A leader is one of the most important aspects of any group undertaking. The leader is the driving force, the motivation everyone turns to when a particular proverbial waste product hits the fan. This presence and ability to take charge while maintaining a fair and overall positive experience for the team is no more critical than in the medical field, where spur-of-the-moment decisions can mean the difference between life and death.
However, while it may be helpful to study for a Master’s in Healthcare Leadership, the most essential skill that a leader can have is to lead by example. I need to adopt the “do as I do” mentality, not talk about being a good leader but also walk the walk.
People say that imitation is the highest form of flattery. A good leader can not only inspire confidence and high morale in their team members but also coax the best of them, and in a healthcare setting, this inspiration can go a long way to improving the quality of care for the patients under your wing.
Talking the Talk VS Walking the Walk
You’ve probably worked with a hypocrite at some point. Someone who says one thing then does another? Someone who preaches a lesson then does the opposite? Someone with no integrity whatsoever, willing to step on toes and manipulate and lie their way to the top. At some point, this person has probably been your boss.
The reason hypocrites are so infuriating is because they demand a standard they don’t live up to. They talk big games, but they walk small. Having to work with them can be not only a frustrating experience but also dehumanizing. Not only are you held to an impossible standard, but the authority figure you’re supposed to look up to doesn’t live up to that standard. It can make you feel lesser or like a failure.
Being a hypocrite is neither favorable nor fulfilling if you’re in a leadership position. Acting this way only asserts that you are not qualified for the job and that you care more about inflating your ego rather than providing a supportive work environment. Being a leader requires work and a positive attitude; being a hypocrite requires lies and manipulation.
No one is saying that being a leader is easy. Having the top spot means that everyone is looking to you for answers and that if a project fails, you’re most likely to be under scrutiny. However, if you’ve accepted a leadership role, you owe it to your team, your company, and yourself to handle it with integrity and fairness. So, let’s look at what it means to be an authentic leader.
Rule 1 – Empathy
If you’re in the medical field, you should already have a certain level of empathy. Not only is it essential to maintain an appropriate bedside manner, but it is an essential element of how we relate to and live alongside other people as a species.
Empathy is the ability to identify with and understand another person’s emotions. This trait is observable in several animal species, a famous recent example is of the beluga whale that retrieved a woman’s phone that she dropped. In an instant, the whale understood that this creature was holding a thing, therefore the creature probably wanted the thing, and was sad about dropping it. The whale then assists this creature in getting it back. This mental process establishes not only understanding another perspective but in taking action to relieve the understood inconvenience or suffering of another living thing.
As a leader, empathy is a necessary part of your attitude. The inability to empathise with those on your team will leave you ill-suited to address their concerns regarding the work and will leave you unable to take into full consideration the physical and emotional distress of the patients they’re working with. Fortunately developing empathy is possible, and if a team sees their leader making an effort to keep their team’s mental and emotional well-being a priority, then they will respond in kind.
Rule 2 – Managing Expectations
A leader who sees themself as above others is no leader. Yes, you have the role of leadership, and yes that gives you the power to direct others in their daily duties. However, it does not give you power over them. You are not their ruler, you are not their dictator, and you are not in control of them. Your job as a leader is to set realistic goals, and help your team meet them.
When you’re leading a team you may well want something done in a certain time frame, but you need to be realistic enough to understand that your team is made of people. They need time, especially to do their jobs properly, and they have a life outside of work. A leader who can shift expectations and work with their team will inspire a feeling of confidence and safety in their colleagues. Remember, you’re not above others, you’re just at the head of the charge.
Rule 3 – The Open Door
In ancient times, when there was a difficult battle, the king or queen would often draw steel alongside their army. The presence of their monarch was akin to having God’s chosen warrior beside them, and sometimes, that morale boost was the only thing that won the day.
In healthcare, you’re working long hours with people who are sick, sad, angry, impatient, hungry, tired, or in various stages of mental or physical distress. It takes a toll on anyone, and with your team out in the thick of it, you need to be ready to chat.
We cannot stress enough the importance of the open door policy. You need to be there not just to support your team but to hear them out. They’re the ones on the front line, they likely have ideas or suggestions on how to improve things. An open door policy doesn’t just show your staff that they’re supported but it encourages them to seek out that support and offer it to others. Allowing staff members a safe space to come and talk about things that are stressing them out means that they feel safe at work, and they will extend that safety to others.
Paving The Way
Being a leader is difficult, but doing it well is one of the most basic forms of being a good person – treating others how you would want to be treated. Although leadership in the healthcare industry can be complex, as your team leader, it’s up to you to provide the example of excellence that your patients deserve and your workplace expects. Your support will mean everything to your staff; if you show it in good measure, they will reciprocate. A good leader can be the difference between going home depressed and angry or feeling satisfied with your work and accomplishments. Which feeling would you rather be responsible for inspiring?