One of the most important goals for the US healthcare system is to maintain a high level of care. This will be done in part through constantly improving the services on offer, being compassionate towards patients, and nurturing a safe environment. One of the most significant factors in achieving this positive organizational culture is leadership. Strong leaders in healthcare help to develop strategies and encourage behaviors that drive their facility forward. In doing so, they contribute to a better system overall.
How effective leadership works
An effective leader will unite the team that works for them, ensuring that everyone is committed to the same goals and pulling in the same direction. They are clear about what the overall vision is and what the team’s values are. As a result, staff can feel a sense of consistency, they understand what is expected of them and have pride in their work.
Finally, a strong leader oversees how the facility is running overall, ensuring that a coordinated, collaborative approach is adhered to by everyone. They strive to get people working as a team and prioritize the facility’s overall success, rather than their success as an individual. This is especially important in a healthcare setting, where so much relies on various professionals working together to treat a patient.
What do we expect of leaders?
Healthcare leaders must perform several crucial functions. Primarily, they support a considerate, professional, and safe approach to patient care. Next, they listen to feedback from patients regarding their experience, good or bad, and act upon it where possible. In terms of their team, they offer a supportive, respectful, and fair approach. The voices of staff are crucially important to a good leader and provision is also made for practical support when a member of the team is struggling.
Although they expect their team to be honest and transparent, they reward this with open, appreciative feedback. When mistakes are made, a strong leader prefers to see the incident as an opportunity for learning. However, when it comes to inappropriate behavior, a lack of motivation, or poor performance, they act swiftly and decisively to manage the problem.
A strong leader will also understand the value of continuous development. To promote this concept, they will encourage staff to brush up on their skills through training days and courses. This ensures that patient care is excellent and constantly improving. To make the most of their team’s collective knowledge, leaders also welcome and reward ideas for new, more efficient ways of working.
How leaders relate to their team
People leading a team can strengthen the bonds between its members and create a sense of identity in various ways. Mainly they work to establish clarity when it comes to what the team does. This is often done by creating objectives that can be measured. They might also inspire a team by adopting cross-team collaborations at work, each of which has a specific aim. Leaders are not afraid to delegate and keep everyone involved at some level in the decision-making process. When staff cannot agree on what needs to be done, leaders may schedule a debate on the way forward. Lastly, leaders consider the morale of a team and strive to create an optimistic, mutually supportive, and healthy atmosphere in the workplace.
Why is strong leadership essential in healthcare?
In a constantly shifting environment such as healthcare, leaders that are strong enough to face unique and repeated challenges are always needed.
Hit the ground running
When a clinician is promoted within their department and takes on a leadership role, they are expected to combine their medical and managerial experiences. This new job includes a range of expectations and knowing how to balance these is vital. Having the skills to perform well from the start and demonstrate strength, means the team continues to do well. When a leader is ineffective or takes a while to find their feet, it is often done at the expense of their team. Stress can manifest itself in different ways, it may result in managers ignoring the concerns of the team or being insensitive when speaking with an individual. Either way, neglecting to find solutions and undervaluing staff can quickly lead to problems with the provision of care.
Strong leaders can adapt
Leadership skills are not just required of people who are working at the top levels of the healthcare system. Rather, they are required at every stage. From leaders in their first role to those who are part of a provider’s senior team, the same qualities are needed. Problem-solving, negotiating, managing risks, and more, are crucial, whether it’s to oversee a small team or an entire unit. To maintain these competencies, leaders need to adapt their style and be willing to develop over time. Just because a person has reached a position of power, it does not mean their training is over. Strong leaders will be confident enough to accommodate changing expectations and modernize their approach in a way that benefits the workplace.
Understanding and acknowledging responsibilities
A key element for leaders navigating change is to carry others along with them. This ensures that at every stage of organizational reform, people understand where they fit in, what their role is, and what they are responsible for. When a member of staff has an issue, they don’t want to traverse an entire building looking for someone who will help or take responsibility for solving the problem. Leaders can make sure this is not an issue, even during periods of change, by revising the roles people have. Although some individuals may take some convincing regarding the scope of their role, a strong leader will have the ability to be direct about their expectations. Even if they need to draft reports or revise job descriptions, each team member needs to understand what they are responsible for.
Being a voice for the department
All healthcare staff have conflicting demands on their time, but nurses seem to be the most prolific multitaskers. Understandably, that can leave some people worried about being able to complete each task well. Rather than demanding perfection, an effective leader will assist staff in managing their time and investigate the various pressures they are confronted with. This involves having the confidence to speak with staff about their activities, but also communicate their findings to higher levels of management or stakeholders. Activities that may seem basic to them may be different in the reality of a busy clinic or ward. By understanding how employees organize their time and being ready to support their efforts, healthcare leaders maintain a secure and consistent experience for patients.
Supporting the team
Great leadership involves more than giving orders to a team. To get the best out of everyone, the person at the top needs to support their well-being and career progression. By coaching the people who work with them, leaders can encourage people to find solutions to the problems they encounter independently. There are two key benefits to this approach, firstly, staff don’t feel like solutions are imposed upon them, and secondly, it encourages them to think analytically. When people can think out of the box and solve their own problems, they won’t need to approach others for help so often. That frees up more experienced staff to get on with their work, so the clinic or ward can run as efficiently as possible.
