The 5 Most-Needed Qualities for Leadership in Healthcare

The healthcare industry is complex and dynamic. In fact, the opportunity for improvement in healthcare is estimated to be more than $500 billion. Clearly, there are many opportunities for growth, and healthcare leaders are looking for innovative ways to capitalize on this potential.

With the changing needs and demands of clinical care, technology, and spending, leadership in healthcare must stay agile to keep up with the shifting tides. This begins by nurturing your leaders with the right qualities and skills. Doing so can help you build a more-engaged workforce that consistently improves clinical outcomes in patients.

Unique Demands Healthcare Leaders Face

To understand the key traits that healthcare leaders need, let’s first discuss some of the unique demands and challenges they face. The healthcare industry is complex for several reasons:

  • High-stress situations. In an industry where life-or-death situations are constant, it can be difficult to think amid all the stress. Healthcare leaders must guide their team members through patient care, equipping them with the right knowledge and tools to protect the well-being of their patients.
  • Competing demands. In addition to patient care, healthcare leaders have bottom-line finances to think about. They must find ways to balance both priorities without sacrificing compassion and quality care.
  • Patient safety and privacy. Healthcare leaders must comply with laws and regulations, such as the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), to safeguard patient health information. And as more and more information is digitized, security liabilities increase. Leaders must develop policies to protect their organization via cybersecurity budgets and training programs.
  • Healthcare regulations. Healthcare regulations are managed by several state and federal agencies (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Department of Health and Human Services, the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services, etc.). Each entity carries its own rules and regulations, making it challenging to track and monitor each one.
  • Healthcare insurance plans. Healthcare insurance plans vary significantly in that there is little to no consistency across plans. With different types of deductibles, co-insurance, and co-payments, ensuring that each patient has the right coverage to receive care from your organization can be quite challenging. In addition, there are for-profit and not-for-profit insurance companies, which pose another set of challenges to sort through.

Who Fills the Leadership Role in Healthcare?

Many individuals fill leadership roles in healthcare. These roles vary across medical organizations, but some common roles in healthcare include the following:

  • Partner physicians at a private medical practice
  • Charge nurses on a medical/surgical floor of a hospital
  • Attending physicians and chief residents who are training medical students and residents
  • Hospital administrators who oversee day-to-day activities, such as quality assurance, and develop procedures for medical treatments
  • Hospital executives, such as CEOs and CFOs, who focus on strategic and financial planning

healthcare worker standing at head of table around employees

Essential Traits for Healthcare Leaders

To adequately spearhead the challenges that come with these leadership roles, leaders must be equipped with the right qualities.

Here are the five essential qualities for leadership in healthcare. Use these to identify areas for improvement in your leadership-development program.

1. Empathy

Empathy is about putting yourself in another person’s shoes and being able to sense their emotions; it helps people feel understood and provides you with the emotional intelligence to manage their concerns.

By empathizing with their team members and patient needs, healthcare leaders can build holistic strategies to provide consistent and positive outcomes for their team, organization, and patients.

How to Foster Empathy

Keeping empathy front and center can be especially challenging in an industry where clinical and financial changes can cloud human emotion.

Here are ways to encourage your healthcare leaders to practice empathy:

  • Set the example. As their leader, it all starts with you. Show empathy by listening to the needs of your team members and offering them guidance and support. Work with them to strategize ways to overcome obstacles.
  • Encourage yourself and your team leaders to get to know one another. This can foster trust and sensitivity around cultural and social differences. When your team builds genuine connections, your leaders will apply this to their roles and patients.

2. Quick & Smart Decision-Making

Time is of the essence when it comes to people’s health. With the numerous healthcare and patient regulations, leaders must quickly assess issues and make smart decisions–decisions that have a very real impact on team members and patients. Being able to think on your feet is crucial to thriving in a high-risk industry.

