Leadership at every level

By Juliette Astrup on 05 October 2018 Leadership

What does it mean to be a leader? This was the question speakers sought to address in the second session of the second day of the RCM conference 2018.

Karyn McCluskey, chief executive officer at Community Justice Scotland, spent 21 years working with the police in Scotland. When Scotland was regarded as the ‘violence capital of Europe’ she co-founded the pioneering Violence Reduction Unit, and helped bring about a radical shift in focus, from solely dealing with the consequences of violence, to addressing its root causes as well.

A captivating speaker, she reflected on what she had learned about leading radical fundamental change, telling delegates: ‘I always said being a leader is about reimagining; the ability to shut your eyes and think: “What else could this look like?” “What outcomes could be better?”’

She added: ‘I had to do something big. I had to reimagine Scotland and get everyone behind me. I had no power – I only had influence.’

She said it was about persuading, negotiation, influencing: ‘Leaders are purveyors of hope. You need to be able to see around the corner and instil in people that you work with that tomorrow is going to be better than today.’

As one of the most respected midwifery researchers in the world, Dame Tina Lavender, professor of midwifery and director of the Centre for Global Women’s Health at the University of Manchester, spoke about her personal journey, the barriers she overcame rising to the top of her profession, and her advice for those who might follow after her.

She told of the shyness and a ‘lack of self-belief’ that she had to overcome, and the incredible mentors who have helped her along the way. She stressed it is important to ‘find your role model – but also try to be that role model for others.’

She added: ‘To be a leader you also have to be a follower. You have to learn how to listen. You don’t always have to be in a leadership role to lead others… dare to be different. Push boundaries. That’s how you initiate change.’

She urged delegates to think but also do: ‘So many people talk the talk, but don’t walk the walk. You need to be a doer and a thinker.’

Student midwife Mhairi McLellan at Robert Gordon University in Aberdeen co-curates The Future Midwife Blog and is on the Council of Deans’ student leadership programme ‘future leaders’. She admitted that to describe herself as a leader made her cringe.

She spoke about the issue of ‘imposter syndrome’, and ‘tall poppy’ syndrome; the difficulties student midwives face in putting their heads above the parapet – that feeling of ‘who am I to be a leader?’

But, she adds: ‘Leadership is a vital part of midwifery and I feel we have a duty to the women and families we care for to develop our leadership qualities. Perhaps the better question should be ‘who am I not to be a leader?’

‘You don’t need to be leading a team necessarily to be leaders. Try to see leadership in small acts that effect positive change – no matter how minor. They can have a deep and profound impact on women and maternity services and inspire others to do the same and effect even greater change,’ she said.