You may not think you are - but I bet you are!

When you think of great leaders, who comes to mind? Are they social, political, professional, athletic or business leaders. Perhaps, Mahatma Ghandi, Margaret Thatcher, Pope Francis, Nelson Mandela, Usain Bolt, Benazir Bhutto, Stephen Covey, Martin Luther King or Rosie Batty.

What are the qualities, values or attributes of leadership that you so admired in these people, that elevates them for you to being a leader? Perhaps you identified qualities like compassion, conviction, wisdom, honesty and passion.

It is interesting when looking at what defines a leader that it can be as simple as someone that has followers, after all, you can't be a leader if you aren't leading someone else!

What about you as a leader? Now, I know this may sit uncomfortably on the shoulders of some, but I would assert that if you are a clinician then yes, you are a leader. Let's look at leadership more broadly and then come back to that statement later.

Kouzes and Posner developed a leadership practices inventory in their first book, The Leadership Challenge (1987). The book is regularly updated and used as a text by organisations around the world. In the book they identified five practices of leadership.

  1. Challenging the process (find opportunities, experiment, not settle for status quo)
  2. Inspiring a shared vision (education about potential, goal setting, getting traction)
  3. Enabling others to act (encouraging, locus of control, collaboration)
  4. Modelling the way (walk the talk, planning small wins)
  5. Encouraging the heart (celebration and recognition)

Within these 5 practices of leadership, Kouzes and Posner state that leaders must commit to 10 commitments of leadership.

  1. Search out challenging opportunities to change, grow, innovate and improve.
  2. Experiment, take risks and learn from the accompanying mistakes.
  3. Envision an uplifting and enabling future.
  4. Enlist others in a common vision by appealing to their values, interests, hopes and dreams.
  5. Foster collaboration by promoting cooperative goals and building trust.
  6. Achieve small wins that promote consistent progress and build commitment.
  7. Strengthen people by giving power away, providing choice, developing competence, assigning critical tasks and offering visible support.
  8. Set the example by behaving in ways that are consistent with shared values.
  9. Recognise individual contributions to the success of every project.
  10. Celebrate team accomplishments regularly.

So, considering a normal interaction between you and your client, let's paste this leadership theory into day to day clinical practice.

A client presents to you with a clinical problem. You undertake an assessment, gathering information about the problem, what caused it, how it behaves, how they are limited and what they want to achieve. You possibly identify overload, poor habits, and inappropriate attitudes and beliefs, that are all contributing to their ongoing symptoms.

In discussion with your client, you determine what they want to achieve and propose options for treatment. Each person is an individual, so you will need to be creative and tailor their management with some degree of trial and error (i.e., commitments 1 & 2).

You provide education about their injury, allay some fears and explain how their management will progress. Your clinical goals provide opportunities for small successes and the overall clinical goal matches with your client's ultimate personal goal (i.e., commitments 3, 4, 5 & 6).

As opportunities present, you encourage your client to take ownership of their management because ultimately, they will need to self-regulate their load and lifestyle (i.e., commitment 7).

You provide leadership and examples of good health by demonstrating your own experience in sleep hygiene, good nutrition, regular exercise and personal well-being (i.e., commitment 8).

As your client progresses, you quantify and confirm their improvement using objective measures, providing positive feedback and support as appropriate (i.e., commitments 9 & 10).

So, coming back to the original assertion, do you now see yourself as a leader?

There is one other characteristic of leaders that continually floats to the top. Leaders are always looking to improve themselves, to learn new skills, and absorb new ideas. JFK said "leadership and learning are indispensable to each other".

So as a leader, what are you seeking to learn next?