Emotional Intelligence and Leadership for Healthcare
Updated: Dec 13, 2020
The Healthcare Leadership Academy is hosting its annual conference this year on 12th December 2019. In the run up to the conference, The HLA and Medics.Academy have come together to produce a series of blog posts, some in collaboration with student publications from across the country. This week, our guest publication is the Journal for the National Student Association of Medical Research (JSAMR). JSAMR is an open access, online only journal that is authored, reviewed, and edited by medical students.
Healthcare is an exciting, varied and dynamic field, but is also full of challenges, demanding work-loads and risks of complications, particularly as people’s lives literally depend on us!
With an ageing population and increasing number of patients with various comorbidities, the multi-disciplinary approach is more important than ever.
In order to ensure the smooth running of such a complex team in healthcare, good team-working and leadership is vital.
But as the saying goes, ‘with great power, comes great responsibility’, and often with great responsibility comes physical, psychological and emotional stress.
One of the first things I notice in a good leader is how they appreciate, befriend and respect all members of the team. More often than not, when individuals feel comfortable with their leader, the team-spirit, enthusiasm and productivity all increase naturally. Furthermore, a calm level-headed approach alongside features described in the GMC guidelines such as accountability and responsibility for the team, good organisation and management skills and of course good interpersonal and communication skills are all required in a good leader.
The term ‘Emotional Intelligence’ (EI) has been increasingly used over recent years to describe these attributes. EI is a relatively broad concept and has been defined in various ways. It is generally described along the following main themes:
Self-awareness and control
Emotional interpretation and response
Although some inspirational leaders appear to have these skills naturally, EI is still something everyone can learn and develop. Through understanding, self-insight and some determination, everyone can become equipped with the tools they need to thrive in a leadership role.
Every individual is unique. Each of us interpret, react and cope with situations differently. A lot of how we cope with stress depends on EI.
The notion that emotions cloud our judgement isn’t necessarily true – not if we use emotions correctly. Self-awareness and the art of reflection is encouraged throughout our careers in order to improve and develop.
Emotions are immensely important in how we interpret and react to a situation and in turn influence our capacity to manage it.
If something goes wrong, how many of us actually reflect and acknowledge how we are feeling at that moment? Instead emotions are often side-lined in favour of the ‘practical brain’ in an attempt to power through to get the job done. But emotions can re-emerge later, or, if suppressed, can build until we break down. Alongside causing self-suffering, lack of acknowledging one’s emotions can weaken team spirit and impair productivity.
Being aware of how we feel and how this influences our behaviour is crucial to being able to recognise one’s own limitations, only after which we can improve. Greater self-insight allows people to better interpret and appreciate other people’s emotions too.
After understanding our own emotions, we need to release them in an appropriate, accurate and controlled manner. Some people struggle with this – perhaps due to lack of self-awareness or fear of ‘showing weakness.’
Emotional expression is integral to developing trust – another key feature described in the GMC’s ‘Good Medical Practice’.
Through sharing our feelings we can gain better insight to others and ourselves. But emotions should be conveyed appropriately. Excessive suppression is known to be harmful to oneself and team. Conversely, over-expression can be inappropriate and potentially disrupt the smooth running of work.
Lead by example. When a team leader appropriately expresses their emotions to the team, positive praise provides encouragement to continue the good work and negative emotions help problems to be identified and resolved. Emotional expression increases approachability of a leader if the team are ever in need. This in turn may help leaders to understand the strengths and weaknesses of team members and hence allow better delegation of roles.
Interpreting other people’s emotions
Empathy and the ability to recognise emotional cues are key traits required to treat patients in a holistic manner. But sometimes in a busy, time-pressured schedule in 21st century medicine, it is easy to shift the balance to a more machine-like approach.
As a patient, I remember and appreciate doctors who showed they genuinely care. Skills like active listening and responding appropriately to emotional cues increase patient comfort, and may facilitate a smoother consultation.
This is equally important in team working and leadership. Some of the best leaders I’ve seen make genuine efforts to know and understand each member of the team.
As a medical student, it is easy to feel out of place in the medical team, intimidated by new environments, new people – especially when put amidst seniors. The best clinical placements have always been those where doctors notice this discomfort and rather than ridiculing our existence as ‘incompetent students’ (which has happened), instead encourage us to become actively involved. Through such a supportive and active experience, not only do we as students gain better learning opportunities and experiences, but we become a greater asset to the medical team.
Through reflecting on various experiences, analysing my strengths and weaknesses as well as acknowledging feedback from peers, I have learnt a great deal about myself as a leader and team-player. Now, more than ever, I have come to appreciate the importance of EI in leadership and in healthcare.
About the Author
Anamika Banerjee is a fifth year medical student at Imperial College London. She has completed her BSc degree in Pharmacology during the intercalation year, with a laboratory research project investigating the effects of patient serum- derived factors on monocyte function in the context of hepatocellular carcinoma. During her clinical placements she has also undertaken audits and a clinical quality improvement project (CQUIP), which won second place in the Imperial College CQUIP presentations 2018 and was presented at the GAT conference 2018. Anamika is passionate about medical education and teaching, having led and developed lectures, workshops and tutorials through academic university societies, alongside developing resources whilst holding the position of JSAMR’s Education Editor 2018-19. With her position in JSAMR and NSAMR, she hopes to do more to develop and improve medical education, whilst furthering her interest and involvement in research and academia.