Connecting with Hearts and Minds: A Set of Qualities and Skills Every Leader Needs

I've found people who are most successful in aligning actions to achieve desired results have one overarching skill: the ability to connect with both the heart and mind of those they lead, work with, or care for and serve.

Healthcare people are both scientifically minded and deeply passionate about their work. When we connect to the mind, we're appealing to their logical, data-driven, evidence-seeking side. When we connect to the heart, we're appealing to that passion and the values they bring to work every day. Quint Studer

With patients, too, we need to be able to explain a diagnosis, lay out a treatment regimen, discuss medication doses and instructions, and so forth. That's the mind part. We also need to provide comfort, reassurance and hope. That's the heart part.  

High-performing leaders who have this ability exhibit certain characteristics. Here, I'll examine eight of the most effective.

Authenticity creates the trust necessary to create a culture of high performance one person at a time.

Becoming an authentic leader is not necessarily easy, but it is simple. We just start telling the facts even when it's difficult (especially when it's difficult). We stop sugarcoating. We stop practicing we/they. We learn how to have the tough conversations rather than avoid them. We start being who we are no matter who we're talking to.

When we can become more authentic, those we lead are more likely to believe us and comply with what we ask them to do.

Every data point I have read says that when someone feels cared about they listen better, work harder, are more comfortable asking questions and seeking help, and are more likely to stay in the organization for the long term.

Being an empathetic leader doesn't mean we get caught up in the emotions of our staff, or try to "fix" them and take on their burdens. It means we really focus on employees when they are talking. While we may not agree with them or give them the answer they want, we make sure they know they were heard.

This requires leaving the proverbial "ivory tower" and connecting with staff regularly. Many of the classic Studer Group tactics — rounding for outcomes, 90-day meetings and employee forums, among others — help us become part of our staff's world.  

To accomplish this we need to be open about our own shortcomings so others can learn from them. We don't mind saying, "I made that mistake myself so I know where you are coming from. Let me tell you about it."

Moving a conversation back to point
Tom Cassidy, a longtime healthcare professional, taught me this. When he met with any leader or group of leaders whose results had not met expectations, he asked why. He noticed a lot of energy would was then focused on all the reasons results were what they were.

He shared with me that what he finds to work best is to move right into the question, "What is going to happen to get back on track?" Whenever he asked this, defensiveness went down, a sense of relief set in and all energy was spent on moving forward.

The faster one can move into the present and future, the better the present and future will be.

When to push…and when to hold back
Being a leader is about being able to manage the gap between where a person is and where they need to be. Too much pushing can shut the person down. Too little pushing will not create enough action to achieve the goal.

After observing many highly effective people at work, I've come to see that the best time to push is when things are going well. That's when people are feeling the most confident.

On the flip side, when an organization or person is not achieving the desired outcome, support may be the best way to lead. The key is to build self-confidence. This doesn't mean accepting poor performance. It means pulling a person or an organization out of their self-defeating mindset.

Limiting and sequencing changes
When my Studer Group colleagues are asked to assess an organization, it's usually due to inconsistent results. By this I mean they're seeing too much variability in outcomes, or outcomes have flattened or decreased after some positive gain.

While there are many reasons for the two issues, we find one cause shows up more often than others: Because healthcare people are so passionate about making things better, we may try to do too much too soon and get overwhelmed. Too much too soon is passion's sneakiest side effect. I have read, and I believe it to be true, that the less change a person tries to make, the better chance for success.

My suggestion is to be patient and select one or two items to implement or enhance. Do them frequently and long enough to see the outcomes, and then decide if another action is needed.

Breaking actions into understandable steps
Any process will be more successful if it is broken into doable steps during implementation. In fact, phenomenal results are achievable.  

For example, a very effective technique in patient communication is what we call AIDET®. It's an acronym that stands for Acknowledge, Introduce, Duration, Explanation, and Thank You. Quite often, leaders say, "We are now going to use AIDET during every encounter to reduce patient and family anxiety." Even though the staff sees the why, there can still be concern. People will say, "How can we possibly do this? We are so busy."

My suggestion is to take it one letter at a time. One emergency department selected the letter D. They focused on making sure patients and families were aware of how long it would be until they were seen, when they would get test results back, when they would be moved to a room, when they would be discharged, and so on.

After some months, the ED's patient experience results showed marked improvement and everyone enjoyed a better work environment. Duration had been so incorporated into staff's daily work that it was now second nature. Now the staff was ready and excited to take it to another level and work on the next letter.

Connecting to mission, vision and values
There is probably no better way to capture the hearts and minds of individuals in healthcare than connecting what we're asking them to do back to what the organization stand for.

For example, we might let people know the reason we're hardwiring this new tactic, which is difficult and requires a change in behavior, is that we want the best clinical outcome for those we serve.

Or in the realm of financial stewardship, make the connection that what we're doing now will allow us to invest in our mission, whether it's through compensation, facilities or technology.

Connecting the dots for people
The most effective communicators connect the dots for others in a way that creates clear understanding and leads to the desired outcome. Here is the approach that works for me, which I feel will also work for you.  

After connecting with a group, my goal is to always accomplish three things with each item I speak about: to make sure the listener understands the outcome or the result of the technique and/or tool, to explain how to implement it and to tell a story that illustrates the impact.  

If this is done well, those individuals most influenced by the metric outcome — the mind part — will hear a call to action and the how. Those most moved by the human impact — the heart part — will also hear the call to action and the how. The key is moving people to action.

Selection of talent is a good example. When recommending new or enhanced selection processes for those most financially driven, make it clear that better selection leads to less turnover, lower orientation cost, less overtime and less agency use. For the quality driven leader, share metrics that show better selection and less turnover mean better patient safety and better mortality data.

For those most impacted by the heart, explain that better selection leads to a better cultural fit, better teamwork, a better place to work and a staff that feels respected and trusted. Plus, the selected person feels more cared about since the organization took time to make sure they were the right fit.

Each person sees the benefit that resonates with them — and this gets them ready for the how.

I believe certain people are "naturals" at most of these skills and thus make very powerful leaders. Other leaders may be strong in some skills and weaker in others. However, I also believe the vast majority of people use their minds and their hearts to make decisions —and therefore most of us can learn the skills to connect with others on both levels.

When we make sure all of our leaders know the techniques to connect with both aspects of the human beings who make our organizations work, we're well on our way to creating a high-performance culture that can weather any storm.


The above is a modified excerpt from Mr. Studer's latest book, "A Culture of High Performance: Achieving Higher Quality at a Lower Cost." It is part two of a two-part series.

Quint Studer is the founder of Gulf Breeze, Fla.-based Studer Group, a recipient of the 2010 Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award. Inc. magazine named Quint its Master of Business, making him the only healthcare leader to have ever won this award. Twice, Modern Healthcare has chosen him as one of the 100 Most Powerful People in Healthcare. He is the author of numerous books. There are currently 700,000 copies of his BusinessWeek bestseller, "Hardwiring Excellence," in circulation.


More Articles From Quint Studer:
Stop Paying for Paltry Performance: 5 Tips For Hospital Leaders
Urgency Emergency: 5 Ways CEOs Can Cure Complacent Hospitals
The Hospital CEO's Ultimate Dashboard: What to Check Daily, Quarterly and Yearly


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