4 Leadership Priorities for Healthcare Administrators in Crisis: How to Support Your Frontline Employees

We have heard from leaders in healthcare who feel guilty because their staff is on the frontlines but not them personally during the COVID 19 medical crisis.   Other leaders report feeling stressed and unprepared, worried about the future.  It's vital for these leaders to connect to their purpose, recognizing the important role they are playing behind the scenes in enabling the frontline to do their jobs.  We know from Gallup’s extensive research that followers say they most need four things from their leaders:  trust, hope, compassion and stability.  In uncertain times, stability is most impacted.  As a leader, think strategically about whatever is in your control to shore up hope, trust and compassion and to increase stability, wherever possible.

Have and express hope.  It can be hard to exude hope if you are not feeling as hopeful yourself.  Think back to times when you have been resilient in the past.  Remind yourself about how that was possible.  What did you do?  What did you learn?  Who was able to help you, and in what ways?  Our greatest challenges lead to our greatest learning and insights.  How might this be true for you now as a leader?  Extend this now to your team.  Acknowledge and remind them of times you have seen them overcome great challenges in the past.  Express your confidence in their ability to work through adversity now.  Look for every possible moment that you can share where hope can enter in, and share this with others.  What else might you do to  create positive emotions?  How can you focus on achievement in the midst of the crisis? 

Model trust and transparency.  Trust comes from sharing openly, with as much transparency as possible.  Not just telling, but also asking what else people need from you.  Don’t assume that what you have shared is enough.  Ask them what they are worried about.  Ask them what more they need from you in terms of transparency.  In a time when others have been sent home to stay safe, how can you show that you value the physical and emotional security of those on the front line? 

Trust can come from engaging your team in the solutions.  You do not need to have all the solutions yourself.  Assume there is wisdom around you and engage your team fully in finding solutions across all levels. When it comes to delivering tough decisions, really emphasize the process behind decision making being founded in a logical, thorough manner.  If you don't know the answers, state that, but emphasize that you understand it is a concern and that the appropriate people are working on it.

Show compassion, starting with self-compassion.  Approach everyone with compassion, starting with yourself.  When we are stressed, it’s hard to have compassion for others.  This is like the concept of putting on your own oxygen mask first.  So, approach yourself with self-compassion.  Acknowledge your own worries with kindness, recognizing that you are not alone in this struggle, it’s part of being human.  How can you reassure yourself while acknowledging your own worries?  Here are some examples of helpful thoughts, in the way you might hear support from a friend:  “It makes sense that you are feeling worried after your experience with X.  You have had a history of getting through challenges and you will again.  You are stronger and more capable than you may give yourself credit for.” 

It seems safe to assume that those on the front line are largely engaged in their work and it's meaningful for them to be serving, saving lives and supporting patients who do not have their loved ones with them during this crisis.  Consider with compassion how their relationships may be suffering because of separation.  Is there some way that you could acknowledge and engage them in solutions to feel connected to their loved ones and each other?

Find and amplify stability wherever possible.  People need a sense of stability.  How can you engage your team with a degree of predictability?  We heard this from a Physician Assistant in a major hospital, “For me personally, the stability portion is what I need most out of our administrators.  We need to understand that decisions being made are based on facts/research/best practices.”  Look for ways to reassure others about things that will not be impacted, giving as much clarity as you can.

Medical doctors and other healthcare providers sometimes struggle with relying on others for reassurance and information.   It is helpful for administrators to gently stress that especially in this time of crisis, it is okay to have to lean on others and seek help.  Now is the time to listen, support, engage, encourage and collaborate.  You don’t have to have all of the answers.  Let others bring their ideas and suggestions, and learn together.  Others hold valuable perspectives on the challenges they face and may hold the keys to solutions.

What have you found helpful for your organization?  Please add your comments below, and let’s all continue to learn together.

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