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Clinical Leadership

At Rothwell Douglas, we spend a lot of time developing clinical leadership with highly qualified professionals from
a range of different backgrounds who have spent many years in formal education environments. The technical expertise that they bring to their work is valued by the employer and their colleagues and in some industries, such as healthcare, the public have direct experience of it also.

In many cases the road to a professional qualification and practice will involve years of theoretical learning, exams and practical assessments. Most of this learning is based on what we would commonly know as IQ – a general measure of aptitude which determines our ability to learn, retain and recall factual information. At an expert level this can involve being able to understand complex concepts, models and theories. This is necessary at an individual practice level but in terms of working in and leading a team, it is not sufficient. Simply being highly competent is no predictor of a person’s ability to build relationships, motivate others and bring different people and perspectives together to work as high performing team. This is why developing clinical leadership skills is so vital.

This fact can come as a surprise and a shock to even the most well trained of professionals. We tend to simplify people’s ability based on their level of technical competence and respect amongst their peer group. It’s often only when an individual steps into a position of leadership that we realise the skills deficits that make the role taxing. This is because most of the ingredients that are required to be a successful leader involve Emotional Intelligence (EQ/EI). In his landmark book, Daniel Goleman describes the 4 dimensions of Emotional Intelligence – Self Awareness, Self-Management, Social Awareness and Relationship Management. These are incredibly complex concepts and will have been influenced from our earliest childhood and the environment in which we have been socialised. We will have taken it all for granted and in most cases, been unaware of the impact this has had on how we relate to other people and events in our lives.

The key aspects of developing clinical leadership.

Our ability to self-monitor, our response to others, to manage our emotions in stressful situations, to have confidence in our decisions and self-belief in our abilities are all key to developing clinical leadership success. None of this will have been on the curriculum of any formal education most people will have received in becoming a professional, even as a hospital clinician. Attaining a knowledge of Emotional Intelligence is helpful of course but again, not sufficient on its own. It’s the behaviour of individuals and teams that fundamentally affects the way we feel about ourselves and in general, our personal level of success in life and at work. When the unexpected happens and we have a lack of clarity about the way forward, do we go into problem solving mode and encourage others to help us find solutions? Or do we become a problem describer who can articulate how difficult things are but doesn’t actually help anyone to progress to a better place? Are we even upwardly dependent on management or someone else getting us out of this – “it’s someone else’s job – beyond my pay grade” or, it’s not my job”!

Helping clinical leaders understand these complex skills and how to improve their own performance as well as that of their teams’, is a critically important issue. We know that there is a clear connection between the quality of outcomes achieved and the success of teamwork. We know that effective teams working well together provides better experiences for patients at a more cost effective ways of achieving their goals. Teams that are dysfunctional, arguing over territorial boundaries and operating in isolation from one another are in fact poorly performing groups – they certainly are not teams.

Getting good at effective team work anywhere, be it on the football pitch, in the operating theatre or in the GP Surgery, doesn’t happen by accident as we know. First we have to know what good teamwork looks like and then we have to set about knowing where we need to improve and then setting some goals to review progress in these difficult to measure areas. One of the key success ingredients of effective teams is that they are good at giving feedback to one another. They are able to help one another improve their performance without it causing any discord and affecting their work as a result.

However, being an effective leader is not just about creating winning teams that are highly motivated and can deal well with challenge. Healthcare services are in a constant state of change on a global scale. Managers, whilst bringing many skills to the workplace also have to manage the transition to leader if they are to help the organisation and its people to navigate some extremely turbulent waters. Increasing demand driven by populations living longer and more people surviving with long-term health conditions, puts immense strain on finite resources. The question of how to provide sustainable healthcare for today’s and future generations presents major challenges. It’s entirely likely that a surgeon or GP will be seeing patients in the morning, contributing to a strategic meeting in the afternoon and communicating with other specialities all in the course of a day. The skill range demanded by these very different tasks is huge. Clinicians need to be able to see the bigger picture beyond their own specialism and they need to be able to develop a vision for the delivery of clinical services that can improve outcomes and minimise costs. They need to be able to see the long-term potential of their services and work with their team to understand how they can be organised and delivered in a more sustainable way. This means they will need to be good at communication in
terms of Listening and Influencing and highly effective in developing trusting relationships that enable change. Hence the need for them to be constantly developing clinical leadership as part of their skills set.

Many organisations are faced with similar challenges brought about by changes in consumer demand and indeed, the advance of technology. In health care however, the supply chain is comprised of so many different professions and decision points along the care pathway that getting alignment of values, vision, mind sets and behaviours is ultimately more complex. Getting long term decision making right or wrong presents a dilemma, since the outcome is uncertain. Unlike clinical practice in which the results of treatment can be fairly instant, strategic decision making involves making choices that may have unknown consequences. This requires an ability to live with uncertainty and make decisions based on incomplete and disparate information. This involves a high degree of trust and understanding from one another.

Develop your clinical leadership skills with Rothwell Douglas.

At Rothwell Douglas, we run assessment and development centres to help individuals, teams and organisations replicate some of the challenges that have been outlined. We use data and simulation scenarios through which an organisation can assess the capability of their teams and stratify the type of leadership and team development needed to help them ‘skill up’ for the journey ahead. We use psychometric assessment, individual coaching, group and individual based exercises help build a picture of capability. This type of skilled development approach provides opportunity for ‘in the moment’ feedback and one to one coaching of individuals. Using actors to role play in some of the exercises and skilled observers/ assessors enables us to gain significant information about how an individual copes in such circumstances; what they excel at and where they could improve their skills further. The experience helps develop insight and provides a space and opportunity for a Clinician to have an in-depth conversation with a skilled person who can help reflect on their learning and understand. The output of such centres helps HR departments frame their talent management processes and establish clarity in their succession planning.

These opportunities to stand back, look and learn from what we are doing and how we can improve it are all too rare in most people’s experience. This probably explains why most people who have been through such a development process feel energised and privileged at the same time – they appreciate its value to them personally and the investment the employer has made in making it happen. Organisations see the benefit in helping them identify aspirant leaders and in many cases, discovery of rising stars that might otherwise have gone un-noticed without such opportunities to shine. Most of all it brings a new narrative to the organisation in which people feel included, inspired and ready to lead.

What our clients say:

“An excellent and useful programme which should be mandatory for all Senior Clinicians”
– Participant of an RDL Clinical Development Programme, University Hospitals of South Manchester

“The programme provided the opportunity to step back from the day to day minutiae to reflect and think strategically as a group and to look and plan forward. I am now able to practice the new techniques I have learnt.”
– Participant of an RDL Clinical Development Programme, Central Manchester University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust

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