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Courage and responsibility: the key components of leadership

Mandisa Greene - RCVS Senior Vice-President

RCVS Senior Vice-President Mandisa Greene in clinical practice When the first RCVS all female Presidential team shared ‘How did I get here?’ we told our very individual stories of how life shaped and inspired us into our current roles. This time we tackle leadership, three leaders within the veterinary community and our individual takes on it, which made me reflect on the common threads of leadership that run through every experience. 

You could say, I have always been a leader. In primary school it was my idea that convinced my group of friends to pool all our pocket money together to buy a bigger treat at the end of each week.  I was responsible for collecting the coins and helping guide our decision on what we should spend it on every Friday afternoon.  Could a young child show leadership skills?  I think so, as RCVS Junior Vice President Melissa Donald wrote, ‘we are all leaders, every one of us, in our own worlds, however we define ourselves.’ 

When I think of leadership it can be easy for my mind to drift to the stereotype of authority and management but giving leadership deeper consideration, the terms that are consistently associated with it for me are courage and responsibility.

Courage has meant for me being clear about my values and displaying behaviours that demonstrate those.  Perhaps, being the last of four children was instrumental in fairness being a core value for me. Being the last born means never having first pick of activities, restaurants, or holiday destinations. My parents also had an amazing reward system that started strong but ran out of steam by the time I qualified for its benefits. I have always been passionate about consistent processes and treating people equally. Fairness has been the value that as I took a position of public leadership within RCVS Council, I have maintained the courage to be clear about.

Courage also means getting up after a fall, failure is a part of life, but getting up each time is something that displays leadership. We have no idea who is looking up to us, no matter what position we find ourselves in. Throughout my career, I’ve made no secret of the many failures I have faced but having to reset after each one is what has enabled my growth. I find so many young professionals afraid of making mistakes and afraid of failure, and it’s not the failure but the bounce back from it that builds our resilience. I don’t think this type of courage is a part of my personality, it is a skill set I have learned because the goal I wanted to get to means more to me than the failure I have to overcome. 

Responsibility has meant for me acting with the utmost integrity and demonstrating behaviours that would be expected of someone in a leadership role. What does that even mean? It means doing what’s right over what may be considered popular. 

On leadership, RCVS President Kate Richards wrote: "What I aspire to do is to lead by example, to reach out and share my experiences and expertise for the benefit of others, to pass the baton to the next generation of veterinary leaders."

As leaders in the veterinary professions, it is our responsibility to look to the next generation and nurture the leaders of tomorrow, in doing that we acknowledge that life goes on and we won’t in our roles forever. I think back on my career with appreciation to those who saw the potential in me and gave up their seat at the table so I could occupy it. They often didn’t just leave me their seat and wish me well but remained supportive advocates throughout my learning and progression. 

For me responsible leadership also means being supportive, making space for new thinking, new ideas and innovative approaches which will be to the benefit of all. 

I read a quote recently that sums up what I think of leadership: "Leadership is about making others better as a result of your presence and making sure that impact last in your absence."

Consider the best leaders you know and what they did to show courage and responsibility…. How are you demonstrating that today? 

Published on 31 January 2022