How to Build Quick & Smart Decision-Making

Developing quick and smart decision-making skills requires two overarching skills:

  • Self-awareness. Leaders should regularly reflect on their strengths and weaknesses. By being aware of these factors, leaders can dive into the necessary tools and training, thereby improving their ability to make better decisions. Moreover, self-awareness can help leaders seek out team members who possess the skills they lack in themselves. This can foster a collaborative team that works together to make decisions.
  • Attention to detail. Strong healthcare leaders are experts at evaluating complex problems and understanding each detail in order to make informed decisions. Nothing gets overlooked, and if there is anything they do not understand, they are open to learning. Fostering a work culture that values collaboration, competence, and transparency can help build a team of attentive and critical thinkers.

3. Communication

For leaders to be successful, they must communicate clearly and effectively, both verbally and in writing.

When it comes to the well-being of individuals, nothing must get lost in translation. This involves clearly communicating patient plans, medications, finances, and insurance plans/benefits.

How to Promote Communication Skills

Fostering a team of leaders with strong communication skills involves

  • Helping team members navigate complex information. To effectively communicate, leaders must understand the information at hand. Offer guidance on relevant laws, policies, and procedures to help your leaders succeed in their roles. Doing so can help them feel more confident in training their own teams and setting up their future leaders for success.
  • Keeping your team members informed. As their leader, it is your responsibility to update them on any changes in state and federal laws and organizational policies. Being a leader who consistently provides relevant updates not only shows empathy, but also accountability—a key trait in great mentors, coaches, and problem-solvers.

4. Strategic Thinking

As needs and demands constantly change in the industry, healthcare leaders must face innovation and change head-on. This involves strategic thinking, or analyzing critical factors that influence the long-term success of their team and organization.

How to Encourage Long-Term Strategic Thinking

Encouraging long-term strategic thinking involves fostering leaders who have strength in three areas:

  • Anticipate change. Strategic thinkers can identify threats and opportunities to their patients and organization. More importantly, they address them in a way that safeguards the long-term viability of their team, patients, and organization. Encourage your team to lean into, rather than stray away from, change. Let them know change is an opportunity to learn and grow—two critical factors in building an agile team.
  • Are open to feedback and collaboration. Successful long-term strategies involve several rounds of iteration. Therefore, healthcare leaders must possess the ability to take feedback well and seek out the help of their colleagues. The more people are involved in the iteration process, the more beneficial new strategies and plans will be for everyone. Consider providing training on how to give candid yet caring feedback.
  • Possess grit. Leaders must persist through growing pains (training sessions, new workflows, issues/errors that occur from the new processes, etc.). In addition, leaders should have the ability to retain and apply new information to their own practice. Leaders who are able and willing to roll with the punches can withstand adverse circumstances. You may want to offer mentoring and/or one-on-one sessions to help encourage your leaders to persevere. Don’t forget to recognize your leaders for their hard work.

5. Delegation

Leaders must understand when and how to delegate their work. That way, they can focus on their leadership responsibilities and provide team members with growth opportunities.

How to Effectively Delegate

There are two vital things leaders must do to delegate effectively:

  • Assess the team’s skills. What are the strengths and weaknesses of individual team members? Healthcare leaders must know this to spread out their resources and responsibilities well. This could also spur a work culture centered on learning and growth; leaders can offer opportunities for team members to overcome weaknesses and leverage strengths. Your leaders can have mentoring sessions with team members to see where they stand and how they want to grow in their organization.
  • Prioritize tasks. Delegating requires understanding how to delegate. Healthcare leaders must practice transparency to set realistic expectations and deadlines for projects. This involves regular team review and feedback sessions. Leaders also should not be afraid to push back in the event of competing priorities.

Nurture Your Healthcare Leaders with CMOE

Start empowering your healthcare leaders by signing up for CMOE’s leadership-development workshops. We teach efficient and proven tactics that will help your team consistently deliver positive outcomes for your organization.

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About the Author

CMOE Team

CMOE’s Design Team is comprised of individuals with diverse and complementary strengths, talents, education, and experience who have come together to bring a unique service to CMOE’s clients. Our team has a rich depth of knowledge, holding advanced degrees in areas such as business management, psychology, communication, human resource management, organizational development, and sociology.