How to Prepare for Leadership in Healthcare
Healthcare is a massive sector and it requires great, passionate leaders at all levels. Healthcare leaders can manage a small team, a department, or even the entire hospital. They work in all areas of healthcare, from hospitals and clinics to research companies and pharmaceutical businesses.
It doesn’t matter where you work, either. Your job as a leader in healthcare will always impact the quality of care that patients receive and also the job satisfaction of your staff. With burnout on the rise and an increase in challenges, there has never been a more pressing need for talented, passionate healthcare leaders.
There is always room to improve and many ways to prepare for a role in leadership. By focusing on healthcare in particular and by also working to develop a great set of soft skills, you can make significant improvements to healthcare as a whole.
Why You Need a Healthcare Management Degree
For decades, many leaders have used management and administration degrees to prepare them for executive-level roles. The difference is that in the past, the go-to option was to take on an MBA with a focus on healthcare management. Though this is still a good option, there are now more focused degrees available that allow you to improve your skills and management style with healthcare as the focus.
MBAs will help prepare you by providing a foundation of business fundamentals. The focus, however, is broad rather than in-depth, so while you can earn a certification in healthcare management, the entire focus will not be on healthcare overall. Mostly your coursework will be based around general business concepts with only a few instances where healthcare will be the focus.
MBAs do, of course, still have their place. Healthcare professionals who have spent their entire career working within the industry and feel they need more general business skills than specialized business skills can benefit.
More often than not, however, professionals looking to get started as a leader in healthcare will find more benefits from Executive MHA programs online.
An Executive Master of Health Administration focuses on healthcare and business and works to advance your skillset with sector-specific courses that are essential for healthcare leadership. It is ideal for existing healthcare professionals and those closely adjacent, like consultants or analysts, to take up healthcare leadership roles in their workplace or field.
These types of specialized administration degrees are streamlined and specific for healthcare, making them ideal for those looking to advance their healthcare career directly. They are, however, new. There are only a handful of these degrees available in the world, but even still, it is important to check for quality markers. Triple accreditation from the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB), Association for Master of Business Administration (AMBA), and EFMD Quality Improvement System (EQUIS) is a key sign of quality to watch out for.
It typically takes the same amount of time to complete an online MHA as it does an online MBA, meaning around two years or six semesters. You can typically stretch it out longer if necessary but always talk with the admissions advisor beforehand.
Additional Factors to Help Prepare You For Leadership
Having the know-how in healthcare management, finance, and analysis is a great start, but as any leader knows, you also need plenty of soft skills to be an effective leader. Managing people isn’t like ticking boxes or staying organized. Sometimes it needs a custom touch, and you always need to adapt your approach depending on who you are with and what the other person needs.
Know Your Leadership Style
A great place to start is to understand and work out your leadership style. Although you can customize and develop what feels like your own leadership style, it is important to remain consistent. If you flip flop between different methods of leading and managing your teams, you’ll only breed resentment and a hostile workplace.
You cannot go from being diplomatic and accommodating one day to draconian the next. Setting up standards is how everyone works more efficiently because they know what to expect and the quality of work that is required of them.
You want to get the most out of every member of your team, and setting the right expectations is a great place to start.
Though you will want to workshop and develop your own leadership style, a great place to get started is by understanding the types of leadership styles, as outlined in Lewin’s Leadership Styles framework that has been in use since the 1930s.
It is important to note that all leaders need to workshop and work with those working underneath them when it comes to decision-making. Autocratic leaders take the input and advice from those working alongside or under them and then make their own decisions based on that information. Though there will be a certain amount of autocratic leadership within healthcare, you never want to alienate the other leaders and managers within your organization.
Democratic leadership puts team members in the running when it comes to decision-making. It can improve motivation and job satisfaction but is not always effective in healthcare when tough decisions need to be made, especially when it comes to being fair to all departments. A good way to look at leadership in healthcare is with a mix of democratic and autocratic decision-making. Knowing when to use both styles is how you will be an effective leader. You cannot and should not make every decision, but at the same time, there are certain standards, laws, and difficult situations that will require an autocratic stance.
