Only five short months ago, what defined a good leader in health care was markedly different than what we need going forward.
Leaders are assessed by their skills, their temperaments, their ability to be open minded and their empathy. Those are still accurate measurements, but from here on in these leaders need to demonstrate a lot more if they are to win and keep the confidence of a nervous public, and uneasy workers in our health care system. Here are some of the attributes they'll need to display if they want to achieve their goals -- and win faith from everyone in the public and those in the health care system.
1 - They must be trustworthy -- more than ever.
The pandemic has made many people nervous about medical professionals, in part because doctors and scientists are admitting there is much they don't know -- yet. So much about the virus is still a mystery -- the effect it's having on children, for example -- and leaders, like everyone else, are in a sense flying blind. Therefore it's vital that people to whom the leader is speaking -- staff at a hospital, for example, or journalists at a press conference -- must believe that the leader is, in fact, telling the whole truth, that they are not willfully hiding something. If there is something they don't know or a question they cannot answer, saying so is vital. It's never been more important that people believe and trust in our leaders and, by extension, our institutions.
2 - They must be adaptable and fast.
Health care leaders can no longer take time to consider policy changes over a course of months, or sometimes years. The virus has taught us that change must be implemented quickly if lives are to be saved, whether it's hiring staff in an intensive care unit or introducing public health measures to protect the public. We have lost the luxury of time, in a sense, and our leaders in health care must proceed unafraid of making the wrong move, and therefore making no move for months. They must be able to absorb advice from experts, think through what's needed and make change quickly at every level of our health care system.
3 - They must be risk takers.
The coronavirus and its attendant disease, COVID-19, waits for no one. It penetrates city, state and county borders and sweeps into an area before medical teams can prepare, in some communities. Therefore it's vital, going forward, that our leaders are willing to take risks -- and the responsibility for those risks -- even if there are some arguments against doing so. Doing nothing, or being paralyzed by the unknown, is not a helpful trait in a leader. Progress cannot be made if leaders fear mistakes, and all risks come with potential mistakes.
The virus has shown us that the best leaders in America are the ones who were candid, engaged, unafraid of making missteps and demonstrated a "take no prisoners" approach when it came to making changes. It doesn't mean they were reckless; it means they put the health of the public first, and fought for the health of those on the front lines -- nurses, doctors, and all the other people compelled to work, either from duty or conscience, during this crisis. Those are the health care leaders who will be remembered for being on the right side of this disaster -- because they were bold, brave, outspoken and fought for everyone equally. And those are the health care leaders we need when this virus is finally, someday, in our rear view mirror.
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