Leadership is a crucial aspect of healthcare, and it's essential for healthcare professionals to continuously work on improving their leadership skills. Even if you don’t hold a formal leadership position, you can have a real impact on your team and patients by showing up as a leader when the opportunity arises.

Developing leadership skills takes time. It’s not about personality or traits you’re “born with”—it’s about behaviour and action.

Here are three strategies you can use to start improving your leadership skills today, regardless of your role, seniority or previous experience.

1) Focus on what you can control

In a profession like healthcare, it is only natural for front line staff and managers to feel concern. Concern about patients, concern about team members and concern about process or policy are all valid feelings.

You may think that showing up as a leader means trying to fix all of the things that concern you and others that you work with. But trying to tackle all of those issues can be overwhelming and defeating.

That’s because some of the concerns you may have about your healthcare organization or team are unfortunately out of your control.

In 1989, Stephen Covey wrote a book called The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, where he conceptualized the Circle of Influence and Control. This concept includes three circles:

  • The Circle of Concern
  • The Circle of Influence
  • The Circle of Control

Focusing on what is inside your Circles of Influence and Control (and knowing the difference) allows you to channel your time and energy into the behaviours and actions that will have the greatest positive impact on your team and organization, while reducing the negative impact of burnout on yourself.

For example, here are some examples of what might concern you in your workplace:

  • An organizational policy
  • A new government regulation
  • The behaviour of your coworker, manager or a patient

Here are some examples of issues you may have influence over:

  • Your organization’s future policy decisions
  • How your team responds to and implements new policies and recommendations
  • Your team’s overall wellbeing

And, finally, examples of what is in your control:

  • Your reaction to new policies you don’t agree with
  • How you handle change
  • How you treat your coworkers and colleagues

Covey’s main idea was that we can be proactive in how we deal with issues inside all three circles. That means acting on what you can control, working on expanding your Circle of Influence and taking action where you can instead of waiting for things to happen.

2) Challenge your mental models

Are your mental models working for or against you? A mental model is any framework you use to make sense of the world. Your mental models inform your behaviours and your actions. As a leader, your mental models can impact how you see other people, respond to conflict and view situations.

We all have assumptions, bias and previous experience that informs the way we interact with others. Gaining an awareness of our mental models allows us to recognize thoughts and feelings and separate them from fact.

An easy way to start challenging your mental models is to ask one simple question: what else could be true?

This question opens your mind up to reflection and can act as a springboard for more empathetic interactions with others.

For example, if you find yourself thinking that a coworker doesn’t care about their work, ask yourself: what else could be true about their feelings? About their actions? About my attitude towards them?

3) Ask for help

This is a hard habit for healthcare professionals to develop. As helpers and caregivers, it can be extremely difficult to acknowledge when we ourselves need help.

Because we have been brought up in a culture where independence is viewed as a marker for success, relying on others can feel like failure. In reality, relying on others is an essential part of life! 

Asking for help without shame or embarrassment is an especially important skill for leaders. Of course, getting support when you need it will improve your performance, but it will also create a workplace culture where vulnerability is valued and asking each other for help is normalized and encouraged.

If asking for help feels daunting, try using the following strategies to make is a bit easier:

  1. Start small. Practice asking for help when the stakes are low. This will help you to feel more confident to ask for help when you really need it.
  2. Consider who, what and when. If you need to ask for help with something bigger, be strategic about who you ask and when. It might be easier to ask someone you already have rapport with, and it may feel less intimidating if you do it over coffee, for example.
  3. Skip the sugar coating. You don’t have to convince the person you’re asking that it will be worth their time to help you. You are deserving of their help and if they aren’t able to help you, they will let you know regardless of how much you sugar coat your request.
  4. Get clear on your needs. What are you actually asking for? Understanding your request and the “why” behind it will make it easier to effectively communicate with whoever you’re asking for help.
  5. Lean into gratitude. We’re all guilty of being apologetic when we should really be grateful. Instead of “I’m sorry to bother you,” try “Thank you for your time.” Leading with gratitude will not only make the person you’re talking to feel appreciated, but it will also make the conversation easier for you.

Develop your leadership skills with the help of a coach

For those who want more help implementing strategies such as the ones outlined in this blog, we offer individual and team coaching services that offer personalized support in developing leadership skills and building cohesive workplace cultures.

If you’re curious about how coaching could help you reach your goals, book a complimentary consultation with one of our coaches today.

Book now

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