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In a 60 Minutes interview with host Mike Wallace nearly 50 years ago, former president Ronald Reagan expressed his thoughts on leadership by saying “The greatest leader is not necessarily the one who does the greatest things — he is the one that gets the people to do the greatest things.” Although this statement was made six presidents ago, it’s one that still holds true today. 

Numerous books have been published about what makes a good leader. Motivational speakers make a living touting the importance of such characteristics. There’s no one guide all leaders should follow, though, and what works for one individual might be the wrong strategy for someone else. 

Leaders in the healthcare industry, whether they be health system and hospital executives, medical group administrators or managers of a federally qualified health center (FQHC) face unique challenges, not the least of which is a rapidly-changing environment. Want a recent example? The COVID-19 pandemic. 

Like physicians, these leaders often deal in high-stress situations that require quick decision-making and must keep up-to-date on stringent and oft-changing healthcare regulations. They’re responsible for keeping up with technological advances — especially in light of the healthcare consumerism trend — and, most importantly, balancing finances while still providing high-quality patient care. 

You might not think that the type of leader heading a healthcare organization makes a substantial difference. However, as the Center for Management and Organization Effectiveness notes, leaders with the right qualities and skills help build a more engaged workforce that consistently improves clinical outcomes in patients. It’s with this in mind that we present you with 10 practical ways leaders in the healthcare industry can build and maintain a strong and collaborative workforce that puts patients first while ensuring an operationally and financially sustainable business. 

1.    Strategize

Clear, detailed and documented planning is essential in establishing an organizational vision — even more so in a changing healthcare landscape. Goals identified to put this vision into action must be specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and timely (S.M.A.R.T) and include the steps necessary to achieve them. Good leaders anticipate change and create both short- and long-term goals to translate challenges into opportunities. 

2.    Communicate

Open and transparent communication across a healthcare organization is the basis of successful leadership. This includes both verbal and non-verbal. Utilize various mediums to get your point(s) across, and document your messaging when possible to allow team members across the organization to access and review it. This step sounds so simple, but research has identified multiple ways communication can lead to better health outcomes, such as reducing medication errors, reducing hospital readmissions and increasing patient satisfaction with their provider visits. 

3.    Educate

Successful leaders not only never stop learning, they also share their knowledge and experience with their team members to improve quality of care and overall performance. They effectively create learning opportunities to help employees grow professionally and keep staff up-to-date on new or changing laws, regulations, policies and procedures. Address expectations that aren’t being met, and provide an actionable strategy to initiate necessary changes. 

4.    Motivate

Encouragement goes a long way in motivating employees because it shows you value their contribution to the organization. Try to promote team members’ strengths as much as possible, and actively listen to them when they have a concern or idea to share with you. By creating a positive organizational culture that values respect, you can motivate employees to work at their highest potential, which benefits both patients and the overall organization. 

5.    Empathize

Not all employees operate at 100 percent every shift of every day. Offer these team members guidance and support when possible, and empathize with their needs — and those of patients. Recognize that your staff members come from varying cultural and social backgrounds, and consider that information when you communicate with them. 

6.    Delegate

Understanding that it takes a team to sustain a successful healthcare organization means knowing that it’s necessary to delegate responsibilities to employees who specialize in their roles. Again, play to their strengths, and give them a chance to grow in their career. 

7.    Be Self-Aware

It’s difficult to navigate leadership when you aren’t self-aware of your own strengths and weaknesses. According to the Center for Creative Leadership, the four facets most critical for leaders include:

  • Leadership Wisdom: These are insights from your experience that you can apply to the challenges you face.
  • Leadership Identity: This is who you are in your current professional and personal context.
  • Leadership Reputation: This is how others perceive you as a leader based on your current and previous behavior.
  • Leadership Brand: This is what you aspire to and the actions you take to support that mission. 

8.    Mentor

Even the most successful leaders had to gain their knowledge through experience. Don’t hesitate to share your guidance with employees, whether it’s through a formal program or by mentoring a professional who shares your career aspirations. 

9.    Listen

Not all feedback you receive is going to be positive. Be accessible so team members can come to you with problems or concerns without fear of repercussions or punishment, especially in issues that directly affect patient care. 

10.  Lead

Seems redundant, doesn’t it? Set the right example for your employees by saying what you do and doing what you say. Display traits you want team members to emulate, and actively communicate the organizational culture you want in place by proving your integrity through your actions — again, both verbal and non-verbal. Leadership also consists of proactively problem-solving. Work with your employees to achieve conflict resolution and deal with patient concerns. 

Are you interested in a career in healthcare? If so, check out our list of job openings.