We all use labels to define ourselves, both professionally ‘doctor’, ‘leader’, ‘consultant’, ‘GP’ to name a few common ones, as well as personally such as ‘parent’, ‘son/daughter’, ‘partner’, ‘friend’, ‘runner’, ‘gardener’. They can be a useful shorthand way to communicate a set of complex constructs to help us to define our roles, status, and relationships in the world. But what happens when our labels are not helpful, when they limit our growth, stunt our perspective, and keep us trapped in unhelpful ways of thinking and behaving, when our labels causes us to be more rigid and contribute to our feeling stuck and disempowered?
I’ve noticed that one common label which often keeps senior leaders stuck in an unhelpful way is their personality assessment especially when it is based on colours or four letter combinations, though less so when the personality assessment is based on evidence based models such as the Big Five Model of personality. I think the reason why the use of simplified personality profiling tools remains so widely used in the leadership development field is because it appeals to our human wish to make complexity easier, to have a neat and tidy construct, a more succinct way to explain ourselves.
What about for medical leaders?
Whilst many leaders do find it helpful to gain insight using these constructs, I’ve noticed that medical leaders can use their alleged ‘personality types’ in a way which keeps them stuck. Certain of these personality constructs are posited as being ‘better suited’ to leadership roles than others, which can cause leaders to become limited in their thinking about their potential and their leadership abilities. In addition, these personality constructs can be used as a reason to explain:
- decision making patterns
- behaviours at work
- strengths and limitations
- and can influence choices going forwards in a way which actually unhelpfully limits the leader’s thinking and disempowers them.
In my experience, and in agreement with the evidence base on leadership, rather than using personality type or variations of personality type to understand our leadership strengths and areas for development, it is preferable to understand the relative frequency of our observable leadership behaviours. Observable behaviours are ways of conducting ourselves which we can choose to display more or less frequently, and can be used to shift us from habitual behavioural patterns.
Sustained behaviour change is at the heart of any medical leadership development course or medical leadership coaching intervention. I specialise in using behaviour-based approaches to leadership development for doctors, drawing on my psychology degree in the early 1990s and decades of studying, teaching and using behaviour based theories. Using a variety of evidence based tools and assessment processes, I can help you to understand your current behavioural patterns as a leader, and to consciously choose to display a wider range of behaviours. This will significantly enhance your impact as a medical leader and improve your effectiveness: you’ll also have greater flexibility in your ability to respond to whatever challenges your role brings up and you will tangibly feel your confidence growing as a leader.
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.