Some time ago now, I heard Sarah Jane Marsh, chief executive of Birmingham Women’s and Children’s NHS Foundation Trust, speak passionately about the importance of being a ‘whole person all of the time’ and its impact on her leadership style.
Her outlook resonated with me. We should lead by example and show up and be seen at work in our entirety, therefore allowing and encouraging others to present their unedited selves.
I wholeheartedly embrace this notion. After all, I’m the sum of all of my parts. I’m not a carefully curated collection of my greatest hits – I’m flawed, complex and unabridged.
When I step into the workplace, I’m that same person. Yes, I’m a GP, but I’m much more. I’m a mother of three girls with unbounded enthusiasm for life. I’m involved in a vast spectrum of complicated and wonderful relationships with family and friends. I’m creative and I love to make. I have perfectionist tendencies. I’ve experienced periods of crippling anxiety and depression.
I’m a kind human. I’m not keen on dogs. I think mushrooms as a food stuff are wrong and I should sign myself up immediately to my first Caffeinolics Anonymous meeting. (My name is Lisa Finnikin and I have an addiction to Coke Zero ©).
The point is that our unique beauty lies in the tangled mess of all of our parts – this is where the magic happens. Jen Sincero, author of ‘You are a badass’, writes: ‘You are the only you there is and will ever be. Do not deny the world its one and only chance to bask in your brilliance’.
In light of these reflections, I now strive to be my whole self all the time, and not an edited, socially acceptable version of myself. Charting the uncomfortable reactions to this simple policy change, I now realise that this isn’t the norm. People spend their lives saying the ‘right thing’.
Truth telling folk should come with a safety announcement! A seemingly innocent: ‘how are you?’ at school drop off can now end in unsuspecting acquaintances squirming at my responses. They’re unprepared to hear the uncomfortable truth – that at that particular moment of inquiry I’m struggling, feeling overwhelmed or am consumed with anxiety. (I actually refuse to believe that even those with the strongest of constitutions are truly ‘fine’ after the mammoth tug-of-war required to successfully dress, feed and drag any child out of the door and to the school gate on time!)
Taking this new discipline to work with me meant that during a relapse of depression last year, I decided to take the plunge and share my struggles with the practice team. I had, for over ten years in my work and most of my personal life, carefully covered the tracks left by this savage illness.
I’d become a master of disguise and played my part of being ‘ok’ so well over the years that some people actually gasped when I shared my struggles with them for the first time! So when I’d told all of my work colleagues, much to my relief and delight, instead of feeling weak or like a failure, I felt powerful.
Yes, the vulnerability hangover, the day after the ‘big reveal’, was huge, but short-lived. I’d shown up, told my truth, and the world hadn’t ended. In fact, I’d told my colleagues what I needed, and they’d supported me. The relief of taking off the mask was enormous – being open about my mental health had no doubt benefited me.
This was an important lesson for me to learn, and I felt an important demonstration of how things could be different if we trusted each other. There’s huge power in encouraging authenticity, which allows us to foster true connection with our colleagues. It challenges the ‘not enough’ narrative and makes people positively re-examine their worth. Ultimately, it makes people feel valued.
So my call to arms for our GP leaders of the future (and remember that these aren’t necessarily ‘those in charge’!) is to re-humanise the workplace. Make general practice a place where people can thrive. Invest time in other humans at work.
I believe that when people feel valued, they will come together more readily to work towards a common goal. Give people ownership by inviting them to the table, and commit to really listening to those around you. Find out what motivates the people you work with. There are huge benefits to being curious about your team and aligning their aims with yours. If people are good, you want to keep them!
Find out what they want to do. In this way you nudge and nurture, creating a symbiosis. Aside from potentially improving productivity, knowing about your colleagues, their victories and failures and sharing their stories fosters the kind of community I want to work within.
‘Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony’ – Gandhi
Dr Lisa Finnikin is a salaried GP in Sutton Coldfield