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I’ve come across a few articles on my Facebook newsfeed lately.

‘People leave managers, not companies’
‘Nine things managers do that make good employees quit’
‘Why do great employees leave great companies?’
Judging by the comments and number of shares these posts were generating, it is clear that this is relevant across many industries, including healthcare. Since we rely heavily on teamwork, leadership is incredibly important in fostering the team spirit required in so many of our daily tasks, and ultimately impacting on patient care. That said, being a leader is not solely defined by an official appointment; anyone of us can be a leader depending on the task at hand and the situations we are put into.

I hope you will indulge me as I share my wish list for the characteristics of a leader and team member whom I feel would make our workplace even better. 

1. Empathise!

We are taught to be empathetic to our patients in medical school, but let’s remember to extend it to our colleagues as well. The practice of medicine is complex, and everyone is bound to makes mistakes at some point. It is important to put ourselves in the other person’s shoes and understand their struggles. Generosity in our behaviour and speech can go a long way in building confidence in others.

Taking time to listen to our team members can also improve productivity. Team members who are appreciated will take ownership of their roles, be more willing to contribute to the team and also be more motivated in completing tasks.

2. Create opportunities to nurture team members

At every level of experience, team members can be encouraged to develop themselves. This can range from teaching opportunities, more freedom in decision-making, to providing more opportunities to contribute in areas of their interest. 

A small gesture can go a long way. I was once on-call with a house officer who was interested in a particular specialty. Since it was a rather manageable call, I volunteered to answer his calls and manage his patients so he could scrub in for an interesting surgery. He was very grateful, and became even more motivated from then on.

3. Fitting the leadership style to the situation

Leadership styles can vary from directive to participative, and no one style fits all situations perfectly. Directive leadership, which is well portrayed in medical dramas like House and Grey’s Anatomy, can be most ideal in emergencies like managing resuscitations.   

In other instances, a participative or delegative leadership style can be more appropriate in empowering team members and allowing opportunities to hone their clinical skills. One of my favourite and most respected Registrars tailors his leadership style according to his juniors’ strengths and weaknesses. This has contributed greatly to motivating his team. He spends time teaching and guiding juniors, and provides them with opportunities to apply what they have learnt. This encourages his team members to be open with him and feel appreciated when he entrusts the management of patients to them. 

Medical training is demanding and there will be days that are more challenging than others.  Enhancing the culture of mentorship and mutual learning,  and having a flexible leadership style can go towards improving teamwork, reducing burn-out rates, and ultimately lead to better patient care. Every one of us has the ability to make a difference. Let’s do this together.