Why Leadership Matters

Over the past several weeks, something very interesting has happened in the world of healthcare… We are experiencing a quite paradigm shift of epic proportions. It’s subtle. Some people are talking about it, but it’s not really a part of the official conversation. I am referring to the rapidly-evolving power structure in most of our major healthcare systems. The Game of Leadership is getting a little slippery across the board, and we are all little pieces in it. Sometimes you think you’re the Top Hat, but you might realize that you’re actually the Wheelbarrow. Both count, but different people may each have their own perceptions about each role. Do these perceptions matter? I think they do, at least on some level.

Normally, there are three groups of people in this business: Healthcare Providers, Healthcare Administrators and Patients. Patients are, well… patients. The ultimate customer. Patients are why we do this. But what about Providers and Administrators? It used to be that these two groups were easy to tell apart. Providers wore white coats or scrubs. Their badges might say “MD” or “RN”. They might say “Laboratory” or “Radiology”. “Food Services”, “Housekeeping” and “Transportation” also fall into this category in my book. Oh, and you can’t forget the most amazing badge: “Volunteer”. Administrators, on the other hand, generally wear suits. And fancy shoes that never need paper covers. They often carry laptops. You know their names because your inbox is cluttered with emails from many of them… some read, some not. But in their defense, when you need to get something done, you probably have a shortlist of Administrators on your speed dial to help you out, and you probably wouldn’t trade them for the world.

As time has gone on, many healthcare systems have found that Providers sometimes make good Administrators. It makes sense, right? Who better to manage a problem than someone who truly understands that problem? So many of our Providers have crossed over full or part-time to the Administrator’s world. For private physicians, this may have started on Day #1 of his or her practice. Independent docs wear many, many hats… So this line gets a little blurry. Instead of Providers and Administrators, we now have Leaders.

Under normal non-pandemic circumstances, we were all settled into our roles. We knew who was in charge of what. If we needed to get something done, the lines of command and efficiency were usually pretty clear. But then COVID-19 popped into our world… And suddenly, leadership roles became much more fuzzy. If you weren’t considered to be “essential”, you were sent home. Yes, you could Skype or Zoom with people. And the number of emails sent have escalated to unholy levels. But if you need to get something done, do you still turn to that one person? If you can’t physically walk into someone’s office to badger them into signing off on your request, can you still get your problem solved? Do Providers have time to have web meetings? Seems like they’re pretty busy running around from patient to patient on understaffed floors while trying to find some unclaimed PPE in the back corner of a barren stockroom…

More disturbing, are our Leaders acting like leaders? If your leader is losing his shorts because he’s afraid of catching COVID-19, is he going to effectively inspire confidence in his team? If a manager is terrified of bringing the virus home to her children or elderly parent, will staying home while her team members remain on the front line undermine her ability to run her department?

And your clinic’s nurse manager, who claims that she’s not really in charge but still shows up every day, makes the tough phone calls, wears all the hats and still rolls up her sleeves to help with patients when needed? Even though she might not be a Leader, isn’t she the first person you call when things start to fall apart?

Tough questions, indeed… How can you judge someone’s legitimate fear? I mean, you can’t blame someone for not wanting to contaminate their family, but what kind of message does it send to their work family when that person runs off and leaves them to the wolves? Well, that might be an extreme way looking at this, but from the left-behind team’s perspective, well… It might very well feel like the wolves are circling.

All of this made my mind wander to the question: “What makes a great leader?”

As luck would have it, there is a lot of material out there on this very topic. No, seriously… A lot of material. There are some common themes, but whew! So many variations on this idea… Every possible color and flavor combination of leadership you could imagine. Some are bold and aggressive. Some are subtle and thoughtful. In the same vein, we see these same variations among our current Leaders. We would follow some of our Leaders off of a cliff if they asked us to jump with them. Others, well… we might let them go off of that cliff first and then make up our minds. And here’s the kicker– During this pandemic and the circus of panic that has followed, have you changed your opinion about your Leaders? Have you found new leaders who have stepped up during this crisis, even if “Leader” is not a part their official title? What has made you shift your thinking?

My bet is that there are some leadership qualities that matter more than others. We subconsciously are aware of what attracts us to people and what makes us want to listen to what they have to say. There are many, many, many opinions out there, but I think that Simon Sinek, an author and speaker who focuses his work on leadership and learning, has some great logic on this. In the clip below, his TED Talk takes a look at why we put our trust in leaders. He reasons that as followers, we select someone from our ranks who we feel will make good decisions and lead us to safety. Hmm… In a time of imminent danger, this makes a lot of sense. And I would classify a global pandemic that has broken our social and economic constructs across the board to be “imminent danger”, but maybe that’s just me.

I plan to spend the next few posts exploring this leadership idea a little more. We’ll probably hear from Simon again since he has some really great stuff out there on this topic. And I’ll find some other resources just to stir the pot a bit. Until then, however, I would ask you — What kind of leader are you? Have you thought about how you inspire others around you? Or how your words and actions affect your team members?

Just a few questions to spark your thinking. I’ll come up with a few more along the way.

Until then…

— TLS

Photo Credit: SplitShire from Pixabay

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