Leaders in Healthcare Conference 30th October – 1st November 2017, ACC Liverpool
By Rebecca Broomfield
I am currently taking a year out from the Paediatric training program and doing a Clinical Leadership Fellows placement through the Wales deanery. As a part of this year we come under the umbrella of the Faculty of Medical Leadership and Management (FMLM), it was under this disguise we managed to sneak ourselves into the FMLM’s annual conference "Leaders in Healthcare". I went to this conference with an initially pessimistic outlook. I truly believed that a lot of the information provided would be over my head, in a language that I didn’t understand, from managers who were slightly out of touch. I am humble enough to eat my own thoughts and I would thoroughly recommend everybody tries to attend an FMLM conference at some point in their career, indulge me and read on to discover why!
As per conference structure, which I am becoming more and more familiar with, Day 1 began with a welcome – another choir, (starting to think this is a new trend .... perhaps someone could do a study?) followed by a Key note speaker. Seriously, this was an impressive start. We heard from Nicky Moffat in a keynote entitled “Leadership is everyone’s business” Nicky Moffat has a background in the military and spoke about the importance of not buying in people for leadership roles but investing in people and growing them up from within. She voiced an important message of inclusion; that every person has a role to play, as a leader your role is to value these differences and figure out how to make them work. You do not have to be able to do everything, but you do have a responsibility to those who you lead to dedicate time to your own personal development. You set the tone, so make sure that you lead your way. She was inspirational to listen to and it was particularly interesting to hear from somebody whose career was outside of medicine but was experienced in a structured, high-pressured environment.
After a brief pause for coffee, we split into smaller group sessions. I went for a workshop entitled “Joy in work”. It was run by Henry Stewart, a man who introduced himself as “Chief happiness officer”, which I love, who wouldn’t want that to be their job title??! He runs the Happy company, which has been listed as one of the 20 best workplaces in the UK for five successive years (www.happy.co.uk). Henry Stewart has also written “The Happy Manifesto” a book that has made it onto my Christmas wish list (along with many others from this conference alone.) The company motto is “Don’t tell when you can ask” He has identified that people work better when they are challenged and given freedom. As a manager we should be enabling people to innovate, and rather than focusing on weaknesses we should develop our strengths. Mistakes should be celebrated and, within the boundaries of clear principles and targets, team members should be given freedom and ownership of projects. The style of the session was relaxed, he actively encouraged participation, and provided a significantly different perspective on workplace than my experience of the NHS.
Lunch provided an opportunity to network with other conference attendees. There was a wide range of people present, many with backgrounds in significant leadership positions within the NHS. My after lunch session focused on collaboration across barriers and introduced me to the concept of Compassionate Leadership, which will be a blog post for the future. I didn’t want to stick to hearing from people with leadership roles within the NHS, so I headed to a second afternoon session delivered by Carrie Thomas, who herself is an ST4 in emergency medicine, but was delivering a session on how we can learn lessons from elite sport. She directed the audience to focus on the daily standards, looking at the processes rather than focusing on the outcome. She advised learning from excellence, managing what you are able to control and utilising visualisation to drive you forwards. Remember that you are a team and it is vitally important to work together, not only should you commiserate together but you should celebrate the wins.
Day 1 ended with an incredibly passionate and moving talk from Gulwali Passarlay (his book “The Lightless Sky” has also made it onto my wish list!). Guwali started with a thank you and a reminder not to forget the little things you do as clinicians daily as they are the important things. He spoke about his incredible journey as a child refugee travelling alone from Afghanistan across 12 countries, to end up in Britain, go to university and carry the Olympic torch in 2012. It served as an acute reminder of our privileges. His story was about overcoming adversity and never giving up. He reminded his audience that having an experience was one thing, but how you used that experience was another; you have a choice.
At the start of day 2 Dr Bruce Keogh, hopefully an man who needs no introduction, delivered the opening keynote. He started by stating that we do not want to loose our NHS by mistake and received a standing ovation at the end of his talk. He outlined the history of the NHS and spoke about innovation. I’m not entirely sure that I agreed with some of what he said, but that is probably best left out of this blog for fear of entering a political minefield that I am unable to control or step back from. He did make a very valid point however, stating that people do not fear change, they fear loss. I will be taking this forward as a part of this year, and my future career. An important role as a leader is to engage people, bring them with us, inspire them to innovate and together we will be able to make a difference.
As per day 1, day 2 then broke into smaller group sessions. I attended a resilience workshop. This started by recommending everybody watch ‘Inside Out’, which already had me engaged and listening. The workshop ran through 4 stages of coping and looked at each of these. They explained that resilience found ways to bypass stages, and therefore you progress through these stages quicker, or even skip some stages when faced with conflict or a challenging situation. The focus on the ability to define the problem, which would enable you to employ the correct solution. For example, it is important to be direct in complex situations. Building resilience is based on 4 key pillars; confidence, social support, purposefulness and adaptability. They encouraged assessing your own resilience, a tool to do this can be found here; www.robertsoncooper.com/iresilience/ and focusing on one weakness to improve. It was an interesting session, and do now go and watch ‘Inside Out’!
After lunch I focused on 'Changing Culture'. Culture is important within a workplace because it impacts the mood and atmosphere which in turn affects performance. Leadership is about gestures and choices which we make all of the time and these influence the culture within our teams. Culture itself cannot be managed, it is a behaviour pattern which becomes established and over time this is reinforced and amplified by visible artefacts. Changing culture is what we are ultimately trying to achieve with our quality improvement projects. Small gestures can create tipping points which is known as the butterfly effect. Within culture change, the leader is in charge but not in control, this is complexity thinking which involves non linear relationships which cannot be predicted. However, machine thinking is the predominant discourse in the NHS; the NHS can be managed and the leader has complete control. The down sides to machine thinking is that everything falls to the leader, participants and team members are passive which leads to significant amount of stress and pressure. A switch from machine thinking to complexity thinking will change the culture. It is hard but as clinical leaders we should be brave! Make that change, a small shift can have a much wider impact. All of us are leaders and we need to recognise this.
The final small group session I attended was on coaching – I am exploring this more on a personal level and will during, the course of the year, write a blog solely focused on this theme.
The Leaders in Healthcare conference closed with a keynote from Deborah Rowland: “How to lead mindful change” The most important message I will take from her session is that good leadership starts with knowing yourself. Invest in yourself as a leader, understand your strengths and weaknesses and recognise them without judgement. When you have spotted something you are able to change it, if you don’t look for it and recognise it, then you cannot. Her four key messages for developing your own leadership style were: Perceiving (tuning into the system), Noticing (staying present), Integrating (all aspects, including difficulty) and Choosing (respond, don’t react). To run through all of these points would take a blog post in it’s own right so instead I will direct you to her book, ‘Still Moving’ which is a challenging but useful read.
In conclusion, despite my initial reservations, the Leaders in Healthcare conference was an extremely simulating and enjoyable two days. I never felt during sessions that voicing my opinion was not as valid as the opinion of somebody with significantly more leadership experience than myself. The conference has inspired me to continue to develop myself as a leader, and to first reflect on my own skills and weaknesses which will enable me to be better equipped to help guide the NHS through the challenging times ahead. I would encourage everybody to take a look at the FMLM website and available courses and opportunities
Dr Annabel Greenwood