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Situational Leadership: Long-Term Success in the Rapidly Changing Healthcare Environment

Increasing competition, industry consolidation and massive generational shifts in the workforce are driving a higher rate of turnover among healthcare executives. This transition of experienced leaders comes at a time when industry reforms are changing many of the long-standing rules for running a successful healthcare business. The leadership experience and skill sets required for healthcare leaders continue to evolve rapidly as organizations seek senior executives capable of navigating the institution through the transition from volume to value-based care, and to meet the ever-increasing requirements of quality and efficiency.

With the margins for error and inefficiency increasingly thin, maintaining a high-performance organization is essential. Today’s healthcare leaders need to be extremely flexible to both internal and external changes, while at the same time maintaining organizational stability and momentum. The aptitude to maintain organizational focus while adapting to changing situations is more critical today than ever before. Leading healthcare organization have identified and incorporated the following best practices enabling them to quickly adjust to dynamic situations while maintaining high performance at every level of the organization.

What is Situational Leadership?
Great teams require great leaders, not just at the top but throughout the organization. As the industry evolves toward new models of care, the roles and responsibilities of leaders are changing as well. In order to establish a culture of strong yet agile leadership, successful healthcare professionals must lead by example and demonstrate vigilant awareness of changing circumstances as well as creative and effective responses to changing situations. Critical success factors for situational leadership include:

  • Adopting smarter work patterns and adapting work schedules, delegation and technology use as needed;
  • Cultivating a deep understanding of and capability to manage the drivers of cost and quality, so that response to change can be swift and effective;
  • Driving key initiatives across the continuum of care, from the front desk, through all phases of care and into billing and information management;
  • Motivating team members to achieve higher performance, understanding the strengths and generational proclivities of staff and clearly communicating shifting organizational priorities;
  • Increasing agility in process, workflow and leadership at all levels, as well as challenging up-andcoming leaders and managers in the organization to make flexibility a core competency.

In practice, situational leadership is being embraced in many ways across healthcare organizations. CFOs are developing deeper understanding of care quality and safety issues so they can guide the organization more strategically in implementing new financial models. CNOs in turn are working to develop their understanding of how clinical initiatives can impact financial outcomes and vice versa. This kind of cross-departmental learning is essential to good situational leadership because it strengthens a leader’s ability to quickly read the implications of change for the entire organization and respond most effectively.

Forces of Change in Healthcare
Many factors in today’s healthcare market are catalyzing the changes that make situational leadership so essential for senior healthcare executives. For example, the pace of change in the healthcare industry has accelerated dramatically in recent years. The success of an organization is no longer evaluated by static measures, and is requiring staff to re-orient themselves around new metrics. Additionally, organizations will need to make significant cultural shifts, with seasoned and steadfast leadership providing strong guidance and pushing the organization past resistance to drive key initiatives and strategies. The increased emphasis on patient satisfaction is a great example as healthcare organizations across the country implement fundamental cultural changes to achieve the associated reimbursement and market share goals.

The shift from long-term to short-term strategic plans is another example of a significant cultural change for healthcare leadership. Once a staple of an organization’s operation, today’s sheer pace of change has caused healthcare executives to transition away from the five to ten year strategic plan. In fact, many of the leading healthcare providers consider 18 months the most practical long-term planning window, and conduct much of their planning on quarterly cycles. This change to a more flexible strategic plan is in response to dynamic regulatory and reimbursement environments that are expected to continue to dominate for the foreseeable future. This new strategic model favors leadership styles that emphasize progressive improvisation and an organization’s ability to creatively adapt through short planning cycles. These organizations place an emphasis on rapidly implementing key projects and quickly achieving incremental improvements, rather than steady progress toward larger, long-term goals.

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Core Competencies of Situational Leadership
The evolution of the healthcare industry is ushering in not only a new era, but a new set of leadership competencies. Healthcare organizations should take the following set of 12 skills and attributes into consideration when training current leaders and future successors. This list is meant to serve as a guide for finding great leadership candidates and as areas of focus for ongoing professional development:

  1. Agility – See opportunity in instability and uncertainty
  2. Strategist – Provide purpose and meaning to the vision
  3. Influential – Lead by motivation, lead by example
  4. Intensity – Push past resistance, drive key initiatives
  5. Integrator – Bridge the clinical and financial gap
  6. Integrity – Authentic and accountable
  7. Inspirational – Believe the unbelievable and develop a plan to achieve it
  8. Passion – Embrace large purpose, demonstrate passion for results
  9. Courage – Take action and make positive change happen that otherwise would not
  10. Engaged – Active throughout the organization, understands the roles and challenges of each individual
  11. Imperfection – Balance the imperfections of present situation
  12. Communicator – Communicate strategy and provide direction

 

Flexible Work Styles
In addition to the list above, today’s leaders need to develop flexibility in regards to work style and leadership style. This presents perhaps one of the biggest challenges for healthcare professionals who have held leadership roles for many years. The traditional leadership style is no longer the most effective approach. The transition to constantly achieving incremental milestones and the growing presence of Generation Xers and Yers in the workforce is forcing senior leaders to understand the role of body-language, writing style and tone, as well as the value and impact of shifting leadership styles when situations dictate.

In Conclusion
Flexible leadership is now and will continue to be essential to surviving the competitive threats and embracing the opportunities presented by the shift to value-based delivery models. Adaptability now joins vision, accountability, building strategic relationships and the ability to establish and nurture a culture of high-performance on the short-list of critical leadership skills. Healthcare organizations will continue to rely on leaders who encompass these skills, particularly as key influencers such as healthcare reform, evolving patient profiles, the shift to community care and reductions in reimbursements continue to accelerate the pace of change throughout the industry. To meet these challenges, organizations will increase their focus on identifying and developing highperforming executives who can control costs and deliver efficient care on an ever-changing playing field.

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