Motivating a loyal workforce
Healthcare staff are called upon to provide the best patient care at all times and this can be difficult to sustain without recognition. Effective leaders understand that part of their job is motivating people, celebrating their successes and aiding in their career progression. New opportunities could take the form of promotions or additional qualifications. At Rockhurst University, the MSN leadership program is designed for working nurses who hope to become leaders in their field. As the curriculum is delivered online and there is no campus immersion, students can complete their studies around their commitments at a pace that suits their lifestyle.
Leaders can also show an interest in their team by emailing them information that may be relevant to their personal situation, or by arranging face-to-face appointments. Of the two, meetings tend to have a more positive effect on staff morale. Sharing time with their manager gives staff a chance to ask questions about their progress and their future with the organization. Receiving reassurance from a leader can make people feel more engaged with their place of work and more inclined to stay.
Challenges are met with positive action
Rather than passing the buck when their department faces a challenge, good leaders have the confidence to face it head-on. Initially, they may investigate the problem personally to see what the key factors are and ensure they can reach a solution in-house. However, they quickly take the opportunity to learn from others. This could involve lengthy conversations with the people closest to the issue, as they might reveal more about what has happened. Instead of making accusations or demands, a strong leader can use their excellent communication skills to explore the situation. They often begin by listening, and then move on to asking open-ending questions to find out what needs to be done. A healthcare facility benefits from these leadership techniques because it means issues are tackled quickly and efficiently, with the entire team helping out.
Leaders see the bigger picture
Healthcare leaders tend to be pulled in various directions over a day. What was a priority in the morning may have changed come the afternoon when a new patient arrives. To get the best results out of any situation, leaders need to step back and evaluate the big picture. This provides them with a sense of perspective that they can couple with their professional experience. In turn, this allows them to make balanced judgments about difficult events while also managing their daily tasks. A leader who remains calm in a crisis makes it easier for people on the frontline to go about their work, with no disruption to the level of care they provide.
Decisions are made promptly
Making a decision that will affect patients, as well as the workforce, can be tough, even for the most experienced leaders. Nevertheless, delaying the process or avoiding it altogether can lead to a bad situation becoming far worse. Therefore, the ability to make decisions on behalf of the facility or the team and in varying situations is a trait of strong leadership. Furthermore, their expertise means they will make the right decision based on the prevailing circumstances. Any department will gain from having a decision-maker at the helm. They keep things moving forward and provide a listening ear for employees who want advice on any upcoming changes.
Leaders are always present
When a healthcare leader is not effective or makes themselves unavailable, people working for the organization will look to someone else for guidance. Once unofficial leaders begin to emerge, the atmosphere of a clinic and the standard of care can suffer. Not only are the general staff confused about their place in the hierarchy, but they can begin to disagree with a colleague when faced with difficult choices and a lack of supervision. Although it is healthy for a leader to trust their employees and feel sure that people know how to excel in their job, doing nothing to direct the team is not good enough.
Teams have a role model
In hospitals and other medical facilities, trainee physicians and student nurses are frequent visitors. To handle and motivate these potentially nervous and disorganized newbies, leaders need to be role models. Moreover, long-term staff who have become tired of the same daily routine and feel like a change will also feel inspired by a leader who remains focused. Healthcare involves both mundane work and life-or-death situations, it’s quite a unique workplace. Leaders can use their own traits, such as persistence, respect, integrity, and accountability to set an example. These traits are not just reserved for when everything is going well, in fact, they are even more essential during stressful moments. A leader who consistently shows confidence in their skills and that of their co-workers, nurtures a positive attitude that benefits patients.
Changes are faced with enthusiasm
All successful leaders understand the need for regular organizational change. When new practices are required, they are prepared to show enthusiasm as these are seen through. However, leaders also understand that change can be accepted more readily if it is a gradual process. Therefore, part of change management involves working with the team to promote a better understanding of what is required, how it will happen, and how it will affect them.
Without everyone on board, even the most promising initiatives can stumble in the early stages and even fail altogether. Along with establishing a good level of commitment among employees, leaders show their support through what they say and what they do. This may involve negotiating with teams or individuals to ensure they remain engaged with the planned changes. It’s not an easy task, but resilient leaders who can remain patient are more likely to see results.
Talented team members remain
In the United States and the rest of the world, attracting talented healthcare workers is becoming more of a challenge with every passing year. For leaders who are involved in recruitment, gathering a team of bright, dedicated, and capable people is an effort. The most effective leaders will find their hard work pays off and valuable employees are more likely to stay. High employee retention rates has a positive impact on patient care, as wards or clinics with a regular cohort of staff tend to be more established and confident in their routines.
The benefits of diversity are felt
Diversity in a healthcare setting can be promoted and supported by leaders who create a culture of acceptance. In practice, this can be done through careful planning that makes use of any available resources. From employee-led meetings to policies that are diversity-friendly and having a positive attitude to feedback, leaders can reinforce their dedication to making everyone feel welcome in many ways. In return, a diverse workplace will deliver a wider range of perspectives and experiences. As well as building a more extensive collective intelligence, it ensures the team can relate to patients from a wider range of backgrounds.
A force for change
A great leader will steady their team during times of change and uncertainty, making a huge difference in how people cope with new working practices. With responsibility for planning how their part of the healthcare sector functions, each leader plays a part in driving the entire system. To keep the culture efficient, maintain lines of communication with all levels of staff and support continued training, strong leaders are needed. Government policies, technology, and other factors have combined to rapidly transform healthcare in the USA, so leaders who can remain reasonable and prepared will be the best guides. They will usher in the required changes, while allowing their staff to flourish and ensuring patient experiences remain positive.