When it comes to health care, effective leadership can be a matter of life and death. Every decision made – whether business or health-related – must consider human cost. But in this increasingly complex and ever-changing industry, how do you assure both the success of your health care organization and the well-being of your team and patients? To navigate the landscape across all key stakeholders, health care professionals need essential skills that can no longer be defined solely by their formal titles and responsibilities. Being a successful professional alone does not automatically translate into leadership ability.
So, what does it take to be an effective health care leader today?
“We don’t have all the answers,” says Christopher G. Myers, Assistant Professor and Faculty Co-Chair of the Executive Certificate in Health Care Leadership and Management at Johns Hopkins Carey Business School. However, there’s a set of skills and characteristics shared between successful leaders that start to coalesce into a framework for leadership.
Myers spoke with us about the three essential components of that framework.
The health care landscape is more complex than ever. There are so many parties involved, each with a different priority, that communication between them is essential to reaching better, more-informed decisions.
For example, patients now have a roster of specialists, insurance providers, and outlets they rely on for care. To deliver the best care, all parties involved need to communicate effectively. Whether it’s physician to physician, physician to insurance provider, within your immediate team, or across the health care landscape, facilitating that communication is crucial to coordinating a patient’s overall health plan.
To be an effective leader, Myers claims, you must “surface different information from members of your team, from the patients themselves, or from different providers you’re working with to develop a more holistic understanding of what’s going on and make a more effective decision.” That means reaching out to whomever you can for a comprehensive understanding of the situation at hand. When leaders take into account other perspectives and leverage all available sources to make the best decision, everybody wins.
There’s a lot of political uncertainty affecting health policy. No matter where your personal opinions land, it’s imperative to stay aware of what’s currently happening. Myers maintains it “makes you able to provide better care overall because you understand that broader sociocultural element of what you’re asking of people.”
He then went on to relay a tale about how a physician’s lack of awareness about prescription policy had cost a patient. With a slight tweak, the physician saved the patient literally hundreds of dollars per refill. Myers believes, “that could be the difference between somebody actually following their treatment regimen as prescribed or not.”
Awareness is key to improving the quality, access, and consistency of care across the industry.
3. Emotional Intelligence
Historically, health care organizations have tended to give leadership positions to their most skilled clinicians. However, technical skill doesn’t automatically translate into leadership ability. It’s worth remembering that, at its essence, health care is an industry built on people and humanity. The most effective leaders pair technical knowledge with people skills.
“It’s easy to get absorbed in the technical pieces of it,” says Myers, “but effective leaders are tending not only to the technical elements but are managing interpersonal and emotional dynamics.”
That’s one fact that leaders should always keep top of mind. How you manage team chemistry, navigate personalities, and settle disputes affects how well you maintain efficiency and meet objectives.
Whether you occupy a formal leadership position or not, learning to apply the skills and framework provided here will help make you a better, more effective leader. However, as health care continues to evolve, leaders should continue to adjust their approach accordingly. It’s important to periodically reflect, assess, and challenge assumptions about leadership. As individuals, and as an entire industry, we have a responsibility to do so.
Christopher G. Myers is faculty co-chair of the Executive Certificate in Health Care Leadership and Management and assistant professor of management and organization at the Johns Hopkins Carey Business School. He also serves on the core faculty of the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine's Armstrong Institute for Patient Safety and Quality.