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Learning to Lead


There are many options for today’s allied health leaders on the identified “fast track” towards a middle or executive management role. Some form of management and leadership training course, for example. A post-graduate qualification in management or leadership, perhaps such as a MBA. 

The reality is, leadership is happening in allied health teams at many levels. The graduate therapist hosting the 2nd year therapy student for a day, and working with an Allied Health Assistant to deliver great services to their shared client. The therapist two years out of university, co-hosting a therapy student for a number of weeks, coaching their clinical skill development and delivering feedback regarding their performance. The Senior Therapist delivering specialised allied health services and clinical supervision to a number of junior clinicians across multiple sites. The Team Leader delivering services and leading the allied health team, identifying opportunities for new services, recruiting staff, mentoring and coaching performance.

There is a clear need to learn about leadership EARLY in allied health careers as its own concept, including the opportunities that exist in all of these roles, to influence and inspire and to lead from above the line in one’s beliefs, behaviours and communication. The reality is, for the allied health grad, the junior therapist, the Senior and the Team Leader in our community sector, the pressures of time combined with the need for clinical learning, are enormous. A diverse client caseload and the exciting, challenging and busy day to day work of applying your clinical skills to assist people to live a great life are significant. 
In my experience, validated through a needs assessment of allied health managers in our sector recently, it is often not until an allied health professional has a title with “Leader” or “Manager” in it, that the formal opportunities for learning about HOW to lead, are made available to them in their workplace. Even then, time and budget for these are at a premium. And yet we know, the huge impact the quality of leadership from one’s immediate supervisor or line manager has on our experiences at work.

So what do we do? Certainly it is common for new clinical supervisors to access some form of training in this from a university, when they first take a student. You may attend a clinical supervision training course at some stage if you are delivering clinical supervision. What else? I recommend that we add to this in allied health through leadership group coaching programs of short, regular sessions, to emerging allied health leaders as well as those established in their leadership.  This would have helped me so very much from the get-go, in my first formal leadership role, where I was responsible for the line management of other clinicians. To access the wisdom of other leaders with shared challenges to mine, to learn how to actually coach, to learn how to manage my own mindset, and to be supported to identify an action plan for a people challenge I am facing RIGHT NOW, and to be held accountable for taking that action, would have been brilliant. And interestingly, some of my fondest memories about my management roles are about learning with other leaders, about leadership. It was a trusting space to share, to be vulnerable and to be honest about what we were struggling with in our roles, nutting out with my colleagues how to overcome these, and celebrate our successes.

Here’s why I believe group leadership coaching is a great option in our sector:

•    A coaching format uses real-life action and behaviour change between sessions. This means new knowledge about managing allied health professionals and services is applied straight away – and people learn best when they HAVE to learn. Also, the feedback on that application of that knowledge is received IMMEDIATELY, in the real-life setting. The leader’s understanding is then refined on the basis of their reflection on that action.

•    Group coaching activates peer learning; when we share wisdom, we tend to learn as we teach. It also normalizes learning about leadership and recognises it as a valid and VALUED area of skill in allied health practice. 

•    Short, bite-sized group coaching sessions fit in to the regular working day, and that builds on the relevance and real-life application of the content – the learning is happening IN your workplace via online options, or IN your organisation’s training room through in-person coaching. Plus, the opportunity is high that the learner will walk out of their coaching session and immediately into the next leadership setting to which they can apply their skills.

•    Experiencing coaching builds the capacity of the learner to coach. Want a coaching culture in your organisation? Give your people an experience of being coached – by the group facilitator, and also, as their skills build over a leadership coaching program, their peers. This is a gift that stays with your organisation long after the program has ended – a network of skilled peer coaches, supporting each other with a combined passion for continuing to act and reflect, act and reflect, in their ongoing leadership journey. It also teaches us how to self-coach – how to learn from every experience, and look at challenges and hardships as opportunities for growth and further learning.

I recently had the experience of an allied health leader tell me that she had learned something in group leadership coaching which she has been wanting to develop, for twenty years. 

So let’s try this out. 

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