Christine Weissenberg

Christine Weissenberg, psychiatrist and psychotherapist, several years of medical work in Switzerland in psychiatric clinics and in an independent practice, initially as an assistant doctor. Approximately 10 years in a leadership role as a senior doctor. Actively involved in work with refugees in Waldviertel since retirement.

My professional training didn’t make me inclusive. At the end of the day it’s something you really have to want yourself.

What does ‘inclusive leadership’ mean for you?

In inclusive leadership you don’t see yourself as ‘centre of the universe’. It’s rather about adopting an open attitude. It’s about supporting a communication that gives others space, allowing them to say everything and then collecting their ideas. Not every idea has to take shape, but it has to be listened to and it is worth explaining why it can’t be implemented, at least at that point in time. At all events, a central concept here is to appreciate and make use of the competences of others.

In a broader sense, it’s about being aware of where you are with your own self-reflection; how quickly you often jump to conclusions and too rarely consider whether a notion that’s swiftly developed in your own mind is actually correct, or how quickly judgements can be made. This requires a lot of flexibility, joy and courage with both what is familiar and unknown. This is how new things emerge.

With people who have restrictions or illnesses it is about generating an enthusiasm for them to take things into their own hands and to become active, shaping their lives through the possibilities open to them. Let them make conscious decisions as often as possible, even in trivial matters and in situations where their scope for decision-making is generally small, e.g. during a compulsory hospitalisation in a psychiatric station.

With refugees this means taking an interest in their culture that is often so foreign to us, looking at lots of photos of their family members and listening to their music and their stories.

Generally showing empathy. Enjoying the growth of others.

How have you implemented inclusive leadership in your daily work?

When I first began to lead, I was confronted with resistance from staff. They had experienced again and again how senior members of staff had asked about their wishes and needs but had very rarely done anything about them. I’m also familiar with such experiences. These kinds of staff inquiries simply create an appearance of inclusion and leave behind a flat feeling and frustration amongst those affected, or even resistance against further attempts to encourage them to contribute their personal ideas.

In this sense I said to my staff: “Test me – I will keep what I’ve promised and will only promise what I’m able to keep. You can bring all of your suggestions to me and I really want to hear your ideas.” I kept persevering with this motto, which wasn’t always easy. When resistance emerges amongst staff you have to be able to withstand this as a leader and to keep your promises at all times. Not all of my managers or colleagues agreed with my approach because there were some things that I didn’t announce to the whole world and I used everyone’s creativity to reach our goal. Lots of things were achieved through perseverance, risk-taking and enthusiasm. In this way we were able, for example, to install a wheelchair entrance although I had been assured that everything had already been tried in vain and I didn’t have a chance, particularly because of the building preservation order, but also due to financial reasons. Undeterred and fresh I tried once again with a  round-table discussion involving all those affected (our team, the in-house technician, people from the building preservation society, right up to representatives of the disabled conference). Within a short period of time we had a solution with which we could put a very simple and inexpensive life into place.

What impact does inclusive leadership have?

A prerequisite for inclusive leadership is a flat hierarchy, since staff are then closer to their leaders and the communication channels are shorts. These shortened distances and the involvement in decisions support creativity and you will be able to interact with others as equals. When staff and patients experience their own suggestions being accommodated, they will have the courage to open up and one idea will lead to the next. It was also important for me that therapists from different disciples work in an interconnected way in line with my manager’s motto: “Expanding resources by connecting resources”. This led to a widespread rapport between psychologists, psychotherapists, musical therapists, riding therapists etc.

Can inclusive leadership lead to economic advances?

A genuinely inclusive attitude will lead to a reduced staff turnover. It is easier to motivate staff to extra work for short periods during times of crisis or shortage. Over a period of several years our station displayed the highest patient contentment levels out of the entire clinic and it was consistently filled to capacity. An integrated day clinic was newly installed, as well as treatment for outpatients. “What serves our patients” was the fundamental question for staff. At that time I clearly realised that the hospital structures were not always helpful, where even today patients generally have to let themselves be pressed into a mould. I considered this to be in need of improvement. The question for the patients was intensified: “What do you think would be good for you?” Very often the patients had an internal awareness of what they would like to try out, but sometimes common sense prevented us from taking this up, e.g. treatment with Chinese medicine or visiting a medium etc. I noticed in myself that because of my socialisation in conventional medicine I generally didn’t permit myself to look to the right or to the left. The meditation group, for example, was the most extreme form of spirituality that was officially allowed. Involving an astrologer who regularly visited the patients led to them thinking more critically and also becoming more open for other methods of treatment. A hypothesis on the basis of my experience is that patients who have trust often come to talk about newly emerging symptoms early enough. This generally means that outpatient treatment is sufficient, thereby preventing an expensive stay in the station.

What advise would you give to those who are practising inclusive leadership or who would like to practise it more intensively?

If someone really wants to lead inclusively, I recommend that they make themselves small and don’t attempt to solve all problems on their own. It is about giving others the opportunity to grow. Repeatedly letting go of the reins for short periods without losing an overview. You have to examine closely how you have led up to this point. I would ask: “In what way have you been leading inclusively or not doing so up to this point? What fears surface when you imagine that everyone suddenly wants to implement their ideas and projects? Is it still possible then to lead the team? Will others perhaps think that you would out of ideas yourself? Could competition emerge?”

You have to be able to get involved, to also move away from your own ideas.

In connection with refugees, I have personally experienced inclusion to be enriching. Despite their difficult stories many of them are heart warmers. In a working project for the community, for example, we began to laugh and dance on the street during a break. The locals became aware of this and the relaxed atmosphere made it easier for them to start conversations with us. And here too it’s all about noticing and appreciating the competences of individuals – with refugees just as with locals.