Leadership in healthcare: Not so different from splitting wood
Monday, November 23, 2015
As winter approaches, this is an excellent time to reflect on trends in healthcare and self-assess one's leadership style. A few weeks ago, as I was preparing for the winter and splitting wood, I thought about the similarities of this activity with my experience leading people in healthcare environments.
As the massive number of baby boomers increasingly retire, some areas of the healthcare workforce will experience scarcity in supply, requiring that leaders become more effective. In addition, the workforce will become much younger as the millennials, with new expectations around work, take their place in the healthcare professions.
During reflection, consider that each individual is different. Just like logs, no two are exactly alike — although some may come close. Some logs come from branches and others from the trunk of the tree. They vary in length, circumference, the type of wood (oak, pine, etc), and the consistency of the bark can range from smooth and thin to thick and rough.
However, there are also environmental factors that can impact the tree and its health. Some have been affected by disease and may have a burl or other scaring. Others are infested with worms and bugs or have been marked by woodpeckers, deer or bears.
Some have been twisted or lost limbs to winds or sliding rocks and debris. And others are dying because they are old and have started to rot or because their environment has changed and they now have too much or too little water or sun, or have been crowded out by those who are stronger.
So, how does this all apply to leading people who work in healthcare? The following are a few tips for getting the best out of people — and successfully splitting logs.
Don't go against the grain: Splitting wood along the grain is by far the easiest. Invest in the time to get to know the individual before attempting to lead. Knowing something about people will provide clues about how they are motivated and need to be lead.
Anticipate the need for adjustments to your approach: When logs have been scarred by burls or held limbs, a perfect split isn't usually possible. Forcing a cut often results in splinters or a pile of wood chips. Adjust your approach and find the best way to work with the limitations of the individual you are leading. A few extra minutes to re-position and adapt your approach will usually result in a much better outcome.
Expect that investments of time will vary: Soft wood (like pine), small and green logs usually take less time to split. Dry and hardwoods will take more pressure, and large logs will require more cuts to produce a consistent product. People and their experiences are also different and some will require a greater investment of your time than others.
Don't be fooled by what you see on the outside: Rough or smooth, thin or thick, bark is simply a protective covering, and it sometimes doesn't reflect what is on the inside. Look beyond what is visible on the outside of people to gain a better assessment of their potential. A smooth beautiful bark could be hiding internal rot, and a thick or marked covering may be protecting a well-seasoned log or individual.
Keep in mind that fires can sweep in from time to time and leave destruction in their path. But don't be quick to cut down those trees that were well cared for and once examples of great strength. Some of these possess the inner strength to recover, rejuvenate and come back stronger after the earth has been cleansed and some time for healing has passed.
People can learn from their mistakes and errors and use the lessons learned to rise from the ashes.
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