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  • Writer's pictureMark O'Neil

How Healthcare Leaders Should Navigate the New Normal

Updated: Oct 31, 2020

Wow – what a summer!

My clients who are sitting in CEO and COO seats at healthcare organizations are all, in one way or another, dealing with the “new normal” brought about by COVID-19. They are proving what most of us have always known: Healthcare is a very complicated profession. Gone are the days where the only complications were:

  1. You must take any customer, regardless of their ability to pay.

  2. The distribution system (i.e. the doctor) is mostly out of your control. It is said that the most expensive piece of equipment in a hospital is the physician’s pen.

  3. Someone else determines how much you are paid, and it usually bears no relationship to your costs.

If you think about these three challenges, what other business stays successful with these rules?

The complications of COVID-19

As if these realities were not enough, we must now add the complications of COVID-19. Before people can get treated for being sick, we must test them to see if they are sick! We have to treat patients as if they might have COVID, even if they are there for a hip replacement. Elective procedures (the most profitable center for hospitals) have to be reconsidered in the context of COVID. Patients in the emergency department have to be tested and isolated until they are determined to be virus-free. The list goes on.

As a result, leadership has been turned on its head in our profession, as in so many others. New terminology has been added to our lexicon. Flexibility, resilience, emotional intelligence, speed of decision-making, ingenuity, and resourcefulness are all now even more important qualities of leadership. The stakes are much higher. Why, you may ask? Because now, many of a leader’s decisions are life and death, even more directly than they were before. We can no longer fly by the seat of our pants.


The new qualifications for healthcare leaders

What changes are needed? For one, a stronger connection between the C-suite and frontline staff. Those on the front line want to know that their leaders are doing everything possible to keep them safe. They want communication: honest, timely, and frequent communication. They want to see empathy in a new way. That means genuine interest in their family and how they are getting along. They may not let us know all of their fears, but we can be assured that they have them. Ultimately, they need to know that we have their backs. They want evidence that we understand what they are going through so they can feel that we are all in this together. Above all, they want appreciation for the fact that they are putting their lives on the line every day.

Our frontline workers need to know that we have their backs.

As an executive coach, I’m amazed at the impact this has had on the C-suite. Amazed, but not surprised. I spend lots of time as a coach listening, asking questions, and helping leaders adapt to their new normal. I do not believe we will ever be able to go back to the way it was. Remember, too, that strategy, quality, safety, compliance, financial performance, and positive relationships with the community are still necessities, now more than ever. Teamwork is more important than ever.

It's time to look inward

How else will we get all of what we need to do done, and done well? I suggest that every leader, regardless of where they are in their career, take some time for introspection to consider whether they are truly meeting the needs of those who work for them. Do it for yourself, and do it for your organization. We are all depending on you.

As a former CEO of several healthcare organizations, I’m happy to lend an ear to anyone looking for some additional guidance during these trying times. Feel free to reach out if you are interested in my services as an executive coach.

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