate their team and trust them to make decisions, giving them a greater opportunity to be creative and make changes.
How do we develop our leadership skills?
The starting point for any leader must be self-knowledge and self-awareness. Understanding how we naturally behave as leaders and our strengths and weaknesses is the only sure-fire way to develop our skills and to become better.
Once we understand our current style, we can identify behaviours to improve, explore training and additional support to help us learn to improve.
There is an overwhelming amount of information regarding leadership development which is evidence in itself of how many of us value the development of these skills, but it is hard to fathom where to start.
Most of us believe we have a strong awareness of how we come across as individuals and leaders, but, sadly, this is often not the case and how others see us is often quite different to how we perceive ourselves to be.
For example, you may believe you communicate regularly with your team and see yourself as a strong communicator, but your team may feel you are quite closed and need to communicate more.
This is very common feedback from teams when asked about their leader. Many of us have blind spots and being made aware of them is the basis for improvement. Improving self-awareness allows us to understand how others see us, identify any blind spots and allows us to choose to act in some way to improve.
Embarking on a journey to develop greater self-awareness is brave and it is important to remind ourselves that there is no perfect person, no perfect leader and no perfect behaviours. The aim is improvement overall and being the best leader possible for us.
One of the most commonly used tools for improving self-awareness in leadership are psychometric tools; for example the Myers Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI).
MBTI is widely recognised to be incredibly valuable and has been used for over 50 years. The tool divides everyone into 16 personality types represented by a combination of four letters as follows:
Extroverted (E) vs Introverted (I);
Sensing (S) vs Intuition(N);
Thinking (T) vs Feeling (F);
Judging (J) vs Perceiving (P).
I really like Myers Briggs, but the terminology used is hard to remember (am I ENTJ?) and so I prefer to use a tool called C-Me profiling.
The concept is similar, but the results are based on behaviours rather than personalities and four colours representing these different behaviours. It is therefore much easier to remember, as it’s visual. I am a yellow and red.
One of the other benefits is that a team familiar with C-Me can use the colours as a ‘language’ to help them work well together and communicate more effectively.
The concept of 360-degree feedback is to gather comments from several sources to be assessed and analysed to identify recurring trends and therefore generate useful data to improve self-awareness and identify areas for personal development.
Ideally, you would include a good number of participants, preferably 15 people, with differing relationships to you.
Aim to choose some contributors who are senior to you, members of your peer group and members of your team so that you really get a 360-degree view. In some circumstances, you might also choose to invite patients to take part, although this is not always relevant when assessing leadership skills.
Many doctors will be familiar with the 360-degree feedback requirement of the GMC validation, which is indeed similar but focuses more on your behaviour as a doctor as opposed to as a leader.
There is no doubt that implementing 360-degree feedback is admin-heavy and you will need to find a good system to support this. There are numerous tools available and specialist companies available to help.
Coaching and development
Greater self-awareness will highlight personal development areas, and these will obviously differ for each individual.
Once you have a greater understanding of the leadership behaviours you would like to focus on developing, it is time to look for support to help you and there is a vast amount of support available.
The number of books and podcasts focusing on leadership is quite astounding and for anyone who is willing and motivated to invest time in reading and listening, so much can be learned in this way.
Most of us are time poor and we need motivation to keep us on track and may wish to consider engaging a personal coach to support this journey.
Again, the number of coaches available is overwhelming and it is worth investing some serious time into finding the right person with the right skills for you.
Many universities and independent companies run leadership training programmes in a traditional classroom setting or on a virtual basis.
This formal approach can be valuable if you are motivated to gain a recognised qualification that may help you further your career or perhaps you would value the opportunity to step outside your normal environment and dedicate some time to learning.
These courses do require a significant investment in time attending the course itself and completing the set work and, of course, the cost of the course itself.
Becoming a better leader is an objective shared by many of us and there is definitely a lot of support to help us achieve this goal.
To progress requires an investment of our time to develop greater self-awareness, being honest with ourselves and being brave, potentially listening to feedback that opens blind spots that are unknown and unexpected.
Choosing to act and improve requires self-motivation and commitment but doing so not only improves individuals as leaders in the workplace, but potentially has benefits in our personal lives.
The best leaders, of course, appreciate that as well as developing their own behaviours and leadership skills, they also need to create and manage amazing teams and next month we will explore this topic, discussing tools and techniques to help leaders develop high-performing teams.