How to Develop Healthcare Leadership Skills

Progressing to the next level in your healthcare career is not simply a matter of experience – it also requires you to expand your skillset and learn how to lead a team of your fellow professionals.

While every individual ultimately develops their own unique leadership style, there are certain qualities that are universally important. And in this article, we’re going to look at five such key traits you will need in a healthcare leadership role, and offer some advice as to how you can develop each skill.

1. Draw clear lines

Communication is key in any leadership role, and this is particularly true of healthcare. Whether in urgent situations or discussing delicate matters, clear, direct and above all considerate communication is an asset of all good healthcare leaders.

How to develop your communication skills:

The best way to improve your communication skills is by eliciting feedback: however effective you believe your communication is, what really counts is how well it is understood.

Trying asking your colleagues, friend and family to be as honest and explicit when you are being unclear – this will quickly help correct any bad habits you’ve picked up over time.

It’s also important to note how crucial listening is to good communication. Developing active listening skills will ensure you are attentive to others; people don’t always state clearly that they haven’t understood what you are saying, so being able to notice miscomprehensions or misunderstandings is an essential part of team leadership.

2. Flexibility

Being able to navigate a continually changing situation – and adapt effectively – is important in any healthcare position. However, leaders must not only be mentally flexible – they must be able to help others be more flexible, too.

How to increase your flexibility:

As we’ve discussed elsewhere, devoting time to cognitive exercises can have a huge impact on your mental flexibility. However, there is far more to flexibility than simply have a sharp, agile mind.

Practise making action plans which have contingency built in: rather than simply thinking in terms of action and consequence, you should be thinking about the various possibilities a given action presents, and how you might respond.

This kind of mental decision-tree building can be taxing, but it quickly helps prepare you for the unpredictability of leadership.

3. Empathy

In a patient-centric sector like healthcare, empathy is always vital. Leaders must extend this to their team, too, ensuring they are consistently considering their staff’s needs and wants.

How to become more empathetic:

Building empathy is as much about intent as skill – simply ensuring that others’ feelings are ever-present in your mind is a major step towards becoming more empathetic.

You communication skills will come in use here, too: reading the emotional cues in people’s body language is a vital part of understanding how they really feel and responding accordingly.

It may also be useful for you to spend time actively learning more about your colleagues, in order to fully understand how their home lives might impact their work performance and the kinds of support they need.

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4. Decision Making

Almost by definition, leaders must make decisions – and take responsibility for those decisions. This often means being highly decisive and being able to process information at pace under a great deal of pressure.

How to improve your decision making skills:

Making better decisions requires two things: a willingness to be honest with yourself, and a willingness to consciously practise. You can practise decision making by looking at world events – or events at work – and recording your predictions.

By honestly confronting your own accuracy, you will develop insights into errors you are making or biases you have which you otherwise wouldn’t notice. And by benchmarking your predictions, you will quickly improve your accuracy.

Becoming more comfortable with data will also help immensely here: increasingly, healthcare leaders are consulting large data sets to arrive at decisions, and you should be prepared to do the same.

5. Self-Awareness

Above all, leaders must be self-aware – able to reflect on their performance and responsible with the power their position accords them.

How to work on your self-awareness:

Self-awareness is a nebulous concept, and nobody is without blind spots. However, confronting your own blindspots and asking for honest feedback form your colleagues can be hugely informative.

Some HR professionals believe personality tests are invaluable for develop self-awareness, and if this is a route you wish to peruse, we recommend you stick with Big-Five tests as this is the model accepted mainstream academic psychologists.

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