Five ways to be an effective medical or public health leader in the face of a novel global pandemic
If you are in a medical or public health leadership role as we move into the spring of 2020 you are leading on behalf of your population in the face of an unknown, unknowable, evolving global public health crisis. The novel coronavirus COVID-19 is likely to impact on the whole system in unimaginable ways, perhaps with long term consequences for the health of the population, you and your staff after any more acute phase(s) have passed. Take action now to resource yourself with the support you need to steer your way through these difficult times with these five evidence-based strategies.
- Remember you are not on your own. You may carry a significant responsibility as a senior doctor or leader for a service, organisation, or a whole system and feel that much of that is to be borne on your own shoulders. In reality you are a part of a system within larger systems, so every day take at least five minutes to really notice how you are part of the whole, how the system is doing its best to respond to the challenges, taking time to allow yourself to feel connected to the wider network of health professionals around the world using their skills and expertise to respond to the best of their abilities with the resources available to them. When you need to take advice or draw in support from another colleague, take 30 seconds to fully absorb the conscious knowledge that there are others around you, and feel the benefit of that wider network and support ‘soaking into you’ like savouring a warm cup of tea or the ease of a hot shower.
- Build, support and nurture your team. Every great leader knows that their role is to be effective through their team and wider networks and that the success as a leader is dependent on this. Your team may be frightened about the unknown, the health of their own families, about their own wellbeing, and their ability to face the challenges ahead. Choose your team wisely and support them effectively. Ensure you are in honest and open dialogue about how they are coping; showing your own humanity and concerns can allow others to be more open about theirs and therefore more able to seek effective help early and prevent a crisis. Make sure your team are actively building their own support networks and know where to go to seek help if they need it.
- Find new ways to care for yourself and your own wellbeing. Some of the ways we traditionally relax and unwind may not be as readily available or attractive for fear of disruption to plans or infection risk, such as holidays away from home, sport and cultural activities. Get creative and plan ahead about how you are going to sustain yourself for a potential long haul ahead. How can you maintain social contact, physical activity, or other pleasurable activities to recharge and reenergise yourself over the months ahead?
- Consolidate your communication channels. Are you and the team trying to keep on top of developments using word of mouth, official briefings, email, SMS, voice mail, landlines/office telephones, social media platforms, intranets, internet AND emergency communication technology? The more channels you are receiving information through the more scattered your attention will be. Consolidate and prioritise, or spread the roles between different people so that you can stay focused and use your attention wisely.
- Work with a trusted leadership coach. It is said that ‘in times of crisis, we don’t rise to the occasion, rather we fall to the highest level of our training’. Engage an experienced and qualified professional to both support you to take care of yourself, and to ensure that you regularly take time to pause, get onto the balcony and to work out strategically where you need to be focusing your efforts. An Executive Coach who specialises in working with senior doctors or public health leaders can help you to rapidly develop new skills and competencies wholly personalised and tailored to you and your learning needs and give you – and your team, your organisation, system, and the population you serve – the highest level of training to enable you to respond with clarity and skill in the months ahead.
After 20 years as a public health doctor, Dr Fiona Day (MBChB, FFPH, Dip Occ Med, Executive Coach) is a FMLM approved Executive Coach and works with senior Doctors to improve their careers, working lives, and leadership roles. Find out more at www.fionadayconsulting.co.uk; to explore working with Fiona please book a confidential half hour Career Consultation here.