In the allied health industry we often come across practice owners who take on the role of leader when they open their business, with no previous knowledge or skills, and who often have never viewed themselves as a leader. In many cases, leadership appointments in the private health care sector occur through patronage self-selection and events where practitioners were not aware they were putting themselves in a leadership role! A large proportion of private practice owners still manage a large clinical caseload and alter their leadership style between clients and employees, and as the modern healthcare industry changes, it is more difficult for practitioners as leaders to do all that is required.
Developing your skills as a leader is important, in many aspects of health care. Not only does it allow us to have greater success in managing a practice, or a service toward a vision, but it allows us also the potential to help our clients who are in need. There are many skills that we can develop as leaders that can also carry over into our performance when assisting clients.
The following skills are essential for any leader:
Communication skills: this includes clarifying goals, and ensuring receivers of your message understand what you are saying. There are four key phases of communication in leadership, and these include:
• Having intention – knowing what the purpose of your communication is
• Choosing expression – knowing the appropriate context in which to communicate and how you will do this (email, in person, staff meeting)
• Reception – ensuring you send clear signals when you are communicating to decrease confusion
• Interpretation – actively ensuring that others have understood what you have communicated (gain feedback, check on progress, read body language)
Listening skills: this is fundamental, and successful leaders apply active listening skills, rather than passive, which allows the capacity to understand what others are conveying, reading body language, confirming what you are hearing, and validating to the individual that you are listening.
Stress management skills: this refers not only to the ability for a leader to manage their own stress, but also the stress of those around them. Understanding what stress is and how it occurs is a great place to start for developing this skill. Leaders that are not great at managing stress can be prone to procrastination in the workplace – which is not great in a busy clinic! To develop your stress management skills, there are a few key strategies to learn including:
• Monitoring your stress levels and those around you
• Identification of causes of stress in the workplace
• Demonstrating healthy choices, mentally and physically and promoting these in others
• Developing supportive workplace culture
• Helping your team learn to relax
Technical competence: this involves the knowledge and skills needed to perform a task – which could be any task in the workplace. Knowing the ‘ins and outs’ of a task allows increased performance in a role, and will allow you to become a person that individuals can turn to for assistance. Knowing the areas of each task in your practice or workplace also then allows you to predict when changes might be needed and how to gain greater efficiency for your followers. Followers will develop trust in a leader who is competent at tasks.
Learn from mistakes positively: Problems are inevitable – but when these happen, dig deep and try to ask lots of positive questions so you can think outside the box to problem solve quickly without dwelling on things. By developing this within ourselves we can then broaden this feeling within our practice and our teams. It is important that we foster healthy practices and happy practices for our customers and also for our staff (if you work alone, think of those in your team – family, contractors, and services you engage). Take the concept of a mentally healthy workplace and spend a few minutes thinking about what this means to you. The organisation Beyond Blue studied this very concept and found that a mentally healthy workplace makes an employee more committed to their job and more likely to stay. Whilst you put a lot of yourself into your work and your practice, remember it is not who you are and feedback, comments and how well things work out does not reflect directly on how you are as a person.
Knowing your followers: Managing staff is not the easiest thing I have tackled in my career. I was trained as a clinician, and definitely not trained in managing staff. Before I started any recruitment, I took myself off to study HR management to ensure I was more likely to get it right, and 8 years on from recruiting my first staff member I feel like finally I feel confident that I am going okay. I now have 7 staff members and in 2014 we were awarded the Wagga Wagga Business Chamber award for Employer of choice. For someone not primarily trained in managing a team, I was very honoured to receive this award. It is one thing to get the right staff in the first place, but it is another to keep staff happy and motivated so they are working towards the goals of your service. We often have expectations form our staff on how well they perform, but they also have expectations from us as managers and supervisors that we can forget. So what do employees want?
There are 11 important things that employees reasonably expect of their supervisors:
1. Want to know “what is my job”
2. Want your respect, support and guidance
3. Want to know that you will deal with problem employees to create a fair workplace
4. Want you to train them so they feel confident
5. Want access to information that allows them to complete their job well
6. What to know the answer to the question “whom do I report to?”
7. Employees want to know how they are doing in their performance
8. Want to know the rewards for top performance
9. Want to be part of a winning team, with a confident boss
10. Want to know where their workplace is going and the plans for the future
11. Want their employers to recognise that they have a life outside of work
If you pay attention to these 11 things employees want in a job, you will have a real opportunity to lead a team of inspired and highly engaged employees.
Self planning skills: everyone in health care needs to have a development plan. Learning is big on my agenda. It was a critical factor in establishing Maida Learning as I believe in the saying “Learn as if you were to live forever” spoken by Ghandi, and learning how to run a great practice was something I was very passionate about. In healthcare we know well about the notion of professional development. Personal experience is well recognised as the way individuals learn. It is the same for you and leadership…. Develop a plan of how you will acquire the skills needed to be a leader and how you will strengthen those skills. Learning about leadership can occur really well though experience. The following strategies can enhance your ability to learn from experience as you go:
• Creating opportunities for feedback
• Stretching yourself 10% extra each day can yield greater effectiveness long term (e.g. taking time to check on your team in an informal manner each day).
• Learning from others
• Having a plan of how you are going to gain leadership skills
In healthcare, leaders need also to consider the concept of emotional intelligence, which refers to the capacity to be aware of, control, and express ones emotions, and to handle interpersonal relationships judiciously and empathetically. So, practitioners in a position of leadership, or who desire to move into a role that would involve leadership, would benefit from developing in the key elements suggested in relation to emotional intelligence, being: self-awareness (knowing how emotions effect performance), self-management (being trustworthy, adaptable and committed), social awareness (displaying empathy, and needs of followers and users of a private practice), and social management (being able to inspire, persuade, and communicate clearly with practice customers and staff).
In summary, healthcare leadership involves coordinating and motivating other practitioners of different skill levels, and administration teams, to work together to achieve practice goals. Private practice leadership is therefore successful if leaders practice ethical ways to create trust and transparency, develop followers and provide opportunities for team work and input from followers. Is it challenging? YES! But…As leaders we are in a wonderful position to shape the future of those around us, and provide education, inspiration and purpose to individuals, whilst at the same time giving as great experience and exposure to know ourselves and grow. Win win!