Tonight the winner of this year’s Clinical Leadership Team category will be announced at the BMJ Awards. The GMC, along with the Faculty of Medical Leadership and Management, are joint sponsors and our Chair, Professor Terence Stephenson, will be presenting the award. Here, he reflects on what a well led team looks like and what good leadership is.

Looking through this year’s shortlist for the Clinical Leadership Team award I am glad I don’t have to pick the winner because all the finalists have displayed an impressive amount of talent, dedication and teamwork. These are people who don’t just follow protocol and standard operating procedures, they are clinicians who are innovative, raise the bar and do things differently to improve the care for their patients. They should all be congratulated for getting this far.

Prof Terence Stephenson speaks at the GMC Conference 2015
Chair of the GMC Prof Terence Stephenson speaks at the GMC Conference 2015

What does a well led team look like?

It’s clear that tonight’s shortlisted teams all do very different things but they do have one thing in common – they are well led. And if a team works well together, that is when standards soar.

Well led teams are happy teams – and in my experience, happier clinicians make for happier patients. Of course there are always going to be tense moments but the team will pull together to always put the care of their patients first. Discontented teams can become dysfunctional and that leaches out into the care of their patients.

Well led teams are happy teams – and happier clinicians make for happier patients.

In a well lead team those in positions of responsibility are approachable and there is little hierarchy. Obviously, in emergencies someone ultimately has to make a quick decision but by and large there is consensus and people should feel able to express their views.

Well led teams should always be reflective, never complacent – achieving good results is never an excuse to rest on your laurels. Even the best can do better. Teams should constantly reflect together on how they are doing, especially if something does go wrong. Always analyse mistakes – what can you learn from them and how can you avoid this happening again?

What makes a good leader?

I’ve definitely been inspired by some of the individuals who I have worked for and with during my career. They demonstrated leadership. First and foremost, good clinical leaders put their patients at the heart of everything they do. They treat them with compassion, dignity and respect, as well as being experts in their own field of medicine.

Good clinical leaders put their patients at the heart of everything they do.

They are good listeners and they are not embarrassed about having people around them who are more talented, or in some way perhaps more able than them. They don’t feel the need to be permanently ‘on show’, or the centre of attention. Instead, they benefit from building and nurturing a good team.

Part of this is recognising that they should never suppress people. Good leaders nurture and mentor the most junior people, and give them opportunities, so they can ultimately go on and be leaders themselves.

Nurturing future leaders

Of course, being a leader can sometimes be a lonely place and, unfortunately, there is often a perception that it is equivalent to ‘going over to the dark side’. Someone who leads is sometimes seen by the medical tribe as having turned their back on practising medicine at the front line. They are a ‘suit’, an administrator – they’re in cahoots with management. I find that quite sad because it creates a ‘them and us’ culture.

The reality is we need leaders to function. I can’t work as a doctor on the ward or in the A&E department unless it is led by someone – whether it’s the matron on the ward or the clinical director of the unit.

Leadership is about choosing between the options and doing the right thing, so that patients get good care.

I once read that management is about doing things right, but leadership is about doing the right thing – you need both but I think often people confuse them. Management is equally important – you’ve got to do things right. But leadership is about choosing between the options and doing the right thing, so that patients get good care. Ultimately what could be more rewarding than that?

Our guidance on leadership and management also sets out the wider management and leadership responsibilities of all doctors in the workplace.

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