Clare Gerada: Tips for surviving leadershipBMJ 2021; 372 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.n195 (Published 26 January 2021) Cite this as: BMJ 2021;372:n195
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.
Competing interests: See https://www.bmj.com/about-bmj/freelance-contributors.
Provenance and peer review: Commissioned; not externally peer reviewed.
Clare Gerada is chair of Doctors in Distress and medical director of NHS Practitioner Health. Her new book, Beneath the White Coat: Doctors, their Minds and Mental Health, is published by Routledge and can be purchased at https://www.routledge.com/Beneath-the-White-Coat-Doctors-Their-Minds-and-Mental-Health/Gerada/p/book/9781138499737. All royalties will be donated to Doctors in Distress.