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Views And Reviews Wounded Healer

Clare Gerada: Tips for surviving leadership

BMJ 2021; 372 doi: (Published 26 January 2021) Cite this as: BMJ 2021;372:n195
  1. Clare Gerada, GP partner
  1. Hurley Group, London
  1. clare.gerada{at}

My New Year’s resolution was to declutter paper and create order among my bookshelves and cupboards. As I did so I came across a sheet of paper given to me in 2010, when I became the Royal College of General Practitioners’ first female chair for 50 years.

The sheet was entitled Surviving. The advice helped me immensely, and these are the points I would like to pass on:

  • Find like minded people from within your organisation. Ask them for feedback and early warning if there are any problems.

  • Create a support group of trusted friends or colleagues, or find a mentor, or even a therapist. A problem shared often really is a problem halved.

  • Be a role model who others can follow, and make sure that you don’t pull up the ladder after you.

  • Before any significant meeting, think about what you want to achieve. Write down your aims at the top of your papers for the meeting.

  • Have your own red lines that you won’t cross, based on your values.

  • When you’re trying to convey really important messages ensure that they’re properly recorded.

  • Recognise that some discussions will take place in spaces you can’t access—pubs, clubs, social events. It’s important that you have sufficient informal one-to-one meetings with people of influence.

  • Deal with overt discrimination. A good technique is successive questioning: “Could you clarify what exactly you mean?” And keep your cool.

  • After a difficult meeting or media appearance, especially in the public domain, it’s normal to feel upset. Try to give yourself some downtime to recover.

  • There will be times when you haven’t handled yourself well. Reflect and learn from them, but don’t beat yourself up. Be open about your failings.

  • If something has gone badly, ask others close to you not to comment immediately. You know that it didn’t go well; what you want from them is support.

  • When speaking publicly try not to speak too quickly, don’t raise your voice, prepare in your head what you want to say, and be aware of your body language.

  • If you’re being bullied, step back, recognise the tactic, and devise ways of countering it—as you would in a difficult consultation.

  • Be prepared to be a (subtle) self-publicist.

  • Keep personal issues to yourself. Don’t indulge in gossip.

  • Keep a diary: it helps you afterwards to reflect, learn, and understand what really went on.

I do hope that this list helps. Good luck with your leadership journey. You will not only survive but thrive.


I thank Dr J G for the first version of how to survive in leadership.