Blisters, map reading, blindfolds and tears

This leadership blog is close to my heart and takes me back 25 years, which in itself is a scary thought. Its funny how your body and mind can take you straight to a point that resonates with a situation where you were at breaking point but were able to overcome that from the behaviours and leadership that was demonstrated by an individual and a team.

My story takes me back to being 17 years old in the Army during my basic training when we were on an ‘Assessment Exercise’ and the story goes a little like this. We were split into teams of 5, plus one of the Sergeants who was there to assess our performance with the odd abusive word to give us a kick when required. We were packed into the back of a wagon, blindfolded and driven to a luxurious destination on the Moors where we were lovingly ejected from the back of the wagon, blindfolds removed and given our first map grid reference for the 3-day exercise across a challenging terrain. The long and short of it was that we needed to get from point to point and back within 3-days, so off we went with our rifle and kit on our back. Each of us had our own strengths and between us we had a great map-reader, one that could whip up a quick meal from our rations, a blister guru, I seemed to have the fitness and the team comedian kept the positive mental attitude alive.

Anyway we had our ups and downs along the way in terms of sleep deprivation, challenging weather, injuries and having to take a few man-up pills to ensure we got back to the safety wagon within 3-days. Now, within a small team that was not allocated a particular leader, we all took our strengths and applied them to help support and lead the team over the 3-days. For me it was having the ability to take kit from one of the guys to give him a bit extra in the tank and conserve his energy. For those that understand about blisters, you will appreciate that the blister guru was absolutely critical to not loosing anyone, the Master Chef kept us well fueled, the map man kept us on point with the comedian keeping spirits high. Towards the end of the 3 days we knew we were well within time so were in joyous mood, injuries didn’t matter and we didn’t care about the next meal, as we knew we were nearly there. As we came over the last hill, we could see the safety wagon, so we picked up the pace to give it a gold medal finish. We got to approximately 10 metres from the wagon and the engine started up and it drove off……YES IT DROVE OFF…!

Now for me that was either a cracking joke or we were just about to be dealt a cruel message from our accompanying Sergeant who had been with us all the way. He then uttered those words, ‘Ok boys, another 10 miles to go and you must finish as a team to complete the exercise…’ I look around and one of the team members is in tears, with his ruck sac off and refusing to move. Bear in mind the clock has started ticking and we are up against it. The Sergeant steps in and says… ‘This is one of those moments where you need to all step up, look at the situation, get a solution within the next 2 minutes, sort your heads out and crack on. Whatever you decide you, do not leave a member of your team and you support them to the end no matter what…’

So the four of us had a 30 second team huddle, strategy planned, roles, responsibilities defined and we walk over to our colleague who was struggling with the information we had just been dealt. We empty his backpack and share the contents between three of us, I pick up his rifle, whilst the last guy sticks the struggling team member across his shoulders Fireman Lift style and off we go.

Within 1/2 mile the guy got off my colleagues shoulders and jogged alongside us and we finished within the allocated time. Interestingly, the guy who had struggled went on to be one of the best leaders I know. The situation taught me that as a team, leaders can evolve in adverse situations and leadership needs to be embedded into teams at all levels. Taking this into the clinical arena is no different and starts with taking responsibility and  accountability for the team around you, from administration staff, through all the Bands of your team, students and other members of the AHP community. Sometimes situations change and you need to adapt and overcome, as members of the team will react in different ways to different demands.

We are all individual human beings, so having the ability to recognize who may need support, mentorship and how to accommodate that and action accordingly is a skill that great leaders can demonstrate with ease. You can have an enormous amount of vision and belief but if you can’t take your team with you then your vision becomes very shortsighted and you end up leading blind and underachieving. Understand your team’s strengths and weaknesses, encourage leadership at all levels and allow a culture that isn’t afraid to innovate, make mistakes, ask questions, learn and develop. Create a supportive environment that allows open discussion and transparency, whilst protecting your team through imaginative stakeholder management, giving your team confidence that you are managing upwards to allow the whole team to flourish, develop and achieve its goals.

As always, thanks for reading

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