The ongoing pandemic, staffing shortages and the “Great Resignation” all highlight the importance of effective leadership on laboratory operations. We all have, at one time or another, worked for or with a leader that is completely clueless of their impact. Sometimes the excellence and commitment of the team can keep the laboratory working well, but most times a leader who is ill equipped to lead will destroy a well-run lab. Just as we remember those great leaders we worked with; we almost assuredly remember those bad ones even more.
In laboratories run by poorly skilled leaders a negative culture can exist impacting the entire team. You might hear staff refer to the environment as punitive and that they feel the manager has favorites. Information is held back – only shared with the chosen few leaving the remaining staff in the dark for why decisions are being made or changes deployed. Ineffective leaders often have perceived double standards for themselves and their chosen, often creating jealousy and a “Do what I say, not as I do” environment. While these types of leaders may survive for a while, invariably the negative culture impacts the operations of the lab resulting in staff departures and a negative impact on the reputation of their lab. The first, most important, step you can take to not become one of these leaders is to achieve self awareness - understand yourself, how you are wired mentally, and how you will react to situations as they arise.
Self-awareness demands that you take stock of your own self, thoughtfully and intentionally. This is not an easy thing for individuals to do. It is often very difficult to look at yourself and admit your weaknesses. You must understand, however, that each of us has a different way of seeing the same things. Our perceptions are based on our inherent personality, but have also been influenced over time through our life experiences. Understanding yourself and how you will react to situations allows you to be a successful leader.
Self-awareness can be as simple as understanding if you are outgoing or reserved. It could also mean knowing how you perceive the world. Do you view it through the lens of experience and the tried-and-true responses you’ve used in the past, or do you creatively come up with novel solutions not yet tried? How you do you deal with stress? How about how you relate to others? These are just few of the many factors that an effective leader takes the time to understand. So how do I become self-aware to improve my leadership skills?
The route to becoming self-aware is a fascinating journey. Some subscribe to the philosophy of “Oppo-Leadership”. This means that you do the opposite of all the bad leaders you experienced in your past. While this may be effective for stopping immediate ills in the lab, there’s much more to self-awareness than just correcting past problems. If you work in a larger hospital or reference lab you probably have access to a leadership development program. If that’s the case, it’s a good sign that your organization understands the importance of good leadership and will invest in you or other promising staff. If your organization doesn’t have this type of program, you can look into alternative routes. You can choose to register for an education course at a local university, community college or online. These can sometimes be cost prohibitive and may not be for everyone so I would encourage you to also look for great opportunities to develop your leadership toolbox at events like the NSH Annual Convention or shorter courses like the NSH Emerging Leaders program. There are even things you can do at home, on your own, to become self-aware. There are also some great print resources such as scientific journal literature and competency development guides. You can use these to build your library of knowledge.
To enhance your personal self-awareness, I recommend a dual route:
1) The first thing I did was to take as many personality profiles as I could. I took Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, DiSC Assessment, Strengths Finder, Type A – Type B, Left Brain/Right Brain. Some of these I completed through work or school, but others you can find for free online. Once you complete an assessment, start researching what the results tell you about yourself. This includes the things you do well and the things you are challenged with. When I was reading up on my profiles, I was finding many things where I said, “Yes, yes, yes”, and others where I was saying “Maybe…” Remember no one profile will describe you perfectly, but they are a good starting point.
2) The second thing I did was to do a lot of reading. I find historical biographies to be fascinating tales of how historical figures lived and perceived their worlds. Self-Help books from leadership influencers can also help you learn from their experiences. TED Talks are great opportunities to gain some exposure to some outstanding influencers – these are free, short & available on YouTube. All of these examples provide you opportunities to become self-aware on your own.
My one piece of advice, from someone who has traveled the path to self-awareness, is that it is not an impossible task. It is important to know that there is no ideal personality when it comes to leadership. Every organization has a need for every different type of leader. You can learn and grow from intentional steps to understand who you are. It will require some serious and honest reflection, but it is not impossible. It won’t be without bumps, and you will place yourself into some situations that make you feel uncomfortable but that’s ok. It is important to push yourself out of your comfort zone. This is the only place where true learning and growth occurs.
Written by Jason Molnar, HT(ASCP)QIHC