Daniel Moore is a chiropractor and senior lecturer at Teesside University.
Leadership is a much-loved and vogue topic of discussion. The need for strong leadership in some situations, and a more humble or collaborative approach in others, has never been better demonstrated than through the challenging times of coronavirus. When I consider this topic and experiences from my past, I often draw the positive conclusion that we are all leaders in our own right, and with that comes a responsibility to lead, but also at times, to be led.
Learning from the best
Many years ago, as a 19-year-old paratrooper in the reserve parachute battalion 4PARA, I was fortunate enough to work alongside the Special Air Service (SAS) in the Falkland Islands. In the parachute regiment I was a “tom” or “penguin”: a relatively new or inexperienced private solider who couldn’t fly as I had not yet passed parachute training. In other words, I was on the bottom rung.
But to my surprise, working with the highly renowned and prestigious SAS was an entirely different experience. After being asked about my background, education, interests, strengths and weaknesses, I was given command of our weather and environmental planning (because of my BSc degree experience). I led the timing aspects of orders that related to infiltration and exfiltration – a level of responsibility which would have been unheard of back in my para regiment unit.
The willingness of these senior special forces soldiers to delegate this important task to an inexperienced paratrooper has always stayed with me. I have often reflected on how such an attitude, one that values the different strengths and experiences of others, can benefit whole organisations - and how it has positively affected me and all that I do. Now, as I take on the running of a new chiropractic course at Teesside University, I want to emphasise the importance of that quality to our profession, to strengthen our foundation and ensure we develop over time as we would hope to.
A unique contribution
First, being assigned a role of such responsibility within the SAS team showed me that I posed no threat to their leadership. They were confident in the value of their own strengths and experience, and that the qualities I could offer would not dilute theirs in any way. We all have our own value to add and our individual strengths, whether that is work experience, qualifications, enthusiasm, or other skills. Leadership should be about embracing and nurturing the strengths of others, not being threatened by them.
In a chiropractic context, this is relevant in education, to all principal chiropractors, for example in taking on associates, and also undeniably to the chiropractor-patient relationship. Chiropractic students enter higher education with experiences and strengths unique to themselves, and the role of the institution is to support and develop these and direct the students towards becoming the best chiropractor they can be.
The importance of difference
Second, diversity creates a rich foundation of experience to draw from. I realised that day as I arrived at the SAS team HQ, that the team’s differences - in background, interests, education, age, experience, physical ability etc – constituted not a weakness but a key strength. Difference was not a distraction or hindrance, but gave us options and allowed us to distribute roles more appropriately within our team. Similarly, diversity is of great importance to the chiropractic profession and will, as we work to improve it over time, undoubtedly benefit us all.
A time to lead, a time to take direction
When we take these two points together it becomes clear that leaders must, at times, themselves be led by others.
Outstanding leaders are not only adept at empowering other individuals, but also understand when it is appropriate to seek guidance from experts. Leaders within the SAS exemplified this: they appreciated the broad knowledge base of their team and, when necessary, they were willing to be directed by others who had more relevant expertise, and to learn from them.
Higher education embraces this concept of personal development. Now more than ever, learning is not just top-down schooling delivered by experienced teachers. It takes place through investigation and discovery, and students can only be empowered to develop this inquisitive nature if we are willing, in part, for them to lead us. Experienced chiropractors should not only facilitate and direct students on their journey but also listen to their views so that we can learn from them. This approach will enable us to investigate new directions and truly develop the profession.
In clinical practice too, we chiropractors should be willing to be guided by our peers. Research into ‘Mindlines’ by John Gabbay and Andrée le May develops this idea further.
All of these aspects of leadership and teamwork are born of a greater, shared responsibility to each other and to our communities. In recent months chiropractors have been through an extraordinarily challenging time. Clinics, patients, chiropractors, students, graduates, academics, researchers, associations and professional bodies have all felt the effects of the coronavirus pandemic. The recovery from this will take a long time and while we will need strong leadership, it will also be vital to for leaders to appreciate and learn from the teams around them.
American General Stanley McCrystal put it best when he said: “This isn’t easy stuff, and it isn’t always fair. You get knocked down and it hurts, and leaves scars. But if you are a leader, the people you have counted on will help you up. If you are a leader, the people who count on you need you on your feet!”
Students, new graduates, chiropractors and patients up and down the country all need us on our feet, and we must support each other to achieve this. By listening to each other, allowing ourselves to be guided by others, leading within our communities, appreciating diversity and embracing rather than being daunted by the strengths of others, we can progress and come through this challenging period stronger than we have ever been.