Leadership 1: Making a cup of tea…

Leadership & Management….

Another one of those things that was high on the list of things I was never going to do, and that I seem to find myself increasingly drawn towards.  So, I’m starting from the beginning really: going to conferences & meetings; having chats with some really inspirational leaders; bouncing ideas around via Twitter and my amazing Action Learning Set (honestly, I am so impressed with Health Education East Midlands for funding these; and for being around to chat with a trainee on Twitter… @EastMidsLETB)

Last week, I went to the King’s Fund Women in Leadership Conference.  Considering a lot of the discussion was about how women are perceived in the workplace, maybe I shouldn’t be starting a blog on leadership with “making a cup of tea”…. But after a lot of discussion and thought, I’ve started to think that making a cup of tea is a key part of a being a leader.

Bear with me on this: I’ve given it a lot of thought, and the more I think about it, the more important it seems.

For somebody else…

Taking a moment to make a cup of tea for someone else is a way of showing someone that you care about them as a human being.  It’s a demonstration that you’ve noticed that they’re tired, or stressed, or worried.  (Lets face it, we’re always at least one of those in the NHS; usually a combination of all three).  It’s a sign of respect; of recognition that they’re there because they care.  And everyone can show that to the people on their team.  It’s the bosses who always bring in snacks for #teamweekend (especially those who remember to bring extras for #teamnightshift).  It’s the fantastic HCA who once stood at the door and force-fed me tea when I’d had a particularly bad shift.  It’s the play specialist who noticed I was getting ratty, and rather than react to that, decided to bring me a coffee.  It’s every time I’ve been sent on a break by my nurses.  Individuals caring about each other, and all it takes is a cup of tea (and a biscuit if you really, really care)

For your team…

But it’s more than just individuals: it’s about bringing your team together.  When I was a student, and we still had “firms”, the post-take round always finished with the night team going for breakfast together.  It was a moment to spend time together, and recognise that actually, everyone had come together.  Cups of tea do the same thing.  I remember being a very new SHO, and coming out of a resuscitation that hadn’t worked.  My SpR and I were both stunned, but we thought we had to get on with it in the last hour of the shift: handover sheets, blood gases, re-writing drug charts.  Our consultant sat us down in the staff room, made us both cups of tea, and insisted on us drinking them while he disappeared.  He knew there was nothing he could say.  Instead, he went around the ward, doing all the little jobs, and giving us time to recover.  It’s just one of the ways that we knew our team would support us and look after us.

For yourself…

And sometimes, making a cup of tea is a moment for ourselves.  It’s a strange thing: you can’t rely on muscle memory and it does take a bit of thought (does x take sugar? is that milk off?); but it leaves you enough space to think.  Space to step back and realise what can you change about the shift so far.  Sometimes, it’s a clinical niggle that just doesn’t fit the pattern.  Usually, for me, it’s the realisation that I’ve missed the connection in my team; that there’s a point that I need to address.  It’s not deliberate – they’re just things that float into my head as I’m sorting milk, sugar, tea bag whipped out, tea bags left in… But most often, it’s a mental intake of breath and a moment to regroup before heading out to start all over again.



One thought on “Leadership 1: Making a cup of tea…

  1. This is so very right, and I agree with it completely. I tried getting my team to have a group cup of tea – the Nurses got upset because I was segregating the Docs from the Nurses. My suggestion that we were just handing over like they do a bit later didn’t wash 😦

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