Leaders in health must be ambidextrous, balancing present opportunities and short-term priorities with the exploring of future opportunities. An insight by Ishiqa Multani, President, Sagar Group of Hospitals
2022 is nearly upon us and the COVID-19 pandemic is still not over. The US finds itself in a fifth wave in spite of having a more than adequate stockpile of vaccines. Europe heads into a difficult winter with many EU nations finding peaks in COVID-19 cases and the German health minister making a bleak declaration that by the end of winter, Germans “will either be vaccinated, recovered, or dead.” Austria has entered a lockdown for the unvaccinated.
India too faces a similar situation with caseloads getting distributed across geographies and state regions in contrast to a nationwide surge from earlier this year. While this means that the COVID-19 pandemic may end up being endemic in our country depending on various factors, the risk of a third wave looms, still. Once the festive season in ndia ends around December, healthcare providers must prepare themselves for increasing caseloads across the country, with the population having spent the last few months mingling with family and friends more freely with mask and sanitary discipline has taken a backseat.
Though healthcare leaders are no strangers to volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity (VUCA), seldom have they found themselves confronted with the level of uncertainty they’re facing with COVID-19. The challenges we face in healthcare are manifold: staff burnout among healthcare providers in a long-drawn emergency environment, competing priorities of managing and keeping operations functional and competent, an uncertain economic landscape, as well as supply-chain disruptions of mission-critical supplies.
How does the healthcare industry find its way through these times of adversity? How do healthcare leaders steward their organisations through this crisis into 2022? The answer lies in resilient leadership.
Resilience in thought and actions embody many qualities and aspects of leadership that healthcare leaders must harness to not just survive but come out stronger of these war-like circumstances. These challenges of the pandemic require a closer look at adapting the leadership narrative towards resilience.
Empathy and compassion
Patients, healthcare workers, and the broader ecosystem have taken a hit. The world as we know it seems to not exist anymore. Our doctors and nurses have been overworked, the mental stress of never-ending and ever-changing battles in the ICUs have taken a heavy toll, and many have fallen in the line of duty. Jobs are disappearing and there is uncertainty even in service as critical as healthcare. Our will and spirit are being tested, and, more than ever, now is the time for healthcare leaders to show compassion. Compassionate leaders are not only more competent and stronger but are able to create stronger connections in their organisations and among their people also. Empathy enhances trust, collaboration, and loyalty. As the hardships of the pandemic unfolded and companies still feel the aftershocks of the second wave, industry leaders have awakened to the greater value of participating in their workforce’s wellbeing.
However, compassion alone is not enough. For resilient leadership, empathy must be combined with wisdom. This wisdom stands for the kind of leadership that is cognizant of what motivates people and gets them to deliver on priorities in a human way while also staying effective. In order to be effective, it requires giving tough feedback, making difficult choices that may disappoint people, driving an agenda, and even laying people off – to ensure that productivity and financial performance are not compromised. Empathy in leadership cannot come at the expense of efficacy and pragmatism.
Wise and compassionate leaders balance heir human capital’s well-being while moving their organisations onward in a productive manner.
Mission-driven, rallying around a purpose
One of the biggest challenges of a healthcare leader in everyday organisational life is driving engagement and inspiring more energy towards the goals of the institution. Leaders who can focus the efforts and attention of their workforce on a clear mission of solving the crisis will often experience a wave of confidence and new ideas in the workplace. This ability of a leader to bring the organisation together and focus it on a common goal transforms insights from being individualistic to thought processes that serve the team as a whole.
A crisis is also the time when leaders need to separate the wheat from the chaff. The management must decide which services should be de-prioritised, discontinued, or be managed by partner organisations. They must prioritise ruthlessly and focus their time and energy on the most important of issues. One of such important agendas in the post-COVID reality is collaboration. Leaders must find opportunities in these difficult times and align with the wider ecosystem. My conversations with other healthcare leaders have revealed the importance of internal alliances and those with the overall external ecosystem – that we’re in this together.
Healthcare leaders must collaborate
with the government, vendor partners, customers, competitors, NGOs, and any other relevant organisation to transition into the next year with greater surety and operational balance.
Being ambidextrous and taking decisive action in challenging times
Amidst high uncertainty and constrained resources, it has never been more important for leaders to take corrective actions in time and be decisive. Healthcare institutions know that they must emerge from the crisis with new care delivery systems, stronger integration with digital infrastructure, new pricing models, and do all this without impacting the financial bottom line.
Disruptions are occurring in the global supply chain and health organisations may no longer be able to procure supplies with pre-pandemic reliability. Going into 2022, leaders need to understand and act on any potential vulnerabilities, up and down the supply chain.Leaders in health must be ambidextrous, balancing present opportunities and short-term priorities with the exploring of future opportunities. They cannot afford to focus exclusively on fire fighting the crisis in the present. Preparing for the future and the coming years is crucial for improving organisational adaptability, future-proofing, and, ultimately, timely decision making.
Public trust in healthcare needs to be earned and reinforced with an effective communications strategy. While it is imperative that the community be reassured regarding the capabilities of the health system and how it has and will continue to rise to the challenges of the pandemic, building trust may mean also sharing sensitive or detailed information with the community. Healthcare leaders should create environments where constructive feedback is welcome, acknowledge their mistakes, be forthcoming about what went wrong and what were the lessons learned in the process, and finally, inform the public about the process improvements being made to avoid such circumstances.
These discussions present unique opportunities to engage with the wider public for a deeper dialogue about service improvements and provide better access to medical experts and specialists with digital and traditional face-to-face interactions.
The need to cultivate trust is nowhere
more important than in the institution itself. It is essential that healthcare leaders engage in regular, unambiguous, and candid communication with their medical and non-medical staff and stakeholders. All personnel must be given the belief that management decisions are being made with the best evidence and keeping their health and wellbeing at the forefront.
This messaging, however, must be anchored in reality and truth. It is important that transparency be the norm when there is less clarity about certain situations, unsubstantiated rumours about the workplace are clarified with the official position, and patently false information broadcast on social media and instant messaging ecosystems be debunked.
Reimagining strategy and business models
Throughout the disruptions of the COVID-19 pandemic, the primary goal and focus of the health profession have remained the same – meeting the challenge head-on and providing the support that our communities need. During these turbulent times, new regulations are emerging and patient behaviour is evolving rapidly. Patients are embracing technology in healthcare and medical professionals are increasingly using digital solutions to deliver good outcomes for their patients. Such dynamic forces are accelerating leaders in health to reimagine and rethink their business models and invest in planning that encompasses short-term, mid-term, and long-term goals.
One way for healthcare leaders to make progress toward long-term goals is to encourage the medical personnel to reskill and upskill. The crisis has provided the need and opportunity for hospitals and other medical organisations to make continuous learning a reality for the entire workforce. Going into the new year with the lessons of battling COVID-19, this is the time to identify and develop skills in various roles to stay relevant and ahead of the curve. Finally, leaders need to highlight and reward achievements to unify the organisation and strengthen the commitment of the workforce. This is needed to inspire hope and confidence in their people and the community that we will ultimately be successful in emerging from the crisis.