Top 5 Qualities for Effective Leadership in Healthcare

 Last Wednesday on May 27th, I had the opportunity to speak to Doniphan Leadership Institute  Fellows at William Jewell College in Liberty, MO.  I was asked to share my experiences as a leader in healthcare and to serve as a round-table panelist to answer questions from the students taking the course.  These students were leaders in their own right, and I secretly wondered what advice I could offer to such seasoned professionals.  Instead of sticking to a prepared script, I chose to answer questions that they posed, and it was a learning experience on both sides of the table.  The afternoon forced me to think deeply about what is necessary for leadership in healthcare, whether managing an entire health system or just managing our own actions.  Almost nothing in healthcare is done as an individual, we rely on each other to serve our patients and get through our day, and it’s important to serve as a positive role model whether we are bestowed with the “leader” title or not.

1)       Honesty—We have the opportunity in healthcare to truly make life-and-death decisions.  Our co-workers must have all of the information needed to perform their jobs, both good and bad.  No person or system is infallible.  The only way we can build trust within our teams is to be vulnerable as leaders and admit our mistakes, learn from them, and let the people we support know how we are going to avoid making the same mistakes in the future.  We cannot expect others to be honest and open with us until we show them that same opportunity.

2)      Integrity—We need to do what we say we will do, and do it often in view of our team.  This supports trust, and it also allows our team to feel confident enough in the day-to-day to try new things and build new programs and opportunities.  If everyone is concerned about when the next negative event will happen, or doesn’t think that their leaders will follow up with what they have been told they would do, then the department dynamic turns from one of teamwork to one of “every man for himself.”

3)      Community—Everyone on the team must feel like they are making a difference, that they are valued, that their opinion matters.  This is not just about serving as a small cog in the giant machine of the healthcare system, but about team members truly feeling like they are valued as individuals.  An effective leader knows not just what his or her team member does at work, but some details of his or her personal life:  birthday, favorite sports team, alma mater.  A good leader makes personal connections with team members and makes them feel as important as they truly are.

4)      Positivity—In Jon Gordon’s book, The Energy Bus, the main character is told that his positivity must be greater than the sum of his team’s negativity if he is to be a good leader.  This is 100% true.  Want a positive team?  Be a positive example.  And if your team’s negativity is greater than the positivity you can manage, then it might be time to re-evaluate the purpose and actions of members on your team…or the purpose and actions of their leader.

5)      Service—Leaders must be great servants before they will be seen as influential.  Leaders must not ask or expect from others what they would not do themselves.  This could be an action, like performing distasteful jobs in the workplace, or it could be an expectation, like asking the staff not to ask questions when a change is made.  Leaders must delight in the results of the team and must not forget for one moment that their success depends on the success of others.  John C. Maxwell says it best, “A good leader is a person who takes a little more of his share of the blame, and a little less than his share of the credit.”

Whether serving as an appointed healthcare leader or not, every person who puts on a pair of scrubs each morning has the opportunity to share honesty, integrity, positivity, community, and service with those that interact with each day.  How will YOU choose to lead today?

After the speaking event, with one of my leadership mentors, Kevin Shaffstall

Holly Godfrey
Holly Godfrey


Holly is the Founder and CEO of Catalyst Scrubs, an online fair trade medical apparel and accessory company that gives sustainable jobs to women in need around the world. Holly is a speech pathologist, social justice advocate and sought-after speaker. She lives with her husband Jim, their three children and a menagerie of pets in Lee's Summit, MO.

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