Guest blog by Sandra Morse-Weaver, Occupational Health Manager, Wales & West Utilities
I am a reflective thinker. Anyone who knows me will agree that I’ll do my research and balance my arguments before I approach something worthwhile, so when I was asked to write a blog about leadership in occupational health I took some time to explore and understand what being a leader means to me, my perceptions on good leadership and how that translates into my reality to the point where my views and experiences have become of interest, and maybe even of value to others.
The word “leader” conjures an impression in my mind. There is an expected and generally accepted skill set, a certain physical presence and a “voice” that I associate with leaders; however my reflections tell me that not everyone with these qualities is a leader and that my own unconscious bias plays a part in my perceptions of what leadership looks like. A lesson in itself!
We can talk about confidence and presenting opinions with authority; communication and making oneself understood; being clear of intention and confident in decisions. We can discuss taking ownership and being accountable with or without arrogance. These abilities are often demonstrated by our leaders; however, they are skills that are transferrable across our professional and personal lives. As a Mum I am consummate. I’m equally proficient as a manager. So, what makes a good leader?
John Quincey Adams said: “If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader.”
Maya Angelou told us: “If one is lucky, a solitary fantasy can totally transform one million realities.”
For me, leadership is about innovating in the field of occupational health, leading the way for best practice and driving forward with our agenda for change. It’s about influencing the wider political agenda and bringing people with you, as opposed to dragging them kicking, screaming and unwilling. It’s about understanding that "like" is less important than respect and that saying “no” is sometimes the right thing to do. That’s the tough bit!
So how do we become good leaders?
Some of us are more naturally inclined to leadership than others. I’m a natural manager, but less instinctive as a leader. I’ve learnt to influence others and the more I practice, the better I become. For me, the work has been around recognising the areas that I need to develop and understanding my motivations for doing so. It’s sometimes been difficult to recognise when I’m working in a silo, so that I can lift myself out of it and move forward. I’ve worked to recognise and address the aforementioned biases. I’ve continually grown in self-confidence (and indeed sometimes faked it!). I now look ahead to future challenges with a meerkat mentality.
If I was asked for my advice from someone starting on their leadership journey, I’d say know yourself before attempting to influence others. Let go of your ego and share your learning. Allow the experiences of others to help shape you.
My final thoughts are that leadership is about people; listening to them before attempting to influence their thoughts, feelings, ability and behaviour. Knowing that one day they will exceed you in knowledge and skill, and then your job will be done.
This is the second in our series of Leadership blogs, first blog here.
Find out more about our series of Leadership webinars here.
SOM members have access to Leadership resources in the Members Area.