Dr. Aruyaru is a Consultant General and Laparoscopic Surgeon and a Healthcare Manager. He has solid experience in managing busy
Do you know your leadership style? If so, do you apply it all the time?
There are numerous leadership styles. The more I read about them, the more I find that I can relate to more than one style. In one of my Toastmasters education projects, I undertook a test and found that my top two styles of leadership were democratic and authoritative.
The truth of the matter is that the more you read about the various styles, the more you find that you could relate to a majority of them at peculiar circumstances. There is an open secret that surgeons tend to be the aggressive type A personalities among the rest of the medics, medics themselves having higher chances of being type A compared to the rest of the population.
You can therefore imagine how being a surgeon before being a leader can predispose you to a certain style of leadership. Surgeons have numerous tags to them, perfectionist being one. Did I mention ‘petty’?. Long before the devolution of health in Kenya, I remember we used to have a director of medical services who would almost always pick surgeons as the medical superintendents in the hospitals where they worked. At present, the Kenyan cabinet secretary for education, Prof George Magoha, is a thoroughly effective leader who is credited with making several previously struggling public institutions work. I once listened to him speak to how he has ‘run the ministry like a surgeon, not a politician’.
Every now and then, though I have received positive feedback on my time consciousness, perfectionism (doing things by the book) etcetera, the one constant area of growth has been the need to slow down for my teams to catch up. To be less strict to allow diplomacy and accommodate flaws here and there. It has been an incredible leadership growth for me in the last few years. I can thank my mentors, my leadership coach, my colleagues who offer constructive feedback and Toastmasters education program where I get to practise leadership skills.
The thesis today is not to speak to how being a surgeon makes one become a good leader. I know of many who are not. And the more they get to leadership positions, the more they suffer the Peter’s Principle publicly. Irrespective of your field of specialization, leadership requires certain characteristics. Even those that seem like bad leadership traits may come in handy if employed in select situations.
From the toastmasters leadership module, there are five general traits for any good leader: Effective communication,Leading by example, Optimism, Open Mindedness and Integrity.
Five Prerequisites to Leading Anywhere
Closely related to the above and for ease of memory, the acronym P.L.E.A.D can be used for the prerequisite attributes to leading.
Lead by example. It is the height of hypocrisy to preach water and drink wine. I try by keeping time, dressing appropriately and doing what I ask of my team. When we look around at institutions that are functional, they have got it from the top. Setting the tone from the top makes the team have an explicit as well as implicit expectation. It is why the CEO is the vision carrier of the institution. It also boils down to being a good communicator. Behaving in a different way and expecting your team to hold higher standards than you is a contradiction of communication signals.
Prof Albert Mehrabian described the seminal 7-38-55 formula. The formula opines that in communication, our words carry only 7% of the message, with 38% being conveyed by the tone of our voice. The bulk of the communication (55%) is through body language (facial expression, posture, mannerisms etc). The best way to communicate as a leader is to put your action where your mouth is. (https://worldofwork.io/2019/07/mehrabians-7-38-55-communication-model/)
When you listen, you connect with your team and understand their perspective. I once had a situation with a certain segment of my team. They had raised a few concerns with the CEO who referred them to me as they were in the clinical domain. When one of the issues to be discussed was raised, I opted not to comment but instead opened a merry-go-round forum where everyone would comment anything related to the issue. By the time we were done going round, the team had raised solutions to the very issue they had raised. I learned that listening not only helps me to understand, it helps me hear the implicit solutions the team may have. .Statistics show that only 8% of leaders are good listeners. A leader has to constantly strive to listen.
Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of another person. Research shows that empathy in leadership is the most crucial trait. Up to 86% of people report they are able to deal with work-life balance challenges if they work in an empathetic environment. According to an article by Tracy Browner appearing in the Forbes Magazine, empathy is the most important Leadership skill to have. When last did you find out how you staff’s children are fairing?
“Empathy is being concerned about the human being, not just their output.”Simon Sinek
There is no single universal type of leadership. Each leader must be ready to take on different styles depending on the urgency of the matter and the team being led. When I am dealing with doctors, how I approach them is different from when I am dealing with a different cadre. For instance I had two assignments once. One was on formulating of Root Cause Analysis form- a tool used to analyse complications and deaths and determine any system errors to pick areas of improvement. I divided it into different portions and assigned to the doctors in the various departments to come up with department specific case definitions and criteria. The other was on formulation of a Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) on body identification in a morgue. I sat down with the mortuary attendants and after agreeing with the steps that must be taken, I had to personally develop the SOP and then go back and train them. That included laminating and mounting the SOP on the wall.
According to Institute for the Future, 85% of the jobs that today’s students will do in 2030 haven’t been invented yet. That is to say upskilling and reskilling have to remain important parts of our work life. Being agile is not just an important leadership trait at work, it is important in personal life and personal growth.
You cannot be a leader if there is no one to be led. Being a surgeon makes it one of the hardest things to do- delegating surgical work. Each surgeon has a specific technique that they are least interested in seeing someone modify. The stakes are high, a patient’s life is at risk. Yet slowly over time even the surgeons learn to delegate certain procedures to qualified junior colleagues. This of course happens after numerous moments of evidence that the said junior colleague is safe to handle the level of surgery. If a surgeon can delegate, any other person can delegate. Delegation is empowerment.
John Maxwell describes five levels of leadership. To get to the highest impact as a leader, you have to develop other people. That can only happen if you delegate. By delegating, both you and the person to whom you have delegated the duties will get instant confidence in their ability. In addition, you learn any weaknesses and areas of growth needed.
In conclusion, irrespective of leadership position you have, if you want to lead, you have to PLEAD.