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The worst ‘leader’ in a crisis

Updated: Nov 12, 2021

Everyone was working quietly (to reassure the woman and her husband) but fast. There was perfect teamwork; each had their own role in the emergency. My role was to prepare an IV solution of the drug that was our best hope for regaining control, Syntometrine. The seconds were flying by and I didn’t want to cause any delay. The atmosphere in the room was soaked in the urgency of the moment.

My hands started to shake so I focused more on what I was doing; consciously, intentionally and carefully drawing on the needle to produce the perfect solution with no air in the syringe.

What happened then was possibly the worst example of leadership I have ever encountered.

The Registrar who was the most senior person in the room walked over to me, stood beside me and with his head tilted pointedly, silently looked at my hands up in the air drawing on the syringe. His intent was clear; to draw attention to my discomfort and make me even more uncomfortable in doing so. I ignored him, determined not to let him succeed. I finished the task and handed the solution to the other doctor in the room. Between us all, we succeeded in stopping the haemorrhage and calm was restored.

A colleague of mine who was also in the room chased that Registrar down the corridor afterwards and cornered him in the lift. She advocated for me without my knowledge, admonishing him for his appalling behaviour; his wasting time during an emergency to exert emotional power over a subordinate. Bless her, I think of her bravery often because he was a formidable character.

Knowing what I know now about the neuroscience of stress, I am even more astonished at his behaviour which quite frankly put our patient at risk. Neuroscientists tell us that a release of stress hormones causes the critical thinking and motor control parts of the brain to shut down. Not good for performance, particularly for someone undertaking a task that requires fine motor dexterity…like drawing up a life-saving medication. What if I had dropped the syringe and had to start again?!

It certainly brings to life the saying “Blowing out someone else’s candle doesn’t make yours burn any brighter.

If you’re a manager who sometimes gives your staff loud ‘reprimands’, you might want to rethink this…it’s not getting the best out of them and in fact you might be compromising their work and possibly safety.

If you are the recipient of a manager’s shouting episodes, hold this thought – he/she could really do with some leadership development. Breathe deeply and slowly to counteract the effects of cortisol in your system.

If you need help developing your leadership skills, or managing your stress responses, contact me about coaching.

Have you hired your coach yet?

Until next week, take care,


Don’t just survive life; thrive every day.


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