Take leadership lessons from wherever you can

By Ade Williams

The Bemmy annual winter lantern parade was taking place, rescheduled after adverse weather caused a postponement in December. Funded by donations from local businesses, staffed by volunteers, and fuelled by the energy and creativity of local schoolchildren who would be parading their lantern designs. It is always a showcase of our community spirit.

This year I had been asked to lead the parade. Bedminster Pharmacy is a community asset and the pharmacy team its friendly stewards. So here I was, instead of the usual elected local councillors, dancing at the head of the parade, attempting to match the samba rhythm of the drums.

Marvin Rees, the elected mayor of Bristol, had received racist death threats that week, sparking a security clampdown in the city and a police investigation. The response was universal outrage and condemnation, and Bristol was doing some soul searching. How did we go from passionate debate to personal attacks?

I told a colleague Marvin was making an unannounced appearance with me. She asked, very concerned: ‘‘Will you both be getting a bulletproof vest?’’ In our largely homogeneous South Bristol community we would undoubtedly stand out. But I was more focused on why he might be attending at all.

Every year, business leaders across 124 countries are surveyed for the Deloitte Human Capital Trends global survey, identifying trends on how to better organise, manage, develop and align people at work. For the last two years the most significant trend has been the breaking down of functional hierarchies in favour of team-based and better networked organisations. Big businesses learning to work more like small ones. 

Jeff Bezos, the chief executive of Amazon, famously coined the two pizza rule: if a team can’t be fed with two pizzas, it was too big! Most community pharmacies are made up of small teams. They deliver greater personal productivity. But why are Mr Bezos and his contemporaries looking to small teams. More importantly, what is my small team doing well or better in the face of the kind of competition companies like Amazon present?

Just as in politics, traditional hierarchical leadership models are becoming redundant. “I’m the boss, so you do what I say,” or “I pay the wages” has been replaced by growth, and career progression based on skills, values, and overall contribution. 

Small team leadership is at a premium today. Modern leaders must be agile, fast learners, able to connect throughout their organisation. They must be hands-on, create ‘’followership’’, inspire, connect people to a broader mission, and foster joint working. 

Many big business organisations cite millenials’ desire for experiences, interconnectivity and mission, as key drivers behind the need to adopt a team-based management model. In his Simply Irresistible Organisation study, also published by Deloitte, Josh Bersin says it’s part of a broader cultural shift in which today’s employees operate more like volunteers than indentured servants, and are often easily overwhelmed with work. They are active on social networks, where they can quickly browse for new jobs and connect with people already working in a business that interests them. If they are not inspired and engaged at work, they drift away mentally or are prone to absenteeism. Either way, the result can be a prevailing culture which may prove challenging to improve.

A pharmacy team is no exception. Are my team inspired by being part of a collective? Do we work in a way that gives everyone, regardless of role, sight of what we are trying to achieve? Do we feel connected to a more significant local effort, shared with other pharmacies, the practice team, public health and the social care team, or to the work of a national charity or campaign?

Marvin’s presence at our parade was not merely a show of defiance. He’s an astute politician. He knows inspiring his base through his actions maintains momentum for his message. It’s leadership in action.

But if you think inspired leadership is a gift, think again. The Mary Seacole Leadership Development Programme, which is being funded for pharmacists through the NHS Pharmacy Integration Fund, promises to provide theoretical knowledge, practical understanding and the skills needed to deliver inspiring leadership in the healthcare system today and into the future. I have found it a good investment.

I certainly intend to use every bit of knowledge I can glean in making sure my business does not fall victim to ‘‘Amazonisation’’. Maybe Jeff’s identified our biggest strength, and the NHS is trying to help us use it better. 

Count me in.

Recommended

Not 'appy

Career Notes: Nat Mitchell