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By Paul Murphy, MS, MA, Jonathan Savage, DO, and Clay Wortham
As for profit and nonprofit healthcare organizations continue to navigate an ever-changing landscape, including technical innovation opportunities and reimbursement uncertainties, effective leadership continues to be a key driver to success not only in terms of an organization’s capabilities to increase access to quality health care services, but also with respect to boltersing employee morale and customer satisfaction. While it is essential for healthcare organizations, as well as businesses in general, to have the correct infrastructure in place to position themselves for success, it is also crucial for experienced leadership to be dialed-in to the organization’s goals and day-to-day operations.
Effective leadership is hard. It requires experience and continuous focus. Effective leaders are known for their ability to anticipate problems and to prepare their teams to respond. Effective leadership is constantly balancing helpful oversight with giving one’s team room to grow; to assert individual skills and claim responsibility for accomplishments.
Below are a few brief examples of classic, real-world scenarios that will hopefully serve as a helpful reminder of leadership practices to avoid and an incentive for effective leaders to “stay the course” to nurture and grow their organization and their teams.
Performance Review Surprise: Effective leadership requires continuous communication, including communication in the form of constructive feedback and identifying opportunities for performance improvement. Performance review suprisers indicate a lapse of communication that can leave a team member disenfranchised and that represents a missed opportunity for leadership to help their team succeed.
For example, consider a scenario in which a department’s Director has participated in many meetings throughout the year. The Director has said throughout the year that the meetings seem organized, productive, and resulted in projects moving forward.
At the end of the year, however, during the employee’s annual performance review, the employee learns for the first time that there is an area of significant improvement that the Director would like to see in terms of the employee’s meeting management. The leader marks “Needs Improvement” on that section of the annual performance review form. The employee is surprised to learn this. When the meeting is over the employee numbly walks to their work area wondering “why didn’t my boss mention something to me during the last year? We had dozens of opportunities to review any concerns.”
Considerations: A performance review should not include “surprises”. In this scenario the Director had multiple opportunities throughout the year to communicate any concerns or areas for improvement. Taking the time to communicate openly on an ongoing basis can help to avoid performance review surprises and ensure that the team is functioning to the best of its ability in support of the organization.
Jumping to conclusions: Effective leadership requires a positive “can-do” attitude that looks for potential, whether deal potential, employee potential, or simply potential to offer a more personal touch to patient services. Once identified, experienced leaders know how to exploit potential for the good of the organization.
Consider a scenario where a Vice President receives feedback from the company finance controller that his or her department is spending too much money. Rather than focusing on the opportunity to balance the Department’s budget and raise his or her profile within the organization, the leader instead comes down hard on Department personnel and aggressively states “I hear you are spending money that you do not have. I need a report as to why this is the case so I can update the controller immediately.”
Ultimately, following a review of Department accounting it is confirmed that the budget and expenses are fully aligned.
Considerations: Effective leaders avoid jumping to conclusions as doing so is likely to damage the leader’s relationship with his or her team. Instead, experienced leaders look for the opportunity and involve their teams in identifying a problem, and if there is one, in looking for the opportunity the problem presents. Doing so creates a positive relationship with team members and incentives the team to succeed.
The Flaming Email: Effective leadership is brimming with enthusiasm, and devoid of emotion. Acting on emotions, whether good or bad, results in all of us, leadership and their teams, acting on feelings not facts. Usually, emotion-fueled leadership results in poor decision-making and damaged relationships.
For example, consider a hospital administrator who learns that a potential new services contract with another provider will not be signed. Not only that, the other provider is signing a services arrangement with a competitor hospital. Enraged, the administrator sends a scathing email to the project lead demanding to know why the project lead “lost the contract” and that the “sales approach is flawed and ineffective”. The administrator copies multiple individuals on the email, demands an immediate response from the project lead, and sends the email with flames flickering. This immediately results in a multi-hour “fire drill” for the entire team that was involved with the project.
Hours later it was determined that the provider was never planning to sign with the administrator’s hospital due to the other provider’s growth and volume strategy.
Considerations: It is natural for human beings to feel strong positive or negative emotions in response to work events. Experienced leaders “tamp-down” these feelings to clear the way for a thoughtful response. Experienced leaders know there is little value in playing the “blame game” as the ultimate victor in times of set-back is the leader who can calmly assess the fall-out, identify opportunities, and mobilize his or her team to effect the solution.
Conclusion: The previous cases provide examples of actual leadership scenarios that have been encountered. While these situations are not ideal, a learning opportunity can be found in that leaders may want to avoid partaking in such activities and employees can strive to become effective leaders by taking a moment to gather additional information prior to forming conclusion scenarios that provide examples of effective leadership.
Paul Murphy, MS, MA, Paramedic, has been involved in healthcare for 15+ years, including clinical and leadership roles. His virtual care experience includes working for a leading virtual care vendor and large healthcare system with a mature virtual care / telemedicine program. He has published articles in a variety of healthcare journals and is on the State of Colorado’s Office of eHealth Innovation’s Telehealth and Broadband committee.
Jonathan Savage, DO, is a practicing physician. He is the founder / CEO of Care on Location, is on the State of Colorado’s Office of eHealth Innovation’s Telehealth and Broadband committee, and is the Vice Chair – mHealth, Technology, & Distance Learning Group at the American TeleMedicine Association (ATA) as well as the Chair of the Advancing Telehealth for Medicaid Populations Committee at the ATA.
Clay Wortham, Founder and Principal Attorney at Wortham LLP, is a business-focused healthcare transactional and regulatory lawyer with sophisticated experience structuring complex healthcare transactions. With a background of service in large law firms and as inhouse counsel with one of the Nation’s largest retailers, Clay is ideally suited to counsel healthcare organizations and those who do business with them on how best to achieve their objectives while mitigating the legal risks of operating in the heavily regulated healthcare environment. Clay’s current representations include diligence and guidance for health system acquisitions and joint ventures, negotiating telemedicine and telehealth provider arrangements and structuring pharmaceutical distribution and supply networks. Clay is a go-to resource for businesses seeking to comply with healthcare regulatory requirements, including Federal and state health information privacy and security laws, and fraud and abuse laws such as the Federal Anti-Kickback Statute, Stark Law and False Claims Act. Clay also helps clients navigate commercial payor and Medicare/Medicaid reimbursement issues. Clay is uniquely experienced with respect to pharmaceutical distribution and pharmacy regulatory matters, including state Board of Pharmacy requirements and DEA controlled substance compliance. Prior to founding Wortham LLP, Clay served as a member of the Dentons Health Law Group in Chicago and as senior corporate counsel for Walgreen Co. in Deerfield, Illinois.
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