As leaders, we want to lead high-performing teams and, as team members, we want to be working as part of them.
Working in a great team is an absolute pleasure and has an enormous impact over how we feel about our work and the company we are employed by.
Of course, the opposite is also true and working in a dysfunctional team is deeply negative and has a huge impact on performance. It can be enough to encourage individuals to leave and pursue other options.
So how do we establish a great team, how do we lead one and how do we play our part in contributing to the success of the team?
Let’s start by exploring some examples of great teams. The sporting world is a good place to begin. Anybody who is loyal to a particular team or club will know all too well the highs and lows associated with team performance.
When a team is failing, the manager often gets put under enormous pressure and the result can be a swift departure, as experienced by Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur FCs’ head coaches Frank Lampard and José Mourinho this season.
Many of us have recently enjoyed the Six Nations rugby championship and each team taking part has been analysed by professionals, the media and all of us at home watching. Each team has its own characteristics, with Wales being admired for their grit and determination while England was heavily criticised for a lack of discipline.
Back in 2003 when the England ruby team won the Rugby World Cup, the team was led by Sir Clive Woodward, who helpfully shares his winning strategy.
Woodward says that ‘great teams are made up of great individuals’ and he focuses on creating a winning culture and claims a formula for creating ‘champion individuals’.
Woodward lists four key criteria to create a winning team:
Talent– individual talent;
Teachability– ‘It’s often the most experienced person who is unteachable’;
Pressure– the warrior spirit;
Will– commitment to win.
In his 2003 team, Woodward describes having five champions and ten warriors, and he highlights the importance of coaching on two levels: for individuals and for the team together.
Woodward’s approach was clearly successful and he continues to support sporting organisations but also offers coaching and consultancy to business executives.
Another team strategy brought to our attention is the ‘aggregation of marginal or incremental gains’. The strategy works on the premise that if we can improve every aspect of a team’s performance by 1%, the overall result will be a significant improvement.
This approach was highly publicised following the success of the British cycling team in 2008 and 2012 and although its achievements are being questioned, the strategy is still popular in the business environment.
One of my personal favourite sporting strategies that has been embraced by business is described in the bookWill it make the boat go faster?as described by Ben Hunt-Davis in which he documents how his team adopted this strategy and subsequently won the gold medal in the rowing eight at the 2000 Olympics in Sydney.
I like this, as it is simple and can be used to immediately ensure everyone on the team is on the same page.
In business, we might use this strategy to achieve a project within tight time-scales or to focus on a particular aspect of our service – for example: ‘Does it make the patient experience better?’ or ‘Does it make the treatment safe?’ It’s a great way to ensure focus and gain momentum to achieve short- and medium-term goals.
These examples of sporting successes in team performance provide plenty of interesting learning opportunities that can be adapted for business and we may pick up ideas from numerous sources as we create our own leadership and team management strategies.
Each of us can use best practice to influence our leadership style, but, ultimately, our approach will be unique to us and our personalities.
As we build our own style, it is important to break down the aspects of teamwork and ensure we consider each aspect to build a good all-encompassing approach.
Reflecting back to the wise words of Sir Clive Woodward, we can consider the four elements of team success that he bases his approach on.
To create the greatest team, we want to have the greatest leader and the most talented individuals.While this might be realistic for Chelsea FC, most of us are restrained by factors such as money, availability of talent, and geography.
In the real world, what we really need to aim for is the most talented individuals available to us and ensuring that each individual delivers to the best of their ability.
A team also requires a group of people with differing but complementary talents.
In a healthcare setting, our teams potentially comprise doctors, nurses, administrative support and business managers, all of whom have very different skills and have been educated differently.
All these individuals must find a way to work together to the benefit of the patient. As well as having differing skills, a team will also be home to lots of different personality types and character types.
Some people are eternal optimists, always anticipating the best possible outcome and seem oblivious to any potential barriers. Others will be the complete opposite, preferring to plan for the worst-case scenario so that all bases are covered and prepared for.
When two people of opposite types such as these come together, they can either create a perfectly balanced partnership or they can find it impossible to work together and hit a brick wall.
