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blog 5.21.13

Beyond Managing: Leadership for Healthcare Teams

Merriam Webster defines teamwork as “work done by several associates with each doing a part but all subordinating personal prominence to the efficiency of the whole.” There is a general consensus in the research literature that a team consists of two or more individuals, who have specific roles, perform interdependent tasks, are adaptable, and share a common goal, according to Health Service Research. So by these definitions, all healthcare is teamwork—a multidisciplinary effort in which health professionals from different specialties must work together to provide excellent patient care.

Why teamwork now?

Healthcare is becoming more complex and specialized, with increased demand for complex health services and fast adoption of new methods. Also, patients are older, usually with more acute care needs when they arrive at the hospital and often have multiple diseases to manage. These trends have forced providers take a multidisciplinary approach to healthcare, including a greater need for effective, integrative teams. Why is this a positive trend? It:

  • reduces the number of medical errors
  • increases patient safety
  • reduces stress and overwork that lead to burnout
  • empowers individual healthcare workers by eliminating a central structure

Don’t confuse managing with leading

There is a very large contrast between leading and managing. When you think of some of the best leaders you know, probably many, if not all, of these traits are present. These are the traits of great team leaders:

  • encourage input from all staff
  • encourage interaction
  • address conflict
  • establish a mechanism for feedback
  • takes staff concerns seriously
  • listens for more than words
  • maintains an environment of learning, not blame

Leadership transforms the environment for all and stands in stark contrast to management. While there is some functional cross-over between leading and managing, the task of managing looks very different than leading. Typically, you are managing when you:

  • set and evaluate team goals
  • identify problems
  • focus on results
  • devote more time to “telling” than listening
  • view work relationships as “me/you” instead of us
  • focus on what’s wrong

More so than managers, leaders are energized not just by the goals of the team or organization but by transforming and leading individuals to be leaders themselves. These people don’t just take responsibility for tasks that must be performed but for revitalizing an organization. They define the need for change, they create new visions and they ultimately do transform the organization.

Leaders are only as effective as their teams

When highly effective leaders can create equally effective teams, these are the hallmark habits of the teams, according to Bernard Bass in Transformational Leadership (2006). When these items are missing, teams don’t function and quality suffers:

  • clear roles
  • clear accountability
  • effective communication
  • sense of belonging with a climate of trust
  • supportive environment

Just like the qualities of good teams, anytime we reflect on the best leaders we have known, several trends emerge. First of all, transformational leaders behave in ways that result in their being role models for their followers. The leaders are admired, respected and trusted. It is difficult to be inspired by leaders that are untrustworthy, unethical or insincere. Furthermore, most research on strong leadership reveals these habits:

  • considers the needs of others over his or her own personal needs
  • shares risks with followers
  • maintains consistency rather than being arbitrary
  • demonstrates high standards of ethical and moral conduct
  • avoids using power for personal gain and only uses it when needed
  • motivates and inspires those around them by providing meaning and challenge to their follower’s work
  • displays enthusiasm and optimism
  • engages followers in envisioning attractive future states
  • creates clearly communicated expectations that followers want to meet and also demonstrates commitment to goals and the shared vision

The best healthcare organizations will be the ones where leadership is valued, trained for and where the principles of strong teams and effective leaders will be disseminated widely at all levels. There are no shortcuts to great healthcare leadership, but the journey is worth it when your organization’s teams experience quality gains and increased morale and job satisfaction.

There are several options for the kind of training that is helpful in developing nurse leaders. The approaches can be combined to create ongoing opportunities that grow with the individual. Examples include:

  • leadership development programs internally or externally
  • coaching and mentoring opportunities
  • leadership retreats
  • leadership tools
  • HealthStream Frontline Nurse Leader program

Contact HealthStream about the Frontline Nurse Leader program or watch this full HealthStream webinar, “Transformation from the Inside Out,” to learn more.

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