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Key attributes

At our ‘leading a rare patient group‘ workshop on the 22nd January 2020, leadership expert Julian Stanley outlined key attributes that are important to develop for good leadership: 

  • A strong sense of passion and purpose
  • Emotional intelligence
  • The ability to be self sufficient
  • The ability to prioritise tasks effectively
  • The skill of valuing and acknowledging people
  • The ability to inspire, innovate and take risks

Often, these attributes overlap, and some may be more relevant for you to develop than others as everyone has different strengths. Methods and tools to improve these skills will be covered in the following sections.

Passion and purpose

It is perhaps obvious that patient group leaders, paid staff and volunteers have a strong passion for the cause, otherwise why would they be doing the job in the first place?

However, purpose can be harder to define in a pragmatic sense. Purpose has to be properly defined and maintained in order for it to be effective.

In a patient group context this means it is the leaders purpose to reinforce the vision, mission and aims of the organisation through their actions and the direction chosen by them and their team. Having a clearly defined vision, mission and aims is key for achieving goals and overcoming problems in your organisation. You can learn more about defining your organisations vision, mission and aims in our portal guide.

How to be a purposeful leader- commitments over competencies

Purpose is not only about competencies and skills but also commitments. A leader that is committed to a goal and organisational success, is far more inspiring than a leader who is competent but lacks direction. Purposeful leaders are those who can identify their purpose and link their work to that purpose – and help others do the same. Five commitments that purposeful leaders can make are: 

  1. To inspire hope among team members in the leader’s vision
  2. To engage team members “to bring their full and best selves” to work
  3. To innovate
  4. To achieve – to put a plan in place and follow through on it
  5. To become self-aware and willing to continually grow

Having a sense of purpose is an integral way to convert passion into tangible goals, targets and organisational vision. It also allows you to define exactly what you are hoping to achieve, allowing you to focus only on activities that fit into your personal and organisational purpose to make desired progress more realistic.

Emotional intelligence: self awareness and empathy

In this section, self-awareness and empathy are combined together as they are both key elements of an important leadership skill: Emotional intelligence (EI).  Emotional Intelligence is defined as the ability to identify and manage your own and others emotions.If a leader can do this well, they are better at understanding how others act and react to certain things and adapting the team or workplace to this in order to motivate others and create an open and empathetic space for their teams. 

Emotional intelligence and empathy are particularly important skills for leaders in a patient group context as they are communicating on a daily basis with people from lots of different walks of life, with different perspectives and life experiences. It is important that these different individuals are properly understood and empathised with in order for an open and empathetic atmosphere within the patient community. Without empathy and understanding there may be hostility and miscommunication which may prove detrimental to the organisation at large. 

Emotional intelligence consists of four fundamental capabilities which will be covered in the following sections: 

  • Self-awareness
  • Self-regulation
  • Social awareness
  • Relationship management 

Self awareness and self regulation

Self awareness

Self-awareness is defined as being aware of your own strengths, weaknesses, personality and preferences and has a significant impact on how you behave and interact with others. Someone who is self-aware is able to recognize how their actions and behaviours affect other people, and a leader with good self-awareness can consciously use this to influence the situation and mood of the team. A leader without a good sense of self-awareness can seem out of touch with other people and bad at understanding what their team and individuals need to perform well.

 Tips for improving self-awareness:

  • Reflect on yourself and interactions you have with others. It can be useful to keep a diary or notes of meetings to reflect upon interactions and behaviour. It can also be helpful to write down your key plans and priorities for yourself and what you want to achieve. This will help you assess the way you deal with and plan for things and help you be more aware of what needs improvement.
  • Schedule feedback sessions with your team to gather feedback on your leadership performance and ask what different people like and dislike about your leadership style
  • Reflect on your strengths and weaknesses. This will allow you to recognise what attributes might require more work and attention to make you a better leader.
  • Know your emotional triggers. An example of something that could be a trigger is having a tight deadline coming up which causes stress or perhaps an important meeting that is highly pressurised. Knowing yourself makes you more self-aware and knowing your triggers can help you prepare for different situations where you may be tested as a leader. By understanding what triggers you, you can improve yourself and manage your reactions.
  • Keep an open mind. Having an open mind will help you to understand someone’s point of view even if it is different to yours and you disagree with it. Trying to understand why other people do things differently is important to improve empathy and tolerance.

Self regulation

Self-regulation or self-management is concerned with how you control and manage your emotions and impulses. People with good self-management are able to stay composed and calm even in pressurised or difficult situations. This is important for a good leader to develop as the mood of the team often partly reflects the mood of the leader and it is important leaders remain calm and in control in difficult situations. Self-regulation can also be improved by tracking your emotions and responses to prepare yourself for different scenarios and manage your emotions properly.

It is important for patient group leaders to have good self regulation in order to manage the different stresses that come with the role. Often the role is extremely personal therefore it can be difficult to switch off from the professional stresses associated with it. Self regulation is important as it allows leaders to compartmentalise different emotions and ‘switch off’ when it is no longer work time. This is easier said than done, but if you are able to create and maintain a boundary between work stresses and home then it is easier to relax and respond appropriately to triggers by working out what alleviates them best.