Dr M – Senior leader experience

Dr M is a senior clinical leader in an acute hospital setting who retains some clinical practice as a consultant. The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has affected the trust root and branch, workloads increasing significantly for certain doctors, and some medical teams struggling.

Prior to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, Dr M described how he tended to stay in his office developing policy, preferring the governance part of his role. However, his experiences of working during the pandemic led him to make the conscious decision to alter his leadership style, by involving his team of doctors more, becoming more compassionate, and showing understanding.

One of his first steps was to search for any available evidence on good medical leadership. ‘I spent a lot of time looking at the ways that people lead through crisis - news articles from the British Medical Journal and others as well.’

Dr M also looked for helpful journal articles, on supporting doctors’ physical and mental health. He then sent them out by email to the medical staff. He outlined emphasis in those communications was ‘we will get through this together somehow,’ and saying ‘it's going to be really difficult and if you're afraid, I completely get that, and you're not alone in all this. My door is always open.’

But it was not just about understanding – it was doing, too.

‘The wellbeing aspect for me is about listening and showing concern, and meaning concern, being seen to do something.’

‘You've got to understand what people are going through really. Someone has to remain level-headed, but it's all right to weep and cry, it's all right to show emotions as well. I've had people coming back saying "Thank you very much, you're leading really well." And I'd think “am I leading well? All I've done is sent out an article.” ’

He also went on more walk-arounds to engage with medical staff. ‘I like sitting in the office and working through policies and I like governance and stuff like that. So if I'm really honest, getting out and about isn't always my natural style, but it is something I do try and do, and connect with.’

He says, ‘Hopefully I've become a more compassionate leader, and I've taken a lot more trouble to engage with the medical workforce, more than I might've done previously, in terms of just listening to them and trying to understand their world. And I think realising that I might have a view from my ivory tower that actually is completely wrong, and so I've engaged a lot more.’

Dr M explained how the pandemic has ‘lit up’ problems that have existed for years, leading to clashes between specialties over changes to practice because of the pandemic, due to a lack of written agreements. He is trying to resolve this by facilitating constructive, collaborative discussions.

He has also had to deal with more issues of bullying and harassment – not necessarily because there are more, but because the situation has been so stressful for everyone doctors have emailed him directly, rather than being dealt with lower down. He sees them as requests for help, where once he might have brushed them away. ‘Although I might not perceive it to be what they perceive it to be, I've realised that the leadership ask is just to show support for all sides in this disputes, as well and try and get them to work together.’

The executive team helped each other too. ‘During COVID it's just bonded us together even more really. There were times when we got exhausted and occasionally we got a bit fractious. But we were checking in on each other and saying "Look, you look like you've had a really hard day, what can I do to support you?"’

All the changes he sees as permanent. ‘I didn't think I was achieving very much because I wasn't on the front-line and a lot of my time was spent trying to sort out PPE and other stuff like that, but I got a really good reception actually.'

‘I did get quite a few plaudits from people. And somewhat surprisingly, probably colleagues who didn't align to my way of thinking in a medical director, who I might've said something to in the past and said, "Well actually, no, I don't agree."

‘I don't intend going back to the old ways, either.’