To be a manager at a health care organization, you do not need to be an influential leader. You do not need to succeed either. You merely need the technical skills to do the job.
To be an influential manager, however, you need more — behavioral skills so you can lead employees effectively, and adaptability so you can regroup when the landscape changes.
The technical prowess of individuals we hire and retain, coupled with their interpersonal skills and ability to solve problems creatively, ultimately determine the quality of the care provided by a health care system.
Seeing the Problem with Clarity and Courage
Current leadership programs fail to develop leaders who effectively can manage the changing health care landscape. These programs fail because they focus on technical ability rather than behavioral skills. More often than not, the individuals you hire today are coming to you with highly developed technical skills and poor behavioral competence. Even worse, they may be acquiring self-promoting tendencies to navigate the political climate of the organization without making a clear connection to the organizational values that influence performance.
A model to emulate in revamping your leadership development program is that of the U.S. Army Special Operations Command units. In light of the state of current world affairs, many people are discussing the attributes of our military's elite forces and to that end are asking, "Where do they find such individuals?"
To become a Special Forces soldier in the Army, you first must be selected to attend Special Forces assessment and selection. During this process, military recruiters take a holistic approach by looking for attributes that emulate what they call "the whole man" concept. Besides physical ability and technical prowess, our military seeks specific behavioral attributes required for challenging and unconventional missions. These attributes include flexibility, practical wisdom, decisiveness, teamwork, influence, adaptability, resilience, perseverance, tenacity, moral judgment and communication skills.
Only the most highly motivated soldiers will wear the Special Forces tab. Special Forces demands a tremendous amount of inventiveness and self-reliance. As its name implies, it deals with combat situations you won't find in most textbooks.
A Special Forces soldier is capable of thinking outside the box — ignoring ineffective, conventional thinking and finding creative and intelligent solutions to unconventional situations. This is what makes the Special Forces what it is.
The Special Forces soldier also must be able to teach these same skills to colleagues. Each Special Forces soldier is taught to train, advise and assist host-nation military or paramilitary forces. Special Forces soldiers are highly skilled operators, trainers, coaches, mentors and teachers. In a word, Special Forces soldiers exert a high degree of behavioral influence coupled with their technical skills to achieve results and peak performance in the most demanding situations and challenging events.
Avoiding Cultural Mixed Signals
The same model can be used for success in today's health care organizations. Hiring individuals based on specific behaviors will help the organization manage change and chaos. The key question to ask yourself is whether you are capable of recruiting these individuals into your organization and whether you can create the culture that will allow them to think outside the box.
Behavioral attributes (including interrelations skills) commonly and incorrectly are referred to as "soft skills." They are really the "hard skills" that enable the leader to be influential: self-awareness, collaborative and connective. Employees' low morale, refusal to engage in their work, mistrust of managers, lack of motivation and poor performance are linked to their leaders' negative behaviors. It tends to be easier to overlook behavioral shortcomings of a leader or a follower than to overlook deficiencies in their technical skills. Yet, a leader's behavior is the most important predictor of organizational performance.
Don't let your own behavior as a leader send the wrong message. Don't hire self-starters and then micromanage them. Don't encourage your teams to be critical thinkers and effective communicators who are willing to take initiative, and then stifle their performance.
Time for a Change
Are you willing to promote leadership behavior that guarantees your failure? Elite-performing organizations do what other organizations are unwilling to do — recruit top talent, engage that talent, then get out of the way so the talent can perform at the highest levels. Peak-performing organizations follow this model. You must do so as well if you want to survive.
Michael E. Frisina, Ph.D., is the CEO of The Frisina Group LLC, founder of The Center for Influential Leadership, a former faculty member of the United States Military Academy at West Point, and a retired officer from the United States Army Medical Department. He is the author of Influential Leadership, a new book from AHA Press. Robert W. Frisina is a principal in The Frisina Group LLC, and the executive director at The Center for Influential Leadership. He served as a civil affairs specialist with the 2nd Brigade Combat Team in the 101st Airborne Division in southern Afghanistan and is a graduate of the John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School.