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Communication and collaboration in leadership

One of the great evolvements in the structure of management is that leadership and collaboration are no longer seen as contradictory. Often, many members in a group have valid, educated views and aspirations. To ensure that any group, team or organisation is progressing and performing at its highest level, a leader must be able to extend beyond self interest, to understanding the group’s needs and working with them. However, it can be difficult to relinquish the traditional view of leadership.

Often sighted barriers to a more open and flexible style of leadership include the difficulty of altering ones personal vision for that of the team, or entrusting others with difficult tasks rather than completing all aspects themselves. However, if consideration is given to the benefits of using ones position as a leader to draw on and co-ordinate the varied skills of the individuals, providing guidance and developing the abilities of other team members in the process, it is easy to see the benefits of a two-way communication for the individual, the leader and the team.

There has been a great deal of material published exploring styles of leadership, including the influence that gender may have. It is proposed that women are particularly adept at working in collaboration, probably due to social norms which have taught them to be excellent communicators. Some studies have shown they are more likely to be interactive and inclusive, focusing on what they and others can bring to the situation, rather than assuming traditional power roles. This method is, of course, not exclusively female, but rather it is suggested that as more women enter into a workforce, particularly into leadership roles, it is probable that there will be an improvement in collaborative management and a positive change in team dynamics.

This is perhaps even more pertinent in medicine given the inherent team-based approach to practice and the necessity of strong, nurturing leadership and communication to develop the skills of team members. A retired nurse recently recounted to me her experience as a student of pure terror of her matron. She recalled having little confidence to suggest alterations or improvements although she, in day to day dealings, was often better acquainted with her patients and their problems. Amongst my peers, it is rare to experience that degree of dismissal by the head of a unit. While I acknowledge that this sense of aloofness is still apparent in some areas, it should and must decline. Whatever the size or nature of the group, leadership is now recognised to be strengthened by the ability to relate to, motivate and listen to others.

Teams operate more smoothly and effectively when the “bosses” are approachable, explain their rational, listen and respond to suggestions and comments. It is never suggested that every suggestion be adopted or that respect for the role is in anyway diminished. Rather, if all members work in partnership and are given the opportunity to contribute under the guidance and management of the leader, they are more likely to strive to perform better in their role, confident that others are doing likewise.

I also speak from my perspective in medicine, which is currently as the most junior part of my team. The best leaders I have had within medicine and in life more broadly are also the great listeners, collaborators and motivators. Interestingly, many of these are women I greatly admire and emulate. Leadership in the modern era will become less about always having the answers and power, and more about channelling and directing the ideas from a range of individuals to work toward the common goals.

References [1-6]

1. When the Boss is a Woman.  2006  [cited 2008 13/10/2008]; Available from:
2. Larch, S. (2005) Women as Medical Leaders: Opening Doors to Success.  Volume, 
3. Rodgers-Healey, D. To collaborate or not to collaborate? A question for leadership.  2007  [cited 2008 13/10/2008]; Available from:
4. Rodriguez, A. Leadership skills for women.  2002  [cited 2008 13/10/2008]; Available from:
5. Sarros JC, C.B., Hartican AM, Barker CJ, The Character of Leadership. 2006, Milton: John Wiley & Sons Australia, Ltd.
6. Sinclair, A., Doing Leadership Differently. 2005, Melbourne: Melbourne University Press.

Communication and Collaboration in Leadership was written by Miss Bronwyn Scarr (VIC) in October 2008 as part of her AFMW Leadership Scholarship.

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