Laissez-Faire leaders support their team members rather than lead them. This can work in a few situations in healthcare, but due to the high levels of regulation and standardization, you’ll find you simply don’t have the opportunity to provide support and trust in your team to always make the best decisions for them. Between laws and budgeting, there is little room for this style of leadership.
On top of leadership styles, you also have different approaches. There are six emotional leadership styles. These styles include visionary, coaching, affiliative, democratic, pace setting, and commanding. There is even transformational leadership.
At the end of the day, knowing the different types of leadership and, most importantly, what option will suit the scope of your role is a must. You may even use different leadership styles when dealing with different departments. How you approach shareholders will be different from department heads or team leaders.
How to Develop the Essential Soft Skills
Soft skills can be practiced and guided, but they are not the same as other skills that can be learned. You need to develop and find your own approach that works for you and feels most natural. Soft skills, after all, are interpersonal. How you actually speak and communicate to your teams, your shareholders, and even the patients and their families depend on the situation.
The essential soft skills you will want to have, and if not work on, include:
1. Communication and Interpersonal Skills
Being able to effectively communicate comes easily to some and can feel like a nightmare to others. As a leader, you should be able to confidently speak to a room of people and at the very least be able to command attention when speaking to those who are directly underneath you. While there are coaching courses and other workshops you can take to improve your public speaking abilities, that is not the only type of communication you need to consider.
You also need to know how to listen and adapt. Interpersonal skills are a type of communication skill that you will want to continually improve upon. How you speak to one person won’t work for another. At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter if you think someone should be able to buckle down and get the work done because it is your job to get the most effective work out of your team. If that requires a more gentle touch and encouragement for some of your employees and a harder hand for others, be ready to adapt.
2.The Ability to Motivate and Stay Motivated
One sub-skill to communication is both motivating and being motivated. You want your team to go above and beyond, and in healthcare, that is a big ask. There is a massive shortage which means healthcare professionals everywhere are already going above and beyond for their patients. The good news is that motivating your team doesn’t mean pushing them to work harder but working smarter. It also means recognizing and rewarding their additional efforts if you can.
With burnout in healthcare at an all-time high, knowing how to motivate those underneath you is a skill that cannot be emphasized enough. Being able to motivate others is just the start as well. You also need to know how to stay motivated, especially if you are attempting to complete a degree while working in an existing managerial role.
3.Creative and Analytical Problem Solving
Knowing how to analyze data and understand it better is a great place to start, but it isn’t enough. Creative and analytical problem solving is something of an art form. The data you collect and the information you extract from it are the materials, but you are still the artist that needs to do something with the information presented to you. A great way to develop this soft skill is to actually learn and study. See how others have handled similar problems, and don’t be afraid to ask for advice from those in similar roles to you.
Part of managing a team means managing the conflicts that will inevitably arise. You have to keep in mind that healthcare organizations around the world are stretched to their limits. They have to deal with people who are emotionally and physically often at their worst and most scared. They also need to deal with long hours and a lot of stress, thanks in part to the risk caused by the coronavirus.
This adds to a lot of stress and high tension. It would be a miracle if there weren’t any internal conflict that comes from such a situation, so you need to know how to handle it when it happens. This is something you will need to learn hard and fast when you start your first leadership or managerial role in any field, but there are online tools and advice available to help you prepare some mitigation strategies.
It would be best if you stay organized. There is a lot of work that comes in with managing a team or teams, especially in the healthcare setting. If you aren’t organized, you can easily fall behind on many different tasks. While that task might not have been altogether that important one day, left alone, it could build up into a problem.
Using the right organizational tools and investing in automating certain admin systems is a great way to reduce the level of hands-on organization you need to handle. However, it would help if you still were in the habit of staying organized and on top of your daily tasks.
Healthcare is a massive industry, and the challenges that are faced by healthcare organizations vary day to day. One day you may be dealing with a massive shortage because there was a COVID-19 outbreak and several members of your staff caught it and now need to quarantine at home. A serious car pileup could have occurred the next day, and now your ER is overrun.
There are so many challenges that face healthcare leaders, which is why one of the most important skills you will need to succeed as a healthcare leader is the ability to adapt and roll with the punches. You don’t need to do it on your own, but you do need to know how to leverage your team and the resources available to meet every challenge that comes your way.