Despite what anyone claims, nobody is a born leader. Sure, some people are born with certain skills — communication, showmanship, empathy, charisma — that lend themselves to solid leadership. But the fact is leadership is a skill you can learn. This should come as welcome news if, after years and years in the trenches, you’ve been thrust suddenly into a leadership role at a surgical facility full of strong personalities. Let’s look at 3 characteristics that separate great healthcare leaders from so-so managers.
1Great leaders put the patients second. Put patients first. Put patients first. It’s a mantra healthcare providers live by, but is it truly the way we should be doing things? I don’t think so. Here’s a simple analogy to drive home why: If the oxygen masks come down on an airplane, who are you supposed to put it on first, yourself or your children? You take care of yourself first so you’re able to properly help your children through the crisis. It’s the same thing with health care. In order to take the best possible care of patients, you must first take care of your own staff. Your organization is a collection of people, and those people need to be the first priority. When this happens, when your staff is invested in your organization and its mission, I guarantee it’ll result in more satisfied patients.
On the other hand, if you put patients first at the expense of your team’s well-being, you’re creating a dysfunctional working environment that’s bound to impact your patients negatively. After all, miserable workers eventually jump ship, and high turnover adds stress to any surgical staff. Stress, in turn, makes it more likely you’ll make mistakes and miss the little things.
2Great leaders embrace bad news. From the constantly changing regulations to the complex nature of reimbursement, surgery is rife with dysfunction. Making it work comes down to leadership. Great leaders welcome the bad news as a tool they can use to make the necessary changes. Learn to take a glass-is-half-full approach to receiving bad news. Without the bad, you would never have all of the information you need to make things better.
When I started a position as vice president of medical affairs, a physician approached me and asked: “Whose side are you on, the physicians’ or the hospital’s?” I saw right from the get-go I was walking into a dysfunctional organization where there was deeply antagonistic relationships among the medical staff.
The entire facility was segmented into tribes — doctor tribes, nurse tribes, administration tribes. Whenever tribes are drawn, the organization is doomed to fail. I tackled the problem by asking staff for help. I held a town hall meeting, trying to get at the heart of the problem and asking, “How can we tear down the walls that are hurting this organization?” What I found was every tribe thought every other group held all the power. Simply bringing the problem out in the open led to solutions. I knew I was onto something when a few high-powered physicians came to me and said, “I want to be part of the solution. What can I do to help?”
3 Great leaders always own their mistakes and work at improving themselves. “When things go well, be last in line. When things go wrong, stand up in front.” This Abe Lincoln quote applies to all great leaders. Own your mistakes. Not only will doing this earn you the trust and respect of your team, but it will also inspire more accountability among your staff.
Owning your mistakes is only part of it, though. Great leaders constantly work to improve on their weaknesses. Your survival as a leader depends on constant self-improvement. The best leaders will often seek professional help. One way: Enlisting the services of an executive coach — a qualified professional who works with executives and other high-potential employees to help them clarify goals and reach pre-determined objectives (such as reducing turnover in your facility by a certain percent). Of course, because health care is so team-focused, an organizational coach may be better suited for your facility. These coaches operate in much the same way as executive coaches, albeit on the group level. Organizational coaches (often called organizational psychologists) come into dysfunctional workplaces to create wholesale culture changes.