Guiding principles for today's healthcare leaders

Being a healthcare leader has always been challenging. But the COVID-19 pandemic brought an entirely new set of challenges, as leaders struggled with supply chain issues, margin pressures and a burned-out, slimmed-down staff, due to labor shortages.

Many of those challenges persist even as the pandemic wanes, and leadership to deal with these challenges remains a necessity.

At a session sponsored by Xtend Healthcare at the Becker's 10th Annual CEO + CFO Roundtable, Mike Morris, president and CEO of Xtend, led a conversation among healthcare executives focused on insights they learned during the pandemic about leadership. 

Four key takeaways were:

  1. The pandemic forced healthcare leaders to adapt their work and leadership styles, while simultaneously training future leaders. One participant who works in finance said his organization had to coach leaders on how to appear on camera as they shifted to working remotely. Physicians also needed to be reminded to wear their lab coats. Others found they had to tighten the reins after lax work-from-home policies led to some employees taking advantage. And still others found themselves training new, green managers after so many seasoned employees decided to retire or leave the profession. "It's been very difficult to lead through a challenging time like this with green leaders who don't have much experience or even knowledge," one participant said.

Even seasoned leaders needed refreshers and training. As younger people with different work and leadership styles came into the workforce, one CEO of a small rural health system said his team had participated in sensitivity training. "I think we're a stronger organization because of it," he said.

  1. Communication became more challenging, so leaders had to be very intentional about it. Especially with remote work, having clear metrics and timelines became even more important, as was the need to monitor and communicate about these metrics and timelines. 

Expectation setting was key, ensuring that people knew what was expected of them and when. "I don't care if you're working at two in the morning, if you're remote; I really don't care," one participant said. It also became especially important to pay attention to what employees were saying. "The key is listening to people in the trenches," a physician from a Los Angeles-area hospital said.

  1. Celebrate success. That was hard to do when the pandemic was raging, because there were so many competing priorities. But team members notice when the organization is experiencing success and when reaching goals is celebrated. Celebration is a key to ongoing success, said one participant from a major North Carolina health system. "Focus on the goals and then celebrate success, no matter what else is going around."
  1. Recognize every team member and the value of their contribution. Regardless of their title, each person plays an important role in patient care. "Everybody who's in that health system impacts the patient," one participant said. "They may not be giving the medications to the patient. But if a housekeeper doesn't adequately clean the OR, the patient can get an infection. Everybody has value."

While the principles of good leadership didn't change during the pandemic, it became clearer than ever to healthcare leaders that they needed to pay special attention to those principles to steer their employees and their organizations through this crisis. These basic principles include adapting, clear communication, listening, celebrating success and recognizing that every team member has value.

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