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14.02.19

Leading and managing experts

Source: NHE Jan/Feb 2019

A coaching conversation is likely to yield the best results. Managing experts in the health industry can be a challenging and varying responsibility. Dr Darren Leech, director and coach at NHS Elect, tells more on how to unlock your team’s potential.

In healthcare management, we are surrounded by experts. Lots of highly-qualified, experienced, and self-confident clinical and scientific minds. These people can present quite a challenge to those tasked with leading and managing them – especially as this type of employee is unlikely to consider themselves to be subordinate to managers or leaders in that sense.

The classic ‘situational leadership’ model taught on most leadership development programmes tells us that the most effective leaders adapt their style of operating, depending on the task and the person or people they are dealing with. These differing styles are made up of four primary tools used by leaders and managers in practice—to direct, mentor, coach, or delegate:

  • Direct – telling or instructing. Usually deployed with those who know little about the task or environment, or used in emergency or time-critical situations;
  • Mentor – provides advice and guidance. Often relates to technical areas in which the mentor is seen as an expert and problem solver;
  • Coach – questioning that prompts reflection and action. The coach unlocks and enables the resourcefulness and motivation of the coachee to solve issues or problems for themselves;
  • Delegate – the assignment of responsibility to complete tasks or objectives to those with experience and expertise, without need for further instruction, advice, or support.

It is easy to imagine situations and people for whom each of these styles might work well. For example, we’ve all welcomed clear instructions and advice on our first day in a new job or turned to a more experienced colleague for advice or help with a task.

On the other hand, it is not difficult to remember a boss who tried to delegate to an inexperienced or junior employee, or indeed the manager who tried to direct an expert. When the wrong style is deployed, the results often feature mutual frustration, conflict, and a lack of progress. Consideration and clarity of roles can be an important factor for groups of people required by structure and process to work together. It is important to recognise and appreciate the knowledge of experts as part of that clarity.

Also, an important but often misunderstood area is the difference between the roles of leader and manager. Management roles more often involve direction and advice, whereas leadership requires more of a coaching and delegative approach. Clarity on the functional aspects of these distinct roles within a team that includes technical experts can be a useful exercise and a good first step to avoiding or reducing conflict within teams.

Successful leaders use good, open coaching questions as part of well-structured coaching conversations. The ‘GROW’ model is one of the most well-known frameworks for coaching conversations. This structure enables a coach (and coachee) to properly work through four clear stages of conversation:

  • Goal – Setting a clear goal;
  • Reality – Being clear about the current context and reality for the coachee;
  • Option – Going through the options available, which is important to properly consider best possible steps forward;
  • What/when – Being clear on the actions the coachee will undertake.

In terms of getting the best from staff with expert knowledge and a desire to improve outcomes for patients, a coaching approach not only avoids the prospect of ‘management dependency’ which arises when direction and advice are over-used, it increases motivation and independent problem solving. A coaching style often results in expert employees seeing their manager or leader as an approachable peer, from whom they gain useful insights through reflection. They also become more motivated, by working toward decisions and actions that, ultimately, they generate for themselves.

 

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