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More than one way to lead change

More than one way to lead change - Featured Image

We all have a picture of leadership. Too often are those images that of a confident CEO, a tall man, a white man, a suit, success and money. Leadership, to some people, can become a tangled mess of privilege, calling the shots and misplaced success. For others, it’s an opportunity to give voices to the marginalised, empower the most vulnerable and share opportunities.

Last month, Canberra hosted AMSA’s National Leadership Development Seminar. The four-day event saw health professionals, community advocates, doctors and politicians come together to share their wisdom and experience. The theme, “Power of a Voice”, sought to empower individuals to effect change through their individual experiences.

There were, of course, practical workshops on basic leadership skills which you would never really be exposed to in your medical training: public relations, networking, event management, social campaigns, project start-ups and the like. These, however, never became goals in themselves, but rather the basic tools which could be used to effect change.

The emphasis was on the diversity of experience. Talks focused on the big social injustices facing medical students today, from the health of minority groups to the internship crisis, bullying, harassment and the mental health of future doctors. Delegates brought their own unique perspectives to the discussion, giving a real sense of the work medical students are doing nationwide. It was a humbling experience, and it served as an inspiration to learn from one another to do better.

In wider terms, the idea behind the Power of a Voice opens up an exciting space for aspiring leaders.

The medically-minded tend to thrive on structure, hierarchy and rigid systems – not only for our patients, but for ourselves. We love nothing more than a clearly structured guideline. With this mindset, it is easy for leaders to care more for the systems they work in rather than the people within them. Overlooking instances of prejudice and discrimination embedded in the organisations they work in becomes only too easy.

At the Seminar, delegates were encouraged to re-think notions of leadership.

It is suggested we are moving from a corporate, productivity-driven management style to one which puts people and their experiences at the centre.

For the most part, medical students are not interested in becoming management consultants; they are interested in making a positive difference in the world.

Leadership is not an end in itself, but rather a tool to make the world a better place – a perspective that characterises the approach medical students are taking to top advocacy issues.

Over the past few years we have seen a much needed change in the conversation around mental health, both in the public sphere and within the world of health professionals.

AMSA has led the way with its Mental Health Campaign to raise awareness and combat stigma within the medical student population.

The latest Humans of Medicine project profiles medical students who have experienced mental illness. This has opened up a platform for individuals to share their stories, struggles and coping strategies, which can be an incredibly powerful experience for them.

At a more local level, this initiative is encouraging individuals to take new strategies to their medical schools and advocate for local solutions. Delegates attending the Seminar had an opportunity to meet with MPs and raise issues of importance to medical students. Mental health was one of the most popular, ensuring a united voice for those who at times cannot speak for themselves.

There’s no one person behind these efforts, no one great ego driving it all.

It is a reminder that leadership is never about being at the top; that individual experiences can form the basis for powerful advocacy; and that leaders in organisations must have the insight to listen to marginalised and minority voices.

True leadership is about empowering others to bring about change.