Self-leadership in uncertain times

By Bernie Divall, Professional Advisor for Leadership Midwifery Leadership

For me, lockdown began in a strange place. I was already struggling with the virus when the announcement was made, so I wasn’t going out and about anyway. Coming through it, I spent some sleepless nights worrying and wondering whether, as my instincts told me, to return to the clinical workplace, or use my skills to support in other ways.

This has made me think about the subject of self-leadership, which is an integral part of our leadership offer here at the RCM. What do we mean by the term self-leadership? Simply put, it’s about understanding self – knowing who you are, what you’re capable of doing, and thinking about where you might be going. It requires reflective thinking and a thirst for self-development. It’s also a lifelong process.

Over at, Andrea Goodridge offers some really useful tips about self-leadership, and I thought I’d share how I’ve been using these to help me. Andrea describes four core pillars, all of which are grounded in the idea of getting the best from ourselves.

First, there is self-discovery – knowing your core beliefs and values, and living by them. For me, family will always come first, and I have a responsibility to them as well as to myself. I also believe in the value of broader organisations that support midwives and childbearing women, so working within the RCM with my clinical and academic background gives me the chance to utilise my knowledge in a different way.

Next is self-acceptance. In our leadership programmes, I see midwives struggling with this idea all the time, and it turns out I’m no different. We all tend to focus on negative qualities, or things we feel should be improved, but part of self-leadership is about accepting our strengths as well as our weaknesses. For example, I have to accept that as much as I’d like to be everything to everyone, that’s neither realistic nor healthy. I have to accept that any concerns I may have about being seen as somehow not quite good enough is something coming from within me rather than from others.

Self-management relates to holding yourself accountable and ensuring you manage your time and resources effectively. I’m sure I’m not alone in finding this tricky at the moment. Like many people, thoughts of the virus and what’s going on outside my little family bubble have a tendency to intrude at a moment’s notice, and I’ve had to force myself to break tasks down in order to achieve anything. On a personal level, I’ve also taken a step away from Twitter, as it causes my anxiety levels to rise and my feelings of inadequacy or helplessness threaten to spill over.

The final pillar relates to self-growth – continuously striving to improve yourself, creating development plans, being open to feedback and remaining curious. This is the one I think will get me through the next weeks and months, as it enables me to consider how I can put everything together and produce work that will be useful to midwives beyond this challenging time. First, there’s the bit about developing myself, which will involve undertaking a project management qualification to support the development of our leadership offer. Second, I’ve got an opportunity to explore how we might shift our focus within the leadership project from face to face workshops to a growing online offer, including virtual classrooms and interactive content.

I know there are many midwives making decisions about how they can best support the profession and women during these times. At times like this, it’s important that we practice self-leadership to enable us to make the right decisions for ourselves and to be comfortable with whatever they might be.