Every organization needs a cadre of empowered leaders, ideally everyone who work for the institution would be a leader even if this utopian vision is rarely accomplished in real life. So what constitutes a leader? How do you identify prospective leaders? A leader can be described as someone who is “self-moving” which means that their motivation comes primarily from internal drive and a commitment to excellence rather than from external motivators such as status, money, or prestige. It is important to note that leader does not mean the same thing as “manager”. You may have someone in your hospital who is a fantastic lab tech and motivates all the other lab techs to work hard and do a good job but that person may not have the qualities needed to occupy a formal managerial position. The highly dedicated employee might be in their very best position already as they continue to uplift and support their coworkers.
The question every executive is faced with is how do I go about creating more leaders for my organization? The process should start with a certain amount of introspection. Am I modeling the best leadership behaviors myself? Do my actions represent steadfast leadership and a commitment to excellence? Asking others to do things you are not willing to do yourself is poor leadership and frankly, a recipe for failure. You may want to work with an executive coach or trusted mentor to make sure you are developing and exhibiting the very best leadership to your subordinates.
Once you have your own house in order you will need to look at the institution you lead. Questioning and frank discussions must be encouraged even if the result is something you don’t want to hear. Part of leadership is learning to set aside your own feelings for the good of the organization. As you work on building a culture of trust, risk taking and innovation, you will want to identify your star performers. Do these individuals have the skills needed for promotion? Can they be developed further? One way to assess their abilities is to create a formal internal leadership-training program. Over a period of weeks or months you take a small group of employees from disparate parts of your facility put them through a rigorous process of learning, assessment and leadership development. The exact curriculum for this group will of course vary with the type of organization and is beyond the scope of this article but there are many resources available both online and in print to help guide you through this process. Every year or two you will want to offer this formal leadership training process again and create opportunities for new leaders to emerge.
However, formal leadership training is only part of leadership creation. You will also want to establish informal mechanisms that allow people to take the initiative and demonstrate leadership. One system that works well is to establish a peer-to-peer mentoring program for your staff. Let more experienced staff members take the lead in working with new hires and acting as their guides. The benefit of this approach is that it helps you develop leadership skills in both the mentor and mentee as one learns to teach and the other learns how the organization works. The goal should not be simply to get individuals ready for promotional opportunities but rather to help them develop the best fit between their individual skills and the needs of the hospital or office.
Other steps that can be taken to develop leaders include creating an awards system that allows both staff and management to recognize excellence, giving work assignments in way that maximizes potential, and most importantly, allowing for failure. Failure can and will happen and is to be expected. If a particular change to a process or procedure doesn’t work it is important not to double down on it. When a failure occurs it should be acknowledged, accepted, lesson learned, and then you move on. Getting angry or chastising subordinates for honest mistakes are not the marks of a good leader and will not help you obtain the results you desire. Failure is an opportunity to learn and should be treated as such.
One final note, as you go about the process of overhauling the institution you lead you will likely encounter some resistance. Change is difficult and there will be some reluctance to embrace the new paradigm. It pays to be patient with people and give them time to work through their own feelings so that they can adapt to the new approach. However, if you find that someone is toxic, undermining institutional goals, or generally disagreeable then they will have to be removed for your organization to move forward. Developing leaders is hard work but it is well worth it will make whatever type of company you lead stronger and better in the long run.