In my travels up and down the East coast, I’ve worked with a number of health care administrators (and even temporarily been one myself, although quickly discovered that it wasn’t quite my cup of tea). The experiences that I’ve had have been highly variable, and I’ve seen the full spectrum of administrators ranging from the brilliant to the quite dire. As someone who has read many autobiographies of famous leaders, I do believe that the characteristics of good leaders are the same across all industries and areas in life. These include: leading from the front, being visionary, gaining the respect of your “foot soldiers,” and never asking someone else to do something you wouldn’t do yourself. Health care being as unique an industry as it is, here are the top 3 characteristics of the best leaders:
1. Never lose touch with the front lines. Those administrators who are most respected are the ones who are never afraid to be at the coalface themselves. Doctors and nurses who walk the administrative path as a way of getting away from clinical medicine (either because they don’t like it or are not particularly good at it) are seldom held in high esteem by their colleagues. The best MD and RN administrators I’ve worked with have also been superb clinicians themselves and wouldn’t dream of leaving clinical medicine completely, even if they only practice for a few days a month.
2. Lead by example. Implementing policies coming from above you is tough, especially if you don’t necessarily agree with them yourself. However, sometimes our duty dictates that certain things have to be done. Whether it’s a new documentation requirement, workflow change or salary restructuring –the best leaders show that they are willing to be the first to undertake it and show others how it’s done.
3. Make your vision clear. There’s nothing worse than a leader whose has no clear vision — or worse yet, doesn’t appear to have one at all. At all levels in health care, the one in charge must make their goals, expectations and principles clear to their colleagues. These should be visions that their staff can rally around and believe in as well.
Having been fortunate enough to work with some excellent leaders, whom I hope I’ve learned a lot from, these three characteristics have been common to all of them. The problem we have in health care right now is that there are not enough of these people to go round. With the rapidly changing medical landscape, good leadership is needed more than ever.
Suneel Dhand is an internal medicine physician and author of Thomas Jefferson: Lessons from a Secret Buddha and High Percentage Wellness Steps: Natural, Proven, Everyday Steps to Improve Your Health & Well-being. He blogs at his self-titled site, Suneel Dhand.