From Unicorns to Camels – it’s time to fill up our humps for the journey ahead

Kicking of 2021 with a blog from Carolyn McDonald – Chief Allied Health Professions Officer at The Scottish Government.

The start of every new year gives us time for reflection and motivates us to look forward. In my first blog as Chief Allied Health Professions Officer last January when I took up post, little did I know what lay ahead for us all. And as we now cope with the new lockdown restrictions there are still significant challenges in 2021 but we made it through that historical year that was 2020. There will continue to be lots of analysis on what has transpired but there was also terrific creativity, success and renewal across our Allied Health Professions (AHPs).

In my blog last year I referred to AHP Unicorn Leaders that raise the bar, challenge the status quo and create deep, lasting positive change. But do we need to consider a shift from unicorns to camels? Camels are resilient, can survive in the harshest of environments and can sprint rapidly for sustained periods of time. (Ok – so they are not as glamorous and elegant as unicorns, they spit and are smelly but let’s not dwell on these less attractive qualities!)

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So what that does this mean for our AHP camels in business terms where leadership demands are of an unprecedented nature and that we are in it for the long haul?

Deloitte in its publication “Leadership in the times of Covid 19” recommends aiming for speed over elegance: decisive action with courage is often more essential than getting it perfect. AHP and other leaders have had to identify quick solutions that help combat an immediate situation – which calls for initiative and decision making across all levels.

Resilience: We are all exhausted – at work and at home with the impact of the virus and need to be mentally tough and persevere in difficult times and in rapidly changing situations; we need to prepare for the future by filling up our humps and embrace the long term view to respond, recover and reshape.

Committed: AHPs have had to rapidly adapt to the new harsh conditions so commit to improvement to ensure positive impact is realised.

Customer focussed: prioritise people and create strong bonds and trust which inspire teams.

And so I will offer a few reflections for you as we start the year:

We need to collaboratively create conditions for AHPs to flourish and develop professionally and operationally, for them to be pioneers to improve outcomes for the people of Scotland.

Our workforce is our greatest asset but are we using it across all of our professions to best effect and if not, what work needs to be done in 2021 to change this? How do we support our future workforce, our students, to be the best they can be in the middle of this pandemic where their university and practice placement experiences are so very different?

Leadership exists at every level within an organisation but how do you grow? No matter where you are in your organisation, seek out someone to have a chat with in order for you to grow this year so you can set some goals for the year ahead.

Don’t be afraid to let go of old ways of working. We saw amazing transformation across digital technologies during 2020. Many services have changed for the better and others still might benefit from being refreshed – make your voice heard if you think something needs to be said.

Covid 19 has painfully revealed the existing and persisting shocking health and social inequalities in our society having the heaviest impact on the lives of those living in deprivation or facing difficult socio-economic circumstances with unequal death tolls in certain pockets of society. We have a duty as AHPs to make this our business. Covid 19 lessons tell us again about the importance of early intervention for prevention and this is a factor for all of the wider health and care workforce. AHP leadership across all of our professions is a key factor in 2021 to guarantee solidarity on this issue and ultimately in the wellbeing of our society and economy. Are you aware of our 4 Nations AHP Public Health Strategic Framework and what can your service do to enhance its delivery?

Like an oasis in the desert, there is hope on the horizon ahead for AHPs and whether a unicorn or a camel we have a strong foundation collective: we are allied to each other and the communities we serve.

Footnote: Silicon Valley is where the terms unicorns and camels emerged to describe privately owned start-up companies with a market value of over $1bn.


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