Another potential conflict can arise when one person is an ideas person and another is a detailed planner. The detailed plan that is essential to one person can be viewed as a barrier to progress and a time-wasting activity to the person who has the great idea and wants to get on with delivering it.
Again, a balance of these two styles is ideal, but how do we bring different personalities such as these together to work collaboratively?
In last month’s article, I talked about leaders needing to develop self-awareness and to understand their natural style. I suggested using psychometric profiling tools such as Myers Briggs and C-me profiling and, again, these tools are equally relevant to individuals working together as a team.
Once an individual understands their own style and also the natural style of others on their team, they can learn the right way to communicate and work with one another to achieve success.
The ‘ideas person’ learns that by listening to the detailed-oriented individual, their idea has a far greater chance of success as a result of the detailed plan that will be developed ensuring that every outcome is prepared for.
An ability and willingness to learn is an important attribute for all team members.
Too often, we associate this with more junior team members, but actually it is relevant to even the most senior members of a team and Woodward is quite right when he states: ‘It’s often the most experienced person who is unteachable’.
To work well as a team, every individual needs to be prepared to adapt their ways of working for the good of the team. The well-known management phrase: ‘It’s my way or the highway’ might feel powerful, but what if there is a better way?
When Woodward says pressure, what he really means is the ability to perform under pressure and he believes the only way to ensure an individual and therefore the team can succeed under pressure is to practice by exposing the team to pressure regularly.
He uses role play requiring the team to work through every eventuality to ensure they know exactly what to do in each situation. This easily relates to complex surgical procedures and can also be adapted to the business environment – for example, the launch of a new service, clinic or company.
Personally, I would also argue that all teams must think about how to recover from being under pressure and build resilience. It is clearly not possible for any individual or team to perform under constant pressure.
We need to build in mechanisms for recognising long periods of extreme pressure and have plans to relieve it and allow recovery.
This may involve adjusting holiday allowance, time off in lieu or activities within the working day to allow for recuperation, but they must be built in. This will be the topic for my next article.
A team needs to be driven by an agreed goal or objective and to share a joint motivation to succeed and achieve the goal. This is why the strategy of ‘Will it make the boat go faster?’ is so effective, as it aligns the whole team to one clear, simple goal.
If a team has one or more members who doubt the goal is achievable, then this will have a draining impact on the team’s morale and reduce each person’s motivation to succeed.
It is said that ‘teamwork makes the dream work’ and we all agree wholeheartedly, but achieving the dream requires an investment of effort on a consistent basis.
The most talented individuals might be individually amazing, but unless they can work together as a team, their talents can be wasted.
Humans are tribal and evolved working together in teams, intrinsically knowing it makes them more effective and ultimately our lives more enjoyable.
In recent months, we have seen an increasing number of reports of the effects of Covid on mental health and this is particularly apparent within the health care community.
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.
When it comes to the subject of people management, every organisation aims to create high-performing teams and one of the key contributing factors to success is leadership and management. We know that good leadership and management is vital to gain the greatest contribution from our people, but how do we define a good leader and how does a great leader differ from a great manager?
We all have vivid personal experiences of leaders and managers and can recount stories of great bosses and those who were not so great, but articulating exactly what characteristics make a great leader or manager is hard.
Who is the best manager you have ever worked for? Try articulating concisely what made them great?
I bet most people find it much easier to describe the characteristics of their worst manager rather than their best and can offer countless examples of their failures and how truly awful they were to work for.
It is much harder to state clearly what makes a great manager so great. They just are!
But to be a good manager or leader and to improve, we need to understand what skills are most important, what we want from our leaders and what our teams need from us.
The difference between leadership and management
Leadership and management are different in nature.
A leader sets a vision and the direction for the team and motivates each individual team member to join together with others as one team to achieve the set vision. People follow leaders.
A manager manages the process of the work, working with the individuals in the team to ensure they are able to make their contribution in an efficient and effective manner. A manager drives for order and accountability, creating improving systems and processes.
Individuals within the team will be motivated to follow a good leader and to work with a good manager.
Characteristics of a great leader
A great leader inspires people and motivates them to act, setting the direction and the vision of where they are heading, even if they are not certain how they will get there.
