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December 2020

Leadership Character in Challenging Times

Much has been written in 2020 about leadership. There is no shortage of content on resilience, agility, flexibility, and similar topics. In healthcare, burnout was rampant prior to the global pandemic. And here we are…most of us at home for at least the near future, trying to make the most of the current circumstances.

Modern Healthcare recently published its 2020 100 Most Influential People in Healthcare list. If you haven’t seen it, I suggest you take a look. There are some incredible leaders featured navigating these waters. Most compelling was the group in the top spot. Over the weekend, it was shared with me by a friend who said “Frontline workers finally make it to #1”—Finally!

We recognize various “days” throughout the year, but this year is different. That same friend (you know who you are, Dan Collard) shared in a great article a few months ago that every day should be doctor’s day (or nurses, or frontline workers, and increase this list…) And those who are caring for the sick are more important than ever before.

How can we appropriately thank them? There are many ways to do this. In my town and in my company, friends and colleagues have provided food for them. That is great and I know they appreciate it. I’ve seen the gratitude expressed here and it is heartwarming. Those who are giving back should be commended.

That said, I think one of the best things we can do for them is to have exceptional leaders and create a culture where they feel cared for. Caring for the caregivers starts at the top and is pervasive. Over the summer I read a great article in our local paper about leadership. It was written by a former leader and longtime mentor of mine, Quint Studer. The title of the article was Good Leaders Choose Character, Not Comfort.

Quint says, “Great companies and communities are made by character-builders, not comfort-seekers. Choose character. Make a difference in the world. You won’t regret it.”

During this year, many organizations large and small have had to make difficult decisions around people. Some have had layoffs, some have had to close, some will never recover. Other leaders have made the difficult decision to take less money, forgo raises or bonuses to save jobs—because it was the right thing to do. A Chief Human Resources Officer from a large health system shared the great lengths their leadership went to in order to avoid a reduction in force. These are not isolated examples and there are many more examples of character.

When I’m interviewing leaders for the companies we partner with, I look for examples of tough decisions made in the past that demonstrate character. One of my favorite go-to’s is something similar to, “Give me an example of a time you made an unpopular decision/implemented a change that was controversial, and what were the results?” Questions like these can be quite telling.

In the holiday season, if you are in healthcare or another organization, consider giving the gift of leadership. Even if you don’t formally supervise anyone, you can lead. It is not always comfortable, but it is not about that. Doing the right thing and demonstrating character will serve people and organizations. It has the power to change and, in some cases (particularly in healthcare), save lives.

Happiest Holidays to you and yours!