Speaking out: teams, juniors, leaders and what SmaccDUB taught me.

Shetland

Landing on the wrong runway has left with me a story to tell for life. It probably gets more animated each time I tell it over a drink or two…but for once, I’m not the guilty party…ish. I say “..ish” because I wasn’t flying the aeroplane, I was sitting there, holding on with white knuckles and a voice in my head saying “he’s the pilot, he knows what he’s doing”. I said nothing, so perhaps, I too am guilty as charged.

We had been out for a day trip. It had been a beautiful day making it slightly hazy which isn’t always the best for flying but for me it was a great view. We flew over our house and flew over my old school in the Worcestershire countryside. We waved at the tiny flecks of sheep in the fields and followed the main roads as they snaked along below us. I love flying and strangely, the bumpier the better. But all good things come to an end and we had to head home.

As we flew back to the airport I listened to control – he was telling us to land on runway 3-4. That’s definitely what I heard, he said it a few times. The problem was, as we came in to land, in an unsurprisingly windy and bumpy descent, I couldn’t see a 3 in front of me. There was, however, a giant, white number 2 painted on the runway. Something didn’t add up. This wasn’t the right runway but I wasn’t the pilot. I didn’t speak up. I just thought I must have it wrong. He knows what he’s doing after all.

It was a very bumpy ride but rather skilfully, he managed to land without incident. There were no other aircraft or obstacles to hit and we got away with it. That doesn’t mean the pilot wasn’t in trouble!

Last week I flew (as a passenger) back from SmaccDUB to Aberdeen. The lady in the seat next to me was not a happy flier. It was another bumpy one, the weather was rubbish (welcome to Scotland) – she hated it. She sat there hyperventilating and holding on to the armrest and then my arm. I was loving the turbulence but I didn’t think it was a good time to tell her my story. I did tell my colleagues who had been on the same flight as we stood waiting for our baggage – and their immediate (just back from SmaccDUB) critical care doctor’s style response – “Why the hell didn’t you speak up – have you learned nothing?”.

Well, that’s easy for them to say. I think flattening hierarchies is easier said than done. If you’re the boss, just allowing me to call you Rob at work isn’t suddenly going to make me question my judgement less or yours more. That’s a confidence issue that as a junior doctor, I’m not the only one who struggles with. There’s a lot of work to do to make the team understand your reasoning and play along.

The talks at SMACC were delivered by experienced and thoughtful bosses. There was a lot of discussion about leadership, team working and vulnerability in this line of work, about looking after each other and watching your choice of words. Will it help me develop leadership and understand team dynamics? Yes.
Will it shape the direction I go in? Probably.
Will I speak out when I need to? Well, I spent my week in Dublin surrounded by grown up doctors from my hospital. I probably didn’t contribute much because I didn’t feel I had much to contribute. I love this picture of us…and I am not stuck on the end but right in the middle. It will make life easier to have discussions when I am back at work, of course it will. They aren’t as scary as they look 😉

dubx

Would I speak up? Yes, now I would but it isn’t easy. Speaking up or calling someone out isn’t easy, whether or not they want you to “just call me James” when you’d rather say Mr Surgeon-Sir. Some of us just find it easier having rank slides. Dealing with team dynamics and leadership is not easy – wherever you fit along that flattened ladder. Some of us don’t find it easy to walk into a room of 2000 people and end up friends with everyone even if there is a free bar and Guinness is flowing. We are all different. I’m not necessarily quiet, I sometimes do say it how I see it. I sent a peace offering to someone the other day and have been met only by silence…you can’t have everything but you have to try.
These so called soft skills are anything but soft just as Liz Crowe (@lizcrowe2) told us in her fabulous talk about love in Dublin. For me, they are harder than learning renal physiology or anything anatomy related for exams. I don’t think I’m alone in that and that’s why we need conferences like SMACC. This week I have managed to keep up my life-long 100% pass rate for exams…but I think when it comes to the soft stuff, one way or another, I fail daily. SmaccDUB taught me that.

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