March 2017 Editor's Note: This post was originally published in February 2017.
Guest Blogger: Laura Gail Lunsford, PhD, Director of the UNCW Swain Center
Healthcare is big business. The Center for Disease Control reports that the United States spends 17.5 percent of the gross domestic product on healthcare. Costs are increasing and the regulatory environment is uncertain, with a commitment by the newly elected U.S. President to oversee a change to the Affordable Health Care Act. Who is prepared to lead healthcare organizations in these turbulent times?
We have grown up with the image of a heroic doctor who saves the patient and saves the day. Hip, hip hooray! This outdated image no longer reflects the reality of modern physician care or the person who is prepared to lead a healthcare organization. A command-and-control approach is no longer a successful one. The evidence is increasing that both managerial and clinical skills are needed for healthcare leaders.
Managers often think of effective organizations as well-oiled machines. This metaphor suggests that the best leaders are technically skilled at logistics and operations. Yet, an alternative metaphor is a complex adaptive system. Complex adaptive systems are more than the sum of their parts, which place increasing importance on collaboration, cross-functional teams and understanding the big picture. An article in the British Medical Journal highlights the importance of understanding complexity for healthcare leaders. A systems approach means leaders need more than technical skills.
Experts Are Needed
A recent Harvard Business Review article claims the best hospitals are managed by physicians. In addition, hospitals with better outcomes tend to have a greater ratio of leaders with both managerial skills and clinical experience. There are many domains in which experts who become leaders are associated with better organizational outcomes. For example, consider a former NBA player turned coach, scholars who become university presidents or tellers who become bank presidents. Certainly, there are also experts who make poor leaders, hence the Peter principle - a skilled person is promoted to the level of his or her incompetence. It is likely the case that these ineffective leaders were experts who lacked the managerial and interpersonal skills to become effective.
Managerial Skills Must Be Developed
These changes in the healthcare environment point to the fact that leadership and management skills are increasingly critical at earlier stages in careers for healthcare professionals. Training can make an important difference in preparing healthcare providers to become effective leaders. Effective training covers both the “soft skills” of emotional intelligence and motivating others, as well as technical knowledge about the big picture related to finance and operations.
Some organizations conduct such training in-house, while others partner with local universities to create a “safe zone” for learning in business schools. The main point is that healthcare boards and leaders need to develop a plan to develop managerial and leadership skills in physicians, nurses and other healthcare professionals. Individuals in private practice need to invest in their skill development to lead effectively in changing times.
The Swain Center is one resource that provides leadership training for healthcare providers through Business for Healthcare Providers and custom training. To learn more visit the Swain Center's website.