Your healthcare practice is only as strong as its weakest link.

When it comes to leadership in a healthcare environment, every person in the practice is a leader in some regard.

The front desk staff is responsible for ensuring patients are listened to and taken care of. The nursing staff ensures that patients are receiving the appropriate care. Practitioners are responsible for the health and wellbeing of the patients.

Administrators are responsible for the wellbeing of the staff as well as the practice as a whole. When everyone is playing their part, the culture of the practice thrives.

When leadership falters in one area, however, the whole practice (and its patients) can suffer.

So how do you know if your leadership culture is healthy and working as it should?

Free Download: The Administrator’s Checklist for a Healthy Leadership Culture

Healthcare leadership culture

How Healthy is Your Practice’s Leadership Culture?

According to Dr. Toby Cosgrove, MD, there are four elements that define healthcare leadership culture:

  • How change is handled across departments
  • The character and integrity of staff
  • Teamwork demonstrated across departments
  • Development and learning initiatives

Each element plays a role in the health of the practice.

When change happens, for instance, does staff work together to achieve consensus and implement the necessary changes, or is there squabbling and delayed action?

Does staff practice compassion, listening and communicating clearly to each other and patients? Is staff “walking the talk,” as Dr. Cosgrove puts it? Or is there little follow-through?

How do different departments work together? Are doctors or practitioners rude to nursing staff? Are administrators ignored or otherwise maligned? Or is there mutual respect and discussion when important issues come up?

Does staff focus on growth and development? Is there regular access to learning tools and educational materials that can help the practice or individual staff members advance in their careers?

When all of these things are present, your leadership culture will thrive.

Of course, your practice may not be perfect.

But there are ways you can ensure that everyone within your organization is moving toward a healthy leadership culture. Here’s how.

1. Implementing Change in a Healthy Way

Healthcare is constantly changing. The way that your practice handles constant change is a mark of leadership.

In some cases, change simply happens as the results of shifts in procedure. While these procedural changes may feel inconvenient or difficult at first, over time staff adapts and incorporates new policies with little interference.

In other situations, however, change may feel much more disruptive.

When this happens, experts recommend taking the time to dig into the issue a little deeper by asking the “Five Whys.”

The Five Whys technique works by writing down the obvious issue (e.g. the front desk staff doesn’t answer the phone quickly enough) and then asking “why?” five times, answering honestly each time.

Here’s how it might work:

Problem: The front desk staff fails to answer calls in a timely manner

Why? They are bogged down by dealing with patients in the waiting room
Why? There’s too much time spent checking new patients in, so staff can’t delegate time
Why? There’s no streamlined process for getting new patients checked in
Why? Our current systems are outdated
Why? We don’t have the funds to create a new system but need to streamline

At the core of it, the example above is really an issue with streamlining check-in processes rather than with staff members themselves.

By understanding the true issue, admins could implement an online check-in and paperwork process to minimize the time staff spends with patients, freeing up time to answer the phone.

Rather than yelling at staff about needing to answer the phone (their need to change), the true problem is solved (phones will be answered faster) with little kickback from staff.

2. Demonstrating Character and Integrity for Staff and Patients

Character and integrity can be difficult to quantify, but both are essential to create a healthy leadership culture within the practice.

When it comes to human character and integrity, staff should be able to demonstrate a few of the following traits during everyday situations in the practice:

  • Ownership over actions
  • Encouraging to others
  • Remaining calm during crisis
  • Selflessness (putting others first)
  • Active listening and compassion

According to the HIPAA Security Rule, integrity involving data or information means that “data or information is an exact copy of the original version and has not been altered or destroyed in an unauthorized manner.”

This means that doctors and staff handle patient data and information in a way that is consistent with HIPAA and the best practices of the clinic.

Healthcare leadership culture

3. Improving Teamwork Across Departments

Healthcare is collaborative in nature. How different staff members and departments work together is essential to a healthy culture.

Teamwork doesn’t just happen automatically. In many cases, it takes definitive goals to produce effective teamwork across departments.

For example, team leaders and/or administrators may need to share productivity goals with doctors, nurses, and office staff.

By fostering an environment where each team thinks about how their actions impact other teams (and the practice as a whole), the entire practice becomes more self aware when going through daily tasks.

More than this, upper leadership (C-suite and the executive team) should also take ownership over employee engagement.

Research shows that only 40% of hospital employees are considered “engaged.”

When the leadership team focuses on engagement drivers — things like quality of care, educational opportunities, stress management, and so on — engagement across the whole organization improves..

When everyone in the practice is aware of how their work and attitudes impact the rest of the practice, teamwork will become easier.

4. Focusing on Education and Growth

Encouraging staff to grow through education and other learning opportunities is also essential to leadership culture. But it’s important that this education be genuinely helpful for staff to grow in their own roles.

One study that observed the effectiveness of training for healthcare staff found that between mandatory education and “empowered” education that matched training to the desires of the staff, empowered education was more effective.

What does this mean, exactly?

When it comes to leadership and growth, clinic staff must want to learn new skills as well as have the ability to learn new skills whenever the opportunity presents itself.

This means that healthcare leadership should focus on creating opportunities for staff to learn skills by offering incentives for learning.

It could be by offering financial incentives for classes or training courses, for instance, or by offering promotional opportunities for those who go through additional training.

Again, it’s important to assess desire for training and not to make it mandatory.

Creating a quarterly staff engagement survey to assess desires for training can help leaders stay on the pulse of what staff wants when it comes to growth opportunities, learning and education needs among staff.

Is your leadership culture healthy? Use this checklist to make sure

Final Thoughts

When it comes to the health of the practice, leadership culture can make or break the entire organization.

How do you ensure that you have a healthy leadership culture? There are a few key areas to focus on.

First, ensure that staff understands how to implement change, and takes the time to look deeper into situations where change is being met with difficulties.

Second, staff should have character and integrity. While it’s hard to quantify this or “practice” character, the more that staff can show qualities of character and integrity, like actively listening to patients and protecting their data, the healthier the environment will be.

Third, leaders should encourage teamwork between departments from the top down. Upper management and administrators should work towards engagement by focusing on engagement drivers, while staff shares productivity goals between themselves.

Finally, education and growth should be a priority for leadership. Employees that are actively engaged in training (based on their desires and needs) are better leaders than those who don’t.

When staff are happily engaged and growing, the leadership culture thrives.