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When Healthcare Leadership Misses the Mark

When Healthcare Leadership Misses the Mark

There’s a saying that people don’t leave companies; they leave bosses, and I believe that this is also often true for nurses and other healthcare workers. But it’s not only because of direct managers or supervisors that we leave jobs—it’s also due to a lack of good leadership from upper management and those in the C-suite. Leadership matters , and when it misses the mark, everyone suffers. 

Healthcare is in trouble; it seems like it always has been, especially in the United States. Corporatization, consolidation, and a heartless focus on profits rather than people can all genuinely make working in healthcare an unhappy and unfulfilling slog.

Does healthcare leadership need to improve in your workplace? Do you feel unsupported, unappreciated, underpaid, misunderstood, overworked, and undervalued? Do you have a manager, supervisor, or CNO who just doesn’t get it? Have you ever left a nursing job because leadership was just plain out of touch, uncaring, or malevolent in their actions towards staff? The bare truth of the matter is that you’re not alone. 

A Make-or-Break Proposition

No matter how hard employees work and no matter how much people try to keep a unit or facility running well, if leadership fails, the entire ship will inevitably sink or at least be crippled.  

Of course, in the face of poor leadership, the hospital, clinic, or agency in question may not close down, but things will definitely not be right. Nurses will come and go, and since onboarding a new nurse can cost tens of thousands of dollars, the organization will unnecessarily waste money. 

Leadership isn’t rocket science but a skill that can be learned. However, many nurses and other healthcare professionals are promoted into leadership positions without training, education, skills, or mentorship.

Dr. Tracy Christopherson and Michelle Troseth, the authors of “Polarity Intelligence: The Missing Logic in Leadership” (scheduled for release in 2024) and the hosts of the Missing Logic podcast, observe the following: “Some leaders are unable to create healthy partnering relationships with their staff that are intentional and centered on a shared purpose. The relationship is more transactional in nature and driven mostly by the perspectives and preferences of the leader, leaving the staff feeling unheard, misunderstood, and powerless. These leaders over-focus on managing to the neglect of leading, which can feel like micromanagement to the staff and result in lack of autonomy and mistrust.”

In terms of how leaders are prepared for their roles in healthcare, Christopherson, and Troseth have seen how leaders have often been misled themselves.

“Leaders have been indoctrinated with leadership norms that lead to unhealthy lifestyles, relationships, and burnout. Leadership norms are expectations or behaviors based on shared beliefs among healthcare leaders. Norms such as being a servant leader and putting everyone else’s needs and safety before your own, and leaders must work hard to be successful. Many leaders have or are sacrificing their personal health and well-being to serve their teams and organizations, leading to burnout or exhaustion. They don’t have the capacity, stamina, or mental clarity to manage the complexity, uncertainty, and volatility of today’s healthcare environment.” 

If you envision becoming a healthcare leader, the industry needs dedicated people like you. Christopherson and Troseth see how today’s healthcare leaders can be forward-thinking and effective with the proper skill set. 

“Leaders need to develop a polarity mindset. This is a game changer because the majority of challenges that leaders face are not problems that can be solved but are polarities that must be leveraged.” 

“Polarities are interdependent pairs of values or points of view that appear to be opposite or contradictory but are interdependent and need each other to achieve a greater purpose.”

“Having a polarity mindset enables leaders to differentiate between problems and polarities and the understanding of how polarities work (and they all work the same) so they can lean into opposing or contradictory perspectives with wisdom and humility acknowledging both perspectives are right and necessary to achieve the greater purpose.” 

Leadership Matters

The fact is this: you don’t have to suffer from being a nurse, and if leadership is ineffective in your workplace, you have the option to stay and fight the good fight, or you can choose to abandon ship and seek out a workplace with strong, functional, empathic leaders at the helm.

Becoming a leader may very well be in your sights, so it’s essential to seek out the training and mentorship that will allow you to be the type of leader you’ve always wanted to work for. Healthcare leadership could not be more crucial as we face the challenges of the 21st century, and only certain mindsets can deliver what’s needed in these times.  

As a nurse, a healer, and a skilled professional, being led by someone who can create an environment where everyone can thrive is an experience worth its weight in gold. You deserve no less, and may you find a workplace that allows you to fulfill your potential and have the nursing career you’ve always envisioned.