Time­less truths

NCHL to pro­mote lead­er­ship de­vel­op­ment that works what­ever fu­ture holds

Modern Healthcare - - Opinions Commentary - Andrew Gar­man and Christy Har­ris Lemak

Lead­er­ship de­vel­op­ment in health­care has pro­gressed con­sid­er­ably since 2001, when the Na­tional Cen­ter for Health­care Lead­er­ship was first es­tab­lished. From the class­room to the C-suite, health­care has in­creased its up­take of ev­i­dence-based prac­tices. Lead­er­ship de­vel­op­ment that is clearly tied to strate­gic ob­jec­tives, such as higher-va­lid­ity hir­ing and pro­mo­tion sys­tems, per­for­mance cal­i­bra­tion and the im­ple­men­ta­tion of lead­er­ship academies, are now pro­vid­ing great re­sults for many hos­pi­tals and sys­tems. And the NCHL, through the sup­port of foun­da­tions, cor­po­rate spon­sors, our vol­un­teer board of direc­tors, mem­bers of our Lead­er­ship Ex­cel­lence Net­works, grad­u­ate demon­stra­tion projects and our many other stake­hold­ers, has been proud to play a role in help­ing raise aware­ness of these prac­tices across the field.

As we cel­e­brate our 10th an­niver­sary, the jour­ney con­tin­ues. De­spite the ef­forts and achieve­ments to date, the burn­ing ques­tion re­mains: Are our lead­ers to­day be­ing ad­e­quately pre­pared for the chal­lenges they will face in the com­ing years?

Re­cent re­al­i­ties chal­lenge the in­dus­try’s for­ward progress on two fronts. Many or­ga­ni­za­tions are strug­gling to find the re­sources to in­vest in our lead­ers’ de­vel­op­ment. And even when those re­sources can be se­cured, how do we de­velop lead­ers for the fu­ture when we don’t know what that fu­ture is go­ing to look like?

The NCHL fo­cuses on lead­er­ship as the key driver of trans­for­ma­tional change in health­care. But from our per­spec­tive, lead­er­ship de­vel­op­ment is not a trans­ac­tion (i.e., a ser­vice that is de­liv­ered by a de­vel­oper to some­one be­ing de­vel­oped), but rather a process that in­volves learn­ers de­vel­op­ing their skills so they will be more ef­fec­tive—no mat­ter what the fu­ture holds. Think of lead­er­ship de­vel­op­ment like wa­ter: Our task is less to “turn on the spigot” and more to guide the wa­ter that’s al­ready flow­ing in the di­rec­tions that will be most ef­fec­tive.

Where do we look for re­sources to in­vest in lead­er­ship de­vel­op­ment? If re­sources are a bar­rier, turn the ques­tion on its head: “How would I de­velop lead­ers if I had no re­sources to in­vest?” The an­swer is to find out where lead­er­ship de­vel­op­ment is al­ready tak­ing place in your or­ga­ni­za­tion and seek ways to make that de­vel­op­ment more ef­fec­tive.

For ex­am­ple, many or­ga­ni­za­tions want to im­prove the busi­ness lit­er­acy skills of their clin­i­cal lead­ers. An or­ga­ni­za­tion can be­gin by iden- ti­fy­ing clin­i­cal lead­ers with the strong­est busi­ness skills and find out how they de­vel­oped these skills. Who are the nat­u­ral men­tors al­ready at work in your or­ga­ni­za­tion? How could you give these in­di­vid­u­als a broader au­di­ence? Can lead­er­ship de­vel­op­ment be in­te­grated with solv­ing cur­rent clin­i­cal and strate­gic is­sues through case stud­ies or other ac­tiv­i­ties that bring to­gether ex­pe­ri­enced and new lead­ers in a struc­tured way? Pur­sue these ques­tions, and you can be on your way to for­ti­fy­ing lead­er­ship de­vel­op­ment within your or­ga­ni­za­tion with­out even ask­ing the re­source ques­tion.

As we move for­ward, NCHL will ex­pand our ef­forts to iden­tify and share best prac­tices—in­clud­ing ways of keep­ing the lead­er­ship de­vel­op­ment flow­ing de­spite re­source lim­i­ta­tions.

How do we de­velop lead­ers for the fu­ture when we don’t know what that fu­ture is go­ing to look like? This ques­tion brings to mind an­other help­ful phi­los­o­phy: “Em­brace the mys­tery.” There are some things about the fu­ture we sim­ply can­not know. So, if plan­ning is a bar­rier, try re­mov­ing that al­to­gether and ask, “How would I de­velop lead­ers if I didn’t know what the fu­ture looked like?” Un­der such con­di­tions, your best ap­proach is to iden­tify some time­less truths and de­velop lead­ers against those truths.

What do we know about lead­er­ship that can be ap­plied re­gard­less of what the fu­ture holds? Us­ing an ev­i­dence-based ap­proach, we can iden­tify many truths. For one, we know we will be chal­lenged to de­liver bet­ter care with fewer re­sources. So a fo­cus on per­for­mance met­rics and con­tin­u­ous im­prove­ment is here to stay. We also know that im­prov­ing pop­u­la­tion health will re­quire many dis­ci­plines work­ing in close har­mony. Thus, in­ter­dis­ci­pli­nary col­lab­o­ra­tion and team­work will be key com­pe­ten­cies. And cer­tain lead­er­ship skills are not bound to spe­cific en­vi­ron­men­tal con­di­tions. For ex­am­ple, how can your or­ga­ni­za­tion sup­port skill de­vel­op­ment so lead­ers at all lev­els ef­fec­tively lis­ten, re­spond, re­as­sure, train and re­ward oth­ers?

Lastly, and per­haps most im­por­tantly, we know the com­ing years are go­ing to have more than their share of chal­lenge and stress. Re­search is very clear about the great­est sources of job stress: role con­flict, role un­cer­tainty and role overload. We also know that the most po­tent buf­fers to stress are sup­port­ive re­la­tion­ships, a deeply felt sense of per­sonal ac­com­plish­ment and a sense of op­ti­mism about the fu­ture. The most ef­fec­tive lead­er­ship de­vel­op­ment ef­forts, then, will cul­ti­vate all of our lead­ers’ abil­i­ties to pro­vide these reme­dies.

As the NCHL be­gins the sec­ond decade of its work, we will con­tinue our fo­cus on help­ing or­ga­ni­za­tions make their own jour­neys to­ward lead­er­ship ex­cel­lence, by fo­cus­ing on build­ing the lead­er­ship de­vel­op­ment ev­i­dence base and dis­sem­i­nat­ing high-value re­sources and suc­cess sto­ries. Re­gard­less of what the next few years hold, we see a bright fu­ture for health­care in the U.S., and we look for­ward to con­tin­u­ing this jour­ney with you.

Andrew Gar­man is CEO of the Na­tional Cen­ter for Health­care Lead­er­ship and Christy Har­ris Lemak is its chief aca­demic of­fi­cer.

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