• Mark Topley

Ready, steady, go (gently)

You can almost feel the nation starting to creak as we wake from what seems like an enforced hibernation. The winter has been characterised by isolation, intense households, a lack of contact. And in the midst of it for those of us in dentistry, a monumental effort to keep the doors open in the face of shifting SOPs, additional PPE and a bunch of other TLAs (Three Letter Acronyms).

How do you feel?

Maybe you're 'Gung Ho' at the prospect of restrictions lifting. Your energy levels are high and you cant wait to go full steam ahead.

Perhaps you are taking careful steps with the level of hope you're prepared to commit. You know things will get better but you're not prepared to put a firm timescale on anything.

You could be dreading the next few months as you struggle to recover what has been lost to the pandemic, whether that's relationships, your physical or mental health, or even a loved one.

If you're either of the latter then I feel for you. I hope that you can do what the members of my leadership course have been able to do and get a supportive community around you.

How about your team?

It's great if you are doing well, but as leaders we must understand that there will be some people in our sphere for whom just getting out of bed and getting to work at all is a huge success at the moment.

If you're like most of the clients that I speak to, your team could be pretty battered. Many are tired, some are demoralised, everyone of them has been through a great deal of change over the past twelve months. And all the time having to manage theirs and their family’s concerns over infection. On the outside, people are starting to get frayed. I’m hearing more reports of absenteeism, disengagement and strain. Snappy conversations are more frequent as people’s patience wears thin. On the inside, stress is building up.

Go gently

My advice is go gently for the next few weeks, or you risk becoming the straw that breaks the camel's back. And that must be avoided at all costs:

  • There's a big personal impact for the person concerned

  • There's a commercial impact with finding cover

  • There's added stress for the other members of the team

  • You will delay the process of finally bringing things back together

All in all, it's an added stress that you don't need

Here's my advice for leaders in this next 6-8 week period:

  • Understand your people - seek first to understand, then to be understood

  • Ask - be curious when people are struggling. Rather than making a judgement, ask yourself what's going on for them

  • Make allowances - my kids' first few weeks back at school have been carefully paced and managed by their schools. All of them have recognised that it's impossible to flip a switch - there's going to be a period of adjustment.

  • Trust that people are doing their best, and give them the benefit of the doubt

In short, be clear, be kind, set agreed goals, review and support rigorously.

There are better times on the horizon. Things will get better, but only if we get through the risky period. Give it time, and go gently (especially on yourself).

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