Author: Amy Bach

Two essential leadership traits

Four columns

Amy Bach’s previous two articles looked at how important passion and authenticity is for truly effective leadership. Amy concludes her series on leadership with a look at two essential leadership traits: resilience and courage.

Resilience

I have learnt through my leadership experiences that in order to be an influential leader, some essential components include humility, adaptability and courage. Another component that has been somewhat surprising to me is the power of vulnerability as a leader. In a previous workplace, I experienced a highly stressful situation with a manager who was displaying bullying behaviour towards a number of her direct reports (of which I was one). After a lengthy period of time trying to optimise the situation with her locally, I concluded that my core values of integrity and respect ultimately left me with two choices: resign (and remove myself from the situation), or have the courage to call out her behaviour to her manager. I took the risk, with my heart thumping, and chose the second option. Thankfully, after a period of time, that particular manager was moved on. The aspect that surprised me in this situation was that a colleague I had chosen to confide in during these distressing times rallied and displayed the most incredible amount of loyalty to me at the time when I most needed support. This only happened after I chose to let my guard down and allow my vulnerability to show. To this day, that person remains a trusted friend and confidant.

Courage

Many of the ‘breakthrough’ moments I have had in my career would not have happened without a huge dose of courage. When I was considering applying for a significant (and slightly scary!) promotion a number of years ago, I had to choose to play the courage card as I faced many objectors. My manager at the time, who sadly had not quite grasped the leader versus manager concept, asked me whether I was an only child! Many other people simply said, “Oh well, it’ll be good for the interview experience even if you don’t get the job.” One person reminded me that I did not need to have every item of the position description ticked off to apply, and that there was only one thing I could guarantee: if I did not apply, I could be 100 per cent certain of not getting the offer! That was my number one supporter, my husband Matt. Well, as they say, the rest is history. I got the job. 

It is so important to have people around who will back our decisions, even the ‘pipe dream’ ones that may seem crazy to even consider. I have experienced the value of sharing personal career goals with a select number of trusted supporters or ‘inner circle’. Moreover, a professional mentor can play an important role in the process of establishing next steps, both short and long term. A side note to this is that many people find there is more value in selecting a mentor through natural connections rather than formal ‘mentor/mentee matching’ programs, and this process may take a bit of time. I went from having zero mentors for the first five years of my career to now having three that I go to for different sorts of advice.

All of us lack courage at times, particularly when considering a change of jobs or putting our hand up for a promotion or new project. Too often people (frequently women, unfortunately!) can convince themselves that they will not succeed before they have even taken the first step. I have mentored women just starting out in their physiotherapy career, and a common mistake that I have also been guilty of seems to be to jump about four steps ahead to the ‘will I or won’t I take the job’ question before even being offered an interview. It is important to harness the support of others to bolster our confidence but also to just jump in! A tactic I have learnt in these situations is to think about what it is I am afraid of, devise a strategy that could minimise the impact if the worst outcome did happen, and then take the plunge before I can talk myself out of it! 

A recent example is that I had the opportunity to attend the World Health Care Congress in April this year in Washington, D.C. I considered convincing a colleague from work to attend with me, or at least bringing a friend or my husband along for company. What I decided in the end was to push myself to go with the scariest option: to go solo. Probably my biggest fear was that potentially awkward moment during the lunch break, when faced with a room full of strangers. It is like being back at the first day of school! Who do I sit with? What if everyone else knows each other already? What will I talk about with these new people? The strategy I used at the conference was that I decided to go out of my comfort zone during each of the breaks and, rather than occupy my time pretending to look at the stalls set up in the lobby (while really just scouting for free pens), sit next to someone in the lunch area, introduce myself, and let the conversation flow from there. The result was that I had a wonderful experience over the duration of the conference, including some of the most engaging and interesting conversations I have had in a professional setting to date. I formed connections with a CEO of a hospital in New York, a member of US congress, a founder of a healthcare start-up in San Francisco, and a Deloitte management consultant from Hong Kong! If I had attended the conference with even one other person, I would have missed out on many of these real networking opportunities entirely. 

So, for anyone in a position that involves leading others, the ultimate decision remains: will you choose to focus on being a competent manager, or take up the more complex but also more rewarding challenge of committing to being a truly influential leader? Leaders achieve through others. They develop, empower and motivate people, shape team culture, display courage and resilience in the face of adversity, and underpin all of this with something that cannot be easily taught, but can certainly be chosen: to lead with passion, authenticity and a commitment to making a positive impact in the workplace.

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.

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