5 Healthcare Leadership Principles from Navy Seals

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LeadershipI’ve learned over the years that healthcare organizations need to