Even before the COVID-19 pandemic struck, the healthcare industry was already experiencing rapid and profound change. Healthcare organizations across the country are seeing sudden technological change, severe shortages in key professions and an aging population that’s shifting their priorities. All of these come with both risks and opportunities.
The pandemic only made these worse (and added its own host of challenges), making effective healthcare leadership more important than ever. But many healthcare professionals are unprepared for the new challenges they face. That’s why we’ve put together this guide to help you target the most important leadership skills you need to be the most effective leader for your organization and some things you can do to develop them.
The importance of effective leadership in healthcare
There are few industries where workers are asked to handle life-and-death situations on a daily, routine basis, but that’s certainly the case in healthcare. Here are some of the challenges healthcare leaders face and the objectives they’re expected to achieve:
- Quality patient outcomes: This is really the name of the game for those in healthcare. Without effective healthcare leadership, it’s almost impossible to devise an operational plan to deliver the best patient experience. Healthcare leaders should always be working to identify any problems gumming up their delivery plans and investing in new ways to streamline their processes.
- Long-term challenges: Even after the world emerges from the current public health crisis, healthcare professionals will face serious long-term challenges. Understaffing and aging care are at the top of the list, but leaders will also have to manage the inadvertent consequences of the pandemic. Managing these challenges requires decisive action, steady hands and thoughtful long-term planning.
- Unforeseen crises: If nothing else, the pandemic taught everyone one thing: Some things you just can’t plan for. The healthcare industry, more than any other, was most adversely affected by the pandemic, demonstrating just how exposed the industry is to a crisis. An effective leader needs to have the flexibility to manage unforeseen crises with calm and composure.
- Promoting workplace engagement: Good leadership in healthcare isn’t just about managing crises and orienting everyone in the right direction. Healthcare staff are especially susceptible to job-related stress and burnout, so it’s important for leaders to find ways to reduce this friction and create happy and healthy work environments to promote better employee engagement.
The most important characteristics of effective healthcare leaders
A lot goes into being a good health leader, but these are some of the most important:
1. Tech skills
Technological change is simply a part of life (modern life, at least). Newer, faster and more effective tools and systems are always emerging that promise to make organizations of all kinds more efficient and productive. It’s no surprise then that healthcare providers are adopting many of these new technologies, some of them at a lightning-fast rate.
All of these are ultimately meant to make everything for managers, leaders and employees easier and smoother, but it takes some time to learn how to use new tools the way they’re intended. You need to be able to roll with the punches when it comes to learning and using new technology to stay ahead of change.
Very little gets done at any organization without proper communication between leadership teams and staff members. This is particularly true in healthcare organizations, where decisions need to be made in real-time and mistakes can be fatal. Good communication helps develop strong, cohesive bonds between every member of your team, ensuring that everyone is on the same page about each of their tasks and responsibilities.
Strong communication shouldn’t just stop at the team level. Great leaders maintain constant communication with patients, developing a deep understanding of their needs and taking their feelings into consideration, to ensure the highest quality patient outcomes.
As everyone who lived through the pandemic understands all too well, change can be sudden, unexpected, and highly disruptive. While you should take care to plan for any possible changes that may arise, you can’t account for everything. That means you need to be flexible in the face of uncertainty, ready for those changes that you can’t really prepare for.
While you need to be adaptable on this macro level, you also need to show flexibility on a day-to-day basis. Sometimes unexpected changes happen that make it hard just to get through the day. Employees quit unexpectedly, last-minute projects get thrown on your plate, and systems glitch. You need to be able to handle these with composure.
Healthcare leaders do more than just set goals and priorities. They serve as mentors. They inspire. And they help their team members achieve their highest potential. Doing all this requires more than just listening and communicating — it also means having the emotional acuity to pick up and interpret a myriad of different behavioral cues.
Good health leaders are experts at reading body language. Any number of cues can reveal the feeling behind an employee’s words, and picking up on this helps leaders develop deeper, more meaningful bonds with their team members, ultimately helping them respond more appropriately to employee concerns.
Few industries require decisions to be made that will affect the lives of people and their families, but healthcare is certainly one of them. Healthcare leaders need to be decisive; they have to be able to make quick decisions without spending too much time prevaricating over all the different options in front of them.
Not only does a decisive leader ensure that decisions are made appropriately and quickly, they also help to inspire confidence among those around them. Even if leaders make the wrong decision — and no one is immune to that — a decisive leader will save everyone time, reduce stress, and can give them the wherewithal to make the right decision next time.
How to practice these skills to become a better leader
If you’re already a master of all five of those leadership skills, then you can stop reading now. If you’re like most of us, though, then you might have a hunch there’s room for improvement in one or two (or maybe all five) of those skills. Here’s what you can do:
Most facilities in the healthcare industry have been slow to embrace technological advances. Luckily, that means there’s an enormous opportunity for growth and progress. Improving technical skills really comes down to embracing change and practicing — a lot.
Set aside time to play around with any new devices or systems your organization adopts, learning the ins and outs and arming yourself with all the little quirks that come with them. Be curious, and don’t be afraid to ask your tech teams any questions you have.
One of the simplest and most effective ways to practice your communication skills is to be present in each and every interaction you have with employees. When you’re distracted in a conversation, not only are you missing key information (which will lead you to misinterpret what was said), you’re also showing your listeners that something else is more worthy of your attention. This can lead to a serious communication breakdown and breach of trust.
Give your listeners your full, undivided attention. It might be challenging at first — you might even be convinced that you can multitask — but with good practice, this will become a habit.
Improving this skill starts with developing a flexible mindset. Change is a part of life, and there are few industries that experience rapid and frequent change as much as healthcare. Choose to see change as an opportunity by looking at the positives. This will help you learn not to fear change but to embrace it.
It’s important that you always keep a nimble mindset and don’t become too attached to your plan or routine. Believing that there’s only one way of doing things is what causes leaders to be caught off guard when change happens. Always have a plan B (and C), and be open to input and insight from peers and mentors.
This can be a hard one, especially because many people mistakenly believe that emotional intelligence is something a lucky few are born with. Scheduling rolling one-on-ones with each of your team members is one of the best ways to enhance your emotional intelligence. Having a private space to share concerns allows you to cultivate closer, more personal bonds, and that can go a long way toward building trust.
Practicing this can help you better understand their individual motivations, goals and concerns, which you can use to better tailor your leadership style when dealing with different team members.
When faced with a problem, it’s important to gather as much relevant information as possible from all sources, including other leaders. This will help you make informed decisions and can limit the amount of doubt that might creep in.
At the end of the day, being decisive also means being confident in your decisions, right or wrong. Once a decision has been made, don’t harp on it. Work with the new reality that decision has created. You should also avoid ruminating about past mistakes or wrong decisions, as this can paralyze you and make you more reluctant to be just as decisive in the future.
The healthcare industry is in a state of flux, and that means effective leadership is needed at all levels to steer it through a new generation of challenges while still ensuring high employee engagement and top-quality patient care delivery.
But not everyone can do this on their own. In fact, many leaders can’t. That’s where The Bailey Group comes in. Our team understands that every leader and leadership team is different, so our coaches focus on your organization’s unique needs, challenges, and goals to ensure their leaders are prepared to overcome the latest obstacles facing them and their industry. Contact us today to schedule a free consultation.