Leadership: team work makes the dream work

What are the five most important skills that practice managers must be able to demonstrate when leading a team? TIM MARTIN explores which attributes you should be fostering and how you should be managing and inspiring your practice team

It’s easy to recognise a weak leader and find fault; from David Brent, made famous by Ricky Gervais in The Office, to the media highlighting political incompetence at prime ministerial level, it seems society is over-exposed to demonstrations of bad leadership. In contrast, the leadership qualities of men and women like Winston Churchill, Nelson Mandela and Karren Brady are often more difficult to define.

While you might not be expected to stand in front of a podium and inspire an assembled crowd with your oratory, managing a practice requires you to get the best from your staff – the ability to lead effectively is paramount in achieving this. Here Ron Adner, author of The Wide Lens: A new strategy for innovation and Humphrey Walters, visiting fellow of inspirational leadership at the Henley Management College in Oxfordshire, share their five top leadership tips.

Ron lists the following as key traits of a strong leader: 

Decisiveness: When making a decision a good leader will identify what to say no to and what to say yes to. The biggest part of creating a successful vision is knowing which demands are at the front of the queue and which are at the back of it; an exceptional leader will give her/his team the confidence to know what to prioritise.

Inspiring others: You need to pull people together and make sure each of your priorities are well known throughout your practice.

Managing failure: Trust is often generated when things don’t work out. After attempting a plan that doesn’t work out a leader should be able to say to the team, convincingly, “That was a really good effort, despite the result, and what matters is that we tried something new.” Doing this means that staff won’t suffer any reputational damage.”

Being equitable: This is common to all good leaders even if they use different leadership styles – for example, pleasant and humorous or authoritarian. The key to being successful is not dependent upon ostentatious behaviour but rather on being consistent and fair with every team member. Does a leader see the big picture and act on it? Regardless of style, that theory has to be put into practice.

Team building: The thing that makes a practice setting more challenging than others is that, very often, the people who work in GP surgeries do so because they believe in a particular cause, so in this respect you must expect some form of resistance as a leader. Sometimes this resistance to change won’t be due to laziness but because those in your charge believe that their current work practices are best. Dissent is not down to staff being stuck in their ways. Unite your team – the one proven way of making sure people don’t change is making them feel like the bad guy.

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Humphrey identifies the following as characteristic of great leadership: 

One-to-one communication: It’s important to research each of your team members – what makes them tick, what is morale like inside your practice – create a ‘who’s who in the zoo’ type exercise.

Positivity: Ask the following questions: How are we perceived as an organisation? How would we like to be perceived? What do we need to do to harness the positive and eliminate the negative?

Fight for a cause: Have an emotional or pragmatic tag for a forthcoming campaign. When I worked as a management consultant for the World Cup winning England rugby team in 2003 our emotional tag was, “We have a duty to inspire the nation” and our pragmatic focus was “To be world class in 10 out of 14 key performance areas of the game”.

Team building: Have no more than eight team rules which reflect how all practice staff behave as a team.

Effective written and oral communication: Look at positive language and work out phrases and words which should be banned and phrases and words which should be used consistently.

It will come as a relief, then, that googling ‘team building ice-breakers’ is not a necessary skill in demonstrating strong leadership and building a winning team…maybe that sort of approach is best left to Mr. Brent.

What’s the hallmark of bad leadership? Ron explains:

They tend to focus on allocating blame. They take opposing positions personally without understanding the source of opposition and they force themselves into a position of win or lose – for me to win, you have to lose – rather than trying to craft ways for everyone to win. The problem with this is that where relationships are long lasting – even if a leader’s policy ends up as a winning one – the fact that others feel they have lost sews resistance to future change. That’s the hallmark of bad leadership.

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