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Leadership in a crisis

It feels as if health and care leaders have been working in a crisis environment for nearly a year. As well as the peaks of Coronavirus leaders have needed to implement a vaccination programme, try to keep the routine work going and manage a team of staff with higher sickness absence and anxiety than ever before. In addition teams have needed to adjust to new ways of working – in Covid-19 safe ways, with PPE and using virtual ways of working. The pressure on PCN manager, practice managers and managers of NHS trusts has been extreme – to highlight just a few areas. As pressure continues for prolonged periods of time the risk for managers is that they may slip into a command and control mode of leadership, rather than developing a strong, shared sense of meaning and purpose.

Helen Northall

Remember what you are there to achieve – what does the future look like, how can you do the right thing for patients.  Even if it needs to be managed in a virtual environment try to keep the engagement with staff, patients and communities to try to develop the meaning together, bringing people on board will help them accept they need to behave differently – but being clear about “what we are here for”.  If the team has a clear purpose and know what success looks like the focus can be kept on the bigger picture and help you lead through the most difficult periods. Engaging patients and communities will help them to be more on board with your different ways of working, we have heard that patients are becoming less patient and becoming more demanding, although involving them will feel like another item on the to do list, it will help them understand the pressures you are facing leading to, maybe, a little more patience.

Find and understand the strengths of each other, what can staff, patients and communities bring to help you through this difficult time.  What can they offer to help you and your team to keep working towards the bigger picture.  It may be that connections to other groups or organisations, new links for your social prescribing link worker to investigate, may help take off some of the overall pressure. Staff members may have identified a different way of working – that may be a solution to some of the problems.

A focus on the bigger picture and having it as an anchor for meaning will help you and your team through the periods when you have to act with urgency.  If you communicate why this is needed with transparency, are transparent about why you are focusing on certain problems, continually update your team, keeping a focus on the big picture, and act with empathy, it will help your team to support you and realise the overall goals.  It’s also important to build trust and allow your team to make a mistake, but to learn from it.  Consider ways to strengthen the empathy in your approach and reflect on how to build your emotional intelligence as a leader.  People look to leaders in difficult times and really being there and listening helps keep the team on board and resilient.

Involving your patients and the community will help them to understand, and may just buy you time, or come up with new solutions.  We hope the need to lead in what has become almost a continual crisis will end soon, but in the meantime use the strengths of those around you.

PCC is supporting leaders across health and social care with coaching and leadership support, contact for details.