Author: Amy Bach
Leadership: Achieving through others
I was catapulted into my first management role in 2008, a mere two years after graduating from the safe (and blissfully ignorant) world of undergraduate university. I heard about a unique opportunity to set up an innovative in-house physiotherapy service for a local government in the south of England, so I jumped on a plane eager to see the world. During the interview (scheduled the day after I landed in the country), I was desperately hoping that the recruiter would not notice how jetlagged I was - or look too closely at my date of birth! I still remember my surprise, and elation, when I received the phone call informing me that I had been successful for the role. And then I truly learnt the meaning of the phrase, “fake it ‘til you make it”! Or in my case: ask lots of questions, learn as quickly and widely as possible, put in the hard yards, and trust your judgement (though that does not quite have the same ring to it!) I was very fortunate to be able to work alongside some influential leaders during that time, and as a team we achieved great success for the organisation.
Fast forward nine years and one of the main differences between that first management role and my approach now, as I lead a large team of allied health professionals, is that I have learnt some of the fundamental differences between being a manager versus being a leader. This is by no means a new phenomenon but, in many pockets of the professional world, I am not convinced we have mastered the art of striking the correct balance between these two concepts. Like the transition from child to adult, it takes a series of individual behavioural choices by a manager, along with experiences and feedback from others, to ultimately shape the leader that emerges. I am sure I did a perfectly fine job of transactional management in my first leadership role but, in hindsight, I was merely scratching the surface in the areas of influencing and developing others, shaping a team culture, building resilience in the face of adversity, and understanding the true importance of holding fast to a vision for making a positive impact in the workplace. I have also learnt that leading others can be an incredibly humbling process, as it forces self-evaluation and personal growth as we adapt and respond to the varied and unique needs of the people we lead.
For me, some of the key ingredients for true leadership - but also some of the hardest to develop - include the following:
I was asked in an interview once to describe myself in a single word and, without letting myself think for too long, I replied with the word that jumped into my head: “passionate”. As an extrovert, I have a natural tendency to throw myself into tasks with fervour. However, passion can be displayed in many forms and through many different approaches and personalities. As leaders, part of our purpose is to awaken this zeal in the people we are leading by encouraging them to consider how their own personal and professional goals fit into the bigger picture for the department, organisation or wider industry. I recently had the privilege of being able to coach one of my direct reports to discover her potential as a professional and the process has been immensely satisfying. The deliberate choice she has made over the past six months to inject increased motivation into her approach to work has transformed her from a ‘9-5’ or ‘treading water’ employee to someone who is engaged and clearly deciding each day to offer the best version of herself and work at the top of her skill set. For this, she is reaping the rewards of increased respect from other team members and managers, better job satisfaction, improved results with her customers (in this case, hospital patients), and recently, a successful promotion.
Throughout my career to date, I have discovered that the best way to awaken, and sustain, motivation in our professional lives is to play to our strengths. A few of my own strengths that often emerge in character strength tests* are persistence, optimism, love of learning, and ‘big picture’ leadership. I am in my element when I am involved in projects or tasks that combine these elements. On the flipside, I try to ensure I have people in my team who balance my development areas (or whatever we are calling our weaknesses these days!), which include prudence and caution.
*For a ‘brief strengths test’ and other questionnaires, the University of Pennsylvania is a useful resource.
Join Amy next time as she explores authentic leadership.
Amy Bach is the manager of a department of allied health professionals within a large private healthcare group in Melbourne, Victoria. A physiotherapist by background, she has extensive experience in both clinical and senior management roles in the healthcare system in Australia and the UK and is currently completing an MBA at Melbourne Business School. Amy is passionate about making a positive impact in a workplace, shaping team culture and staff engagement, and helping to facilitate and empower women to achieve senior leadership positions. She has presented at a number of healthcare conferences on the topic of leadership and staff engagement.