Set Goals & Seek Feedback: Learnings for Leadership Success
BSc (OT), Grad Cert HPE, DipBus, GAICD
Chief Operating Officer Community, Bethanie
Chair Occupational Therapy Australia (WA) Divisional Council
I stand proud in the fact that I am an occupational therapist. Now is the time for occupational therapists to seize opportunities amid leadership teams across the nation. With industry rhetoric across many sectors leaning into meaningful engagement, person centred outcomes and customer centric service delivery, OT is uniquely poised to bring the theory and practice of our profession to the work at hand. As someone who has personally navigated the leadership journey over the past 28 years (whilst holding my role as an OT front and centre), I am particularly passionate about the great strength that occupational therapists bring to leadership teams.
My journey from new graduate sole practice rural OT in 1991 to Chief Operating Officer Community in 2018 (with a current executive portfolio spanning 4 business units, 27 sites, 3800 customers, 250 staff and 100 volunteers) has seen many twists and turns. Maintaining a conversation with myself, surrounding myself with the right people and seeking support when considering future choices has allowed me to navigate the terrain. As I look at the opportunities that exist for OT to make its mark on the changing face of leadership and practice, it’s important that we all take time to consider our own development pathway and what we seek to contribute.
Maintaining a Conversation with Yourself
A conversation with yourself is about creating space to listen to you—not just once or twice a year, but on a more regular basis. It’s about understanding how the events of the present impact how we are feeling, responding and performing, and then building those into our development plan for the future.
At each stage of our journey, we need to have a sense of the destination. When setting our development plan, we often focus on the required workplace outcomes. There’s a risk that we can get the balance wrong here—focussing on professional goals separately from the rest of our life tends not to work. If we are seeking to achieve particular professional milestones and personal outcomes, we need to consider them collectively. There is much talk of work-life balance, but achievement of this is more likely if you have taken the time to consider what is important in the whole picture. Otherwise, we end up trying to give 100% to everything, which often results in burnout and dissatisfaction.
Your professional and personal goals must be viewed in tandem and are constantly a work in progress. There is limited benefit in setting goals once a year, ticking them off and then madly scrambling to set more for the year ahead. As you achieve something, celebrate the achievement and then move onto the next focus area—it should already be on the radar through your ongoing conversations with yourself.
If you’re not satisfied and being energised by what you are doing, it’s time to consider change. Taking time out to reflect on the aspects of your role and profession that feed you is essential. For me, that has meant maintaining a small private practice, volunteering roles with Occupational Therapy Australia and more recently some volunteer time in Cambodia with an NGO built on sustainability, RAW Impact.
Surround Yourself with the Right People
Goals are rarely achieved alone. Diversity of governance is a concept that is not new, but that is gaining teeth within many industry compliance formats. As an individual and as an occupational therapist, it is essential to consider the diversity of input that we have available to us. If we run a critical eye over our feedback sources, they tend to be somewhat limited.
Traditionally, we have looked to people with hierarchical responsibility to provide feedback about our professional performance. Although this is one view (and it is important to understand your boss!), it may not be the view that is best aligned to look at your long-term aspirations as a clinician or leader. In my own experience, there have been times where choosing to accept line manager feedback alone rather than seeking a broader view may have limited my learning opportunity and challenged aspirations for the future. Seek out those people with a differing opinion, those who are brave enough to tell you what you need to hear, and who see you as more than just where you are right now. Listen not only to the people ‘above’ you in the hierarchy, but those all around you. Some of the most useful feedback about your performance as a leader, is from those you lead.
Garnering feedback can be a discrete activity (such as a 360 review or a performance review feedback form) or it can be an ongoing opportunity. Any feedback can be useful, but the feedback that is collated and considered on an ongoing basis is more likely to drive lasting change and growth. By regularly spending time with people who provide you with feedback, and being open to the conversations and the content, you will be left with a richer understanding of yourself and future potential.
Mentoring or coaching with someone you connect with may be something you access as a part of your professional development, and you may need to be prepared to pay for it. I meet approximately every 8 weeks with an executive coach, and it is in those sessions that I can begin to see where the conversations I am having with myself are taking me, and how that fits with my professional journey. My coach challenges me to explore and face any blind spots that might limit my performance along the way, and provides suggestions of learning paths to build my skill repertoire.
Formal learning opportunities are one of the steps along the pathway of professional development, and are often sought out to help meet specific goals. PD activities (such as those offered by OTA) provide an opportunity to learn in a format that has been well considered to maximise information uptake. Other opportunities may be less formal, yet still provide solid learning outcomes. You may walk away from others with regret that you participated. Ask questions about the way that you are about to spend your time and money—who is running the training, what are the learning outcomes, what learning approach will be utilised?. And having asked those questions, if at the end of a learning opportunity you are not satisfied, in the age of consumer feedback take the opportunity to share your concerns.
Seeking Support when Opportunities Present
My experience of occupational therapists over the past 31 years has been that we tend not to self-promote, and when opportunities present, we may not see ourselves as having the capability to succeed. Opportunities can be big or small. It’s not always the new role, but sometimes the new task that can be a part of our broader learning journey and confidence build for the future. When your professional goals have been identified, actively look for opportunities that will give you a chance to build the suite of skills to develop and demonstrate your abilities. You may need to garner support to do this. Talk to people about what you want to learn, and get their thoughts on options to do this.
When there is a bigger opportunity, such as a new role, seek support from people who understand what that future looks like and how you may need to position yourself for success. If it’s a management role, work with a manager colleague or mentor to understand what the role entails and what success would look like. Be open to feedback on your application, preparation for interviews and debriefing afterwards to capture any learning.
As I said at the outset, I am a proud OT. Occupational therapy provides us with a unique perspective to bring to the leadership table, and a perspective that is more relevant now than ever. Considering the role that we want to play (and the support that we need on that journey) gives us a better chance of success in balancing the demands of these changing industry environments.