Good leaders are often charismatic, engaging and outgoing, but there is, of course, an exception to every rule.
They tend to cope well with chaos or a crisis situation and are able to determine a way forward and articulate that to others.
Leaders are good at handling change and developing confidence in others to initiate the changes.
They create ideas and engender enthusiasm to explore new opportunities and, in doing so, may be perceived as rule-breakers. You could argue that great leaders are of a more creative nature.
In a crisis situation such as the all too familiar Covid pandemic, a leader will motivate the team to commit to working hard even when exhausted and build confidence that the goal will be reached despite the way forward lacking clarity.
Characteristics of a great manager
A manager manages the work of whatever nature and, by definition, requires a deep understanding of the operations of the business or team.
A good manager will be analytical, assessing how things are done and looking at ways to change and improve either to create greater efficiency or to achieve certain goals.
n almost any work situation, a good manager will also need to a be a good people person, able to relate to individuals on a one-to-one basis and as a team.
Managers are good at creating and improving systems and process. They aim to create order and to simplify. They are problem solvers who desire stability and control.
The skills of leaders and managers are different, but to manage a business, clinic or team, the person in charge needs to have both leadership and management skills to some degree.
Examples of great leaders
During the Covid crisis, we have experienced first-hand some very high-profile leaders and managers in action. I will avoid naming any individuals to avoid tipping into a political debate, but I am sure it has become obvious to us that some individuals are better at leadership than management and vice versa.
Much has been written about great leaders over the years and, in time, I am sure we will read about the great leaders during the Covid pandemic.
Any historical list of the greatest leaders is likely to include Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King, Winston Churchill and Mahatma Gandhi and I am sure we can all name a few others.
Each of the individuals I have included had a cause they were so passionate about, that their name became synonymous with that cause. Take, for example, Martin Luther King’s cause which is well known as his ‘dream’.
If we review the leadership characteristics of these individuals to look for consistencies that help us understand what makes them great leaders, in each case we see a relentless determination, incredible will power, courage and unfailing motivation even when tested to breaking point.
As leaders, they each won the hearts and minds of their people, with Gandhi being remembered as ‘the father of his country’. In summary, we can deduce that key traits of a great leader are a clear cause, the ability to communicate that cause well, to create an enthusiastic following and an unfailing determination to achieve it.
Great business leaders
It may feel more relevant to us to consider leaders within the business community, and any current list of the ‘greatest business leaders’ is likely to include the following people.
Tim Cook, chief executive of Apple;
Sheryl Sandberg, chief operating officer of Facebook;
Mary Barra, chairman and chief executive of GM Company;
Warren Buffett, chief executive of Berkshire Hathaway;
Bob Igor, executive chairman of Disney;
Reed Hastings, chief executive of Netflix.
There are some big names here, some of whom have become almost celebrity figures, but that does not detract from their capabilities as great leaders.
Again, we can review their leadership styles to understand what makes them the great leaders they are recognised to be and look for consistencies that allow us to learn from them.
Interestingly, the themes here differ from our earlier examples of great leaders where their commitment to their cause seemed to be the greatest factor.
While I am certain that each of these business leaders has a cause or a vision as we tend to refer to it in a business setting, but most of what is written about their leadership style is their approach to creating and managing their teams.
They surround themselves with exceptional people and they empower these people to be innovative and take ownership.
They work hard to understand the strengths of the individuals within their teams and allow them to apply those strengths.
They support and encourage, acting as an enabler and they praise their team members for their great work, making a point of not taking credit themselves.
‘It doesn’t make sense to hire smart people and tell them what to do; we hire smart people so they can tell us what to do’ – Steve Jobs.
What also seems to distinguish them most is their decision-making process. They claim to make very few decisions themselves but encourage their teams to make the decisions, trusting their ability to do so, which has the added impact of ensuring their teams take ownership. They are clearly defining themselves as leaders and enabling their teams to do the managing.
Leadership and management are different and require different skillsets. We may feel that some people were born great leaders, but, in reality, their skills have been developed by life experience and formal training.
It is possible for anyone to improve their leadership and management skills and the best starting point is improving self-awareness.
