by Wayne Spencer
If you are reading this page then it is obvious I have somehow got over the writer’s block that has plagued and delayed the drafting of this editorial for at least two weeks. When I began this process, Europe was a very different place than it is just a few weeks later. In my head I have mulled over the opening paragraphs of this editorial many times. Should I mention Ukraine, should I avoid it completely, should I try and keep an upbeat start to the edition and, most importantly, is it my place to say anything at all in a sterilization journal. Well on the upbeat front I guess I have already failed! But there are always glimmers of hope and cheer in the darkest of events. This week I was lifted by the response of ordinary people across Europe to help those fleeing their homes in search of a safe place to be. In my own country over 120,000 people registered to take in refugees in under two days when the government opened the webpage for people to offer places to stay.
I intended to write something on leadership for the opening of this edition and the recent events have brought this sharply into focus. The emergence of Volodymyr Zelenskyy as a household name across the world owes as much to the way he has conducted himself in the face of adversity as anything else. Here is a man who became a national leader from the most unusual of backgrounds. A comedian, actor, scriptwriter and director but not a politician. What is obvious from his recent virtual appearances in government chambers around Europe is that this is somebody who is not afraid of showing vulnerability or empathy and actually seems a better leader for it. The philanthropist and author Tony Robbins who has written extensively on leadership says that “Empathetic leadership is a style of leadership that focuses on identifying with others and understanding their point of view. Empathetic leaders take a genuine interest in the people around them – what makes them tick, what inspires them and the way they feel”. He goes on to say that when you understand the feelings and needs of your team, it gets easier. By letting your team know you are there for them and providing unconditional support, you’ll create an environment where they feel they can come to you with anything.
In the United States of America, Catalyst, an organisation focused on helping women enter the workplace and thrive there, undertook a survey of over 900 employees working across different industries to understand the effects of empathetic leadership. Their key findings were that empathy boosts productivity and senior leader empathy is linked to reduced intent to leave. They found that employees with highly empathetic senior leaders and managers’ report being much more creative and engaged than those with less empathetic managers and leaders. The differences were startling with 61% of people with highly empathetic senior leaders reporting often or always being innovative at work compared to only 13% of people with less empathetic senior leaders.
I sometimes hear in hospitals that staff are not happy with a new manager because he doesn’t come from a technical background or was not of the same profession etc. “He won’t understand the way we work” or “How can they manage us if they have never packed a tray”. And most common of all is the cry from operating theatres that the SSD manager doesn’t understand the pressures during a surgical procedure! Yet if the last few weeks have proven anything, it is that good leaders can come from outside of the usual sources. The traits they have as managers and leaders are as important (and arguably more important) than being able to do the job that their staff do.
On a final nod to Zelenskyy, effective leadership also requires action. As he recently said “People don’t really believe in words. Or rather, people believe in words only for a stretch of time. Then they start to look for action”. Empathy and Action, who can go wrong with that!