My Leadership Weeknote

Alongside my clinical role I am an editor of a veterinary educational magazine for applying vet students. Given my full-time clinical job, my role for the magazine is in more of a logistical and supervisory capacity for the editing team of six; where every day I appreciate the important of leadership principles.

In journalism and publishing, there are always inevitable challenges that present themselves. Usually a few quick phone calls to graphic designers, printers or article contributors can solve most problems. But this week, a new problem presented itself. One of the senior editors of the magazine shared with me a growing dissatisfaction with her role in the team and increased stress due to other academic commitments. This was the first time that a team member had opened up to me about their emotions and personal feelings. I felt an overwhelming sense of guilt that I had been oblivious to a close colleague’s growing distress. Almost selfishly, I also was concerned about the future of the magazine if we lost such a crucial senior editor. So many questions and concerned raced around my mind but I quickly concluded that the most important action from me would be to be a supportive leader. It was more important to me to help my colleague and try to improve their well-being than anything else.

Not having been part of a conversation centred around mental well-being made this situation difficult for me. I actively tried to be non-judgmental and avoid inferences when hearing my colleague’s story. However, I found myself natural relating their problems to things I have experienced. I believe that sometimes our experiences can be a great guide in the advice we provide. But sometimes, I think we naturally mould our experience to match the narrative in front of us to help us understand and respond. The latter seemed to be there case in this situation and on reflection, this type of assumption and personal experience-driven advice is something I am striving to avoid.

My colleague shared with me that university exam period was looming and at the same time, they were unhappy with some of the themes raised in the magazine as they did not align with their personal beliefs. I responded by appreciating exam stress having experienced it many times, and sharing some of my coping strategies. I followed on my offering my coping strategy for dealing with things that do not align with my beliefs. The conversation quickly became about me, and I was embarrassed when I noticed my colleague disengage with the conversation. By trying to offer my best advice, I had distrusted and isolated myself from my colleague. Long story short, this discussion ended and we planned a second meeting one week after my colleague’s exams had finished and we postponed all magazine work until this time to help with stress.

In the interim before the second meeting my initial actions plagued my mind and I felt extremely guilty and selfish for not achieving my aim of being a supportive leader. My keenness to offer advice had a negative effect on my colleague and I! I reflected deeply and re-evaluated the ladder of inferences. This results in a much more productive second meeting.

I openly apologised for my poor leadership skills and I set out on productively solving the problems without interfering, making inferences or over-relying on my personal experiences. The most important change for me was to constantly remain aware of my thinking process, before reaching a conclusion. After fully listening to my colleague I had to objectively reach my conclusion. This time, it was a different conclusion. We created a new section of the magazine dedicated to my colleague’s ideas and that’s all it took to solve this issue. It was my colleague that actually suggested this new idea and that’s all I had to do was listen and not interfere.

Everybody is different and it is sometimes near impossible to get inside someone else’s mind. It was honour that my colleague had come to me to share their concerns. I felt trusted and worthy of my position. However, as a leader we don’t always have to jump in with advice. Most of our advice is made by our own experiences and sometimes this is detrimental. We mould our experience to give advice to fit a narrative. This is not good leadership. I was lucky to get a second attempt at thinking about the ladder of inference. Keep an objective mind, listen to your colleagues, and thinking about how we reach conclusions, and once we have our conclusion we have to think about whether our advice is appropriate (not bias — the solution to the right problem).



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