I recently became a paediatric consultant and spend a large part of my day trying to look the part of a fully functioning leader. As juniors we get very little teaching on the topic and then get thrown off the treadmill of training, expected to be good quality leaders.
As clinicians we are in the business of people, both patients as well as our colleagues. However, most of us spend little time learning how to get the best out of either.
I think and have thought for a while now, that this is a false economy. I believe as doctors our biggest asset is and should be our colleagues and the teams in which we work.
Our patient’s healthcare experience starts with the person they meet at reception, all the way to the surgeon at the other end of a scalpel blade. Every person on that journey impacts the patient’s experience. Behind each of those jobs is a human, a person. It’s the PEOPLE in the NHS that make our patients experience. For so long we have focused on processes and pathways and called that our “patients experience”.
I think this misperception is part of the reason why things are not as they should be within our beloved NHS, with poor staff retention, high levels of burnout and increasing levels of patient dissatisfaction. If the people within the system feel unheard, undervalued and marginalised, the people that come into that system (our patients) will invariably leave dissatisfied too, it’s the forgotten nosocomial infection.
So, why this rant about investing more in the people within the NHS? What can you, as just one tiny cog in the huge machine do? Well, I asked myself just that question. Now that I’m a consultant (team leader, teacher, and giver of pastoral care), what can I do to make the people I work with feel seen and heard, more engaged and generally happier at work?
I decided to lean into one of my natural strengths – my sociable nature – which generally puts people at ease and allows them to open up. I came up with a recipe of my own and decided to try a new approach.
The ingredients that needed to go into my recipe had to include;
-4oz of- service demands (made up of clinics, meetings, dictating letters, ward rounds)
-3oz of- knowing I couldn’t slow down patient flow
-2oz of- shift patterns resulting in working with different juniors every other day
-3 tablespoons of- I truly want to be a good consultant
-200ml of -I want to get the best out of my team (and I’ll know who to ask if I want something specific done well)
-2 teaspoons of- I want to know the limitations of my team.
-5ml of- how can I work on my limitations?
-Sprinkles of- just not enough hours in my day to do it all
So, in the infancy of my consultantship, I thought I’d give something a try. Something I wished someone had done for me as a junior.
After morning handover, once the night team have been sent home and just before the ward round starts, I invite the team of nurses and doctors, to think of one thing they believe they are good at in their job and one thing they feel they need to improve on.
I go first and share one strength and one thing I find hard or need to work on and give the team permission to help me or pick me up on it if they see me doing it. I like to choose different strengths and limitations each time to mix it up.
Then people just take it in turns to share their answers.
This whole exercise takes 10-20 minutes, half an hour, tops, if you really want to explore what is being shared. (And I would encourage you to do that occasionally).
This exercise only needs to be done every now and then or whenever you find yourself working with new team members. The value of this simple, yet super effective, exercise is priceless in my opinion.
Here are some of the benefits I’ve discovered:
- I quickly get to know what my team needs extra support with.
- I get to know what my team members’ strengths are, allowing me to know what they are likely to do well in and the areas where they’ll need less supervision.
- It helps to build team morale.
- It facilitates an environment where juniors can understand how best to support their peers. (It was truly wonderful to hear the juniors give each other suggestions on how they could work on their challenges together)
- If we have a busy day, it helps with task allocation, on quieter days we can tailor task allocation to support the development of the team.
- It makes everyone in the team feel acknowledged, considered, and heard.
- It supports continual professional development.
- In short, within less than half an hour you can learn what used to take at least a month, if not longer, to learn about juniors.
I think it’s important that my juniors see and understand my limitations and see my vulnerable side. Studies have shown creating an environment of modelling vulnerability creates a safe space for intellectual bravery which fosters innovation, creative answers to problems and success within an organisation 1. Surely this helps us push forward the agenda of best practice within our teams and amongst our juniors.
Pastorally, showing my human side makes them much more likely to approach me in their time of need and improve their confidence and emotional wellbeing 2, (knowing that even their leaders are working on continual improvement). As effective teachers and leaders (which is our role as consultants), we should aim to help our team unleash THEIR best potential.
Finally, selfishly, this exercise helps to protect me. My team now know what they might need to pick me up on and understand the hurdles I might trip up on. After all, we are human and even the most senior of us, error. It’s a win-win in my book.
I truly aspire to become a “Human consultant” not a “Hero consultant”.
So, I challenge you all to a round of “Getting to know you” the next time you step on to your ward, your clinic, or find yourself working with any new team.
- To Foster Innovation, Cultivate a Culture of Intellectual Bravery, by Timothy R. Clark. Harvard Business Review. https://hbr.org/2020/10/to-foster-innovation-cultivate-a-culture-of-intellectual-bravery
- To Inspire Your Team, Share More of Yourself, by Gia Storms. Harvard Business Review. https://hbr.org/2021/09/to-inspire-your-team-share-more-of-yourself
Dr Victoria Agunloye
I completed my paediatric training in September 2021 and now work as a Paediatric consultant at Whipps Cross Hospital in East London. Twitter handle: @VictoriaAgunlo1 Instagram: Oncall mummy
Declaration of interests
I have read and understood the BMJ Group policy on declaration of interests and declare the following interests: none.