Read Jane Braithwaite’s latest article ‘Sum is Greater than the Parts’ in the Independent Practitioner Today touching on the subject of teamwork and how to get the best out of your team.
The well-known saying ‘no man is an island’ is particularly true for anyone working in private practice, as it is impossible to succeed without a supportive team and the benefits of teamwork. Jane Braithwaite (right) suggests how to get the best from your team and gives a dozen tips to bring success.
Sum is greater than the parts
A consultant setting up in private practice may initially believe that he or she will work in isolation. But they will soon recognise the necessity of a support team to manage private clinics and another team entirely to run regular theatre lists.
Each team will have different members, different objectives and very different dynamics.
A team is a group or people who have come together to achieve a common goal. Ideally, the performance of the team is greater than the sum of the performance of the individual team members.
Given that you will be part of one or more teams, and you are likely to be the team leader, it is important to understand how to maximise the potential of these teams.
Does a team need a leader?
Any group or team needs a leader to be effective and to maximise potential performance. Research also suggests this to be true.
A team without a leader and clear direction can become just a talking shop. It may be a very jolly one, but progress, if any, will undoubtedly be slow.
The leader is the one who commands a group and influences that group towards a specific result. A leader is not dependent on title or formal authority.
In practice, a team normally has a formal leader by title, but it is interesting to observe how a leader can emerge from within a team if no one else takes ownership of the role.
Daniel Goleman is responsible for popularising the concept of ‘emotional intelligence’, but he also wrote a great book called Primal Leadership which articulates different leadership styles and the pros and cons of each.
It is worth exploring the different styles that might be useful to you.
The commanding, or autocratic, leadership style is the most popular style of leadership. The leader holds all the authority and responsibility for decisions made.
There is no consultation with team members. Decisions are announced and the leader expects them to be implemented.
The most appropriate use of this style is in a crisis where a decision needs to be made and acted upon quickly.
So, this style is vital, but should only be used in the right scenario, which is one where decisive action is required. The potential downside of commanding leadership is that team members start to feel demoralised and like robots with no intellectual stimulation, which, in turn, leads them to feeling alienated.
This style has historically been used widely by the armed forces, but they have recognised that it is only of use in certain situations and are embracing other styles.
An obvious use of this style for the medical practitioner is in an emergency, perhaps in theatre. I would advise any team to discuss this way of working and recognise when it is appropriate.
If all team members understand this commanding style is only used occasionally, but when necessary, they will respect it and there is less risk of people feeling alienated.
The democratic or participative style is where the leader taps into the collective wisdom of the team and the team’s subordinates are involved in the decision-making process.
This style is highly regarded by most, who feel engaged and valued when working in this way. Success is dependent on the leader engaging with team members to encourage them to contribute their ideas and opinions.
There are no major downsides of the democratic approach, but it is important to recognise that is not ideal in a crisis, as it does not allow a fast response.
By the time everyone reaches a consensus, it’s too late. In an emergency, the leader needs to recognise the need to switch from democratic behaviour to the commanding style to ensure fast action.
The coaching style is most valuable when your focus is on developing the people within your team. It works well with a team of people who show initiative and want support with their professional development.
This style is obviously highly appropriate when engaging with junior medical staff. Also with anyone who has a desire to learn and develop.
The affiliative style requires no leader and relies on teamwork. This style is great at creating harmony, but a culture of group praise can lead to accepted poor performance.
This is the model that I suggest can become a lovely, jolly talking shop with slow or no progress.
A good leader needs to be able to adopt several different styles depending on the team and the situation. Leadership is not about ‘the leader’, it is about the needs of the people you are leading. You will need to move between styles in different scenarios.
A leader is the one who knows the way, goes the way and shows the way.
Remember, in the sporting world, if a team has a great season, the manager is worshipped by the team, the press and all the fans. But if a team fails to perform well, the person who gets sacked is the manager.
[plsc_pullquote align=”right”]‘No one can whistle a symphony. It takes a whole orchestra to play it.’ H. E. Luccock[/plsc_pullquote]
As I sign off this month, I would like to leave you with this thought. This will help you, as you ponder your role as leader and team player.