Management and leadership are two different concepts. Managing is generally thought to comprise four basic functions: planning, organizing, directing and controlling. Many people, when thinking about their careers, dream of eventually becoming managers.
Leadership, on the other hand, does not require a managerial position. Leadership is the ability to influence people to work together to accomplish a common goal. People are seen as leaders by the examples they set, the attitudes they bring and their ability to bring others together.
While managing is very important, leading is what will make you the most influential and successful health care leader. Since leaders are often judged by what they do, being visible and present at the workplace is important. Your staff and peers need to believe that you understand and care about the work they do and what motivates them to do it well, and you need to know how to make their work better and more satisfying.
You can't achieve that kind of understanding if you are stuck in your own office and rarely see firsthand how people function or what obstacles they confront in their workspaces. Being visible is even more challenging now that hospital-based services are moving to outpatient settings, often far from the main hospital campus. But you must regularly visit all parts of an organization to demonstrate a commitment to supporting staff.
There are several different ways you can effectively interact with staff and peers to enhance this visibility and become a better leader.
Making Hospital Rounds
Being visible is more than "management by walking around." It is understanding what people need to succeed in their positions and taking action to enable them to perform better. Carry a notepad on hospital rounds and upon seeing or hearing something that requires attention, make a note. When others see you do this — then later observe that you have followed up on the problem — it will show that you are a leader who brings value to the workplace.
Meeting with Physicians
In health care, knowing your many stakeholders and how they may influence each other is essential. Make time for the doctor's lounge or dining room to talk with physicians about what you can do to make them more effective — this will cause them to view you as a leader. In the same context, casually meeting physicians in their office is an effective means of engaging in both formal and informal talks.
Ensuring that physicians (and staff) feel you take the time to meet them, listen to their concerns or advice, and act on what you learn is an important element of effective leadership. Don't view physicians as the enemy: On the contrary, they can be great allies and partners. The good leader spends time engaging with physicians to learn what motivates them and how to harness their energy to achieve common goals and success.
The same is true for relationships with board members and community leaders. If you are not seen as trying to understand and work with people — and other leaders — then, chances are you will be seen as part of the problem rather than part of the solution.
Lunching with Employees
Lunch is a good time to meet with employees. It's a natural break from the day's routine, and eating a meal provides a positive atmosphere for casual conversation. Arrange for periodic, small group lunches when you meet with six to eight employees from different departments.
At this meeting, have them introduce themselves; it is likely that they may have never met before. Then ask questions to get them talking, such as: "Do you have any questions or concerns about the direction the hospital is going?" "Are there any rumors I can clarify for you?" or "What are you and your fellow employees feeling about the ________ program we just started?" Staff working in your organization's units and departments generally know what needs to be improved and, as a leader, you have the ability to influence that change.
Ground rules for these lunch meetings are simple: no whining, no gossiping, smile and loosen up! You may be amazed at where the conversation goes, and employees will get to know you as more than just a boss. These lunch meetings present an opportunity to open doors and gain trust and respect if you handle it well.
Holding Town Hall Meetings
It sometimes seems old-fashioned, but having regular, all-employee meetings on each shift allows you to see and be seen by staff with whom you rarely come into contact. These meetings also give you an opportunity to give periodic updates on important developments at the hospital.
After you provide a short report, open the floor up to questions about the information you provided or any other issues staff members want to bring to your attention. You likely will find that staff members will speak to a wide range of topics, some of which you may be able to address immediately; others may require you to conduct research and report back. Closing that communications loop is important.
Such a forum lets you address questions and concerns, kill rumors, correct misunderstandings, and develop trust and respect through open and honest discussions.
Being out on the floor in the hospital and listening to staff or being in the clinic spaces to watch patient flow and staff interaction helps you be viewed as a leader. It is also critical to act on the information you gain by being present: Doing so has a positive impact on the issues facing your organization. Ensure that people view your presence not as "spying" on them but to help by taking actions.
Sitting in an office and reading management reports will not allow you to truly be effective as a leader and manager. As pressed as we all are for time in the workday, you must make time to be visible, to be seen.
Leading is much more satisfying that just managing. Being a manager and a leader must be your ultimate goal.
Andrew A. Lasser, Dr.P.H., F.A.C.H.E., is the executive vice president of Avanza Healthcare Strategies (formerly ASC Strategies) in Austin, Texas.