Karen Middleton - My advice on starting out as a leader

In her regular Frontline, column, CSP Chief executive Karen Middleton looks at the difference between a manager and a leader



I am passionate about leadership. But it has to be leadership with a purpose. In the healthcare setting, that purpose must be about driving up the quality of care for patients and the public.  There is a direct correlation between good leadership and high quality care – the reverse is highlighted in report after report when things go wrong. It is really important, therefore, for physiotherapists to demonstrate leadership, regardless of our level or what setting we work in.  Physiotherapists often ask me ‘what is the difference between management and leadership?’  My answer is that management is doing things right and leadership is doing the right things – and leaders do need to be good managers. 

Management is about systems and processes, whereas leadership is about vision and enabling (not controlling) others to perform at their best.

Here at the CSP, my role as chief executive is partly to manage the society efficiently and effectively and to take the best decisions on behalf of members. But a large part of the job is, along with the society’s chair, to provide leadership for the profession as a whole.

The fact I’ve been a physio doesn’t in itself make me a good leader, although it may help me understand the issues that members grapple with.

I believe physiotherapists are innately very good managers – we are trained to be problem solvers in managing patients’ conditions.

If you want to improve your management skills, there are courses and books on the topic.   Developing leadership skills or becoming a leader is somewhat more difficult because to be a leader you need followers. Supposing no one wants to follow you? Again, books and courses may help, but so much of being a leader is behavioural and ‘teaching’ behaviours is difficult.

As I started on my leadership journey, I found mentors at different stages and had a range of coaches to help me reflect on what and how I did things. I found programmes that focused on self-reflection, gaining insight and understanding how we impact on others.  These were some of the most useful experiences of my life – painful though they were at times. I also shamelessly copied those who I considered to be good, effective leaders. Honest and constructive feedback is also invaluable.

I meet a lot of students and newly-qualified staff who ask how to get started on their leadership journey, whether in the NHS or their own physio business.

My advice is to seek out people you admire locally and start the conversation! fl


Karen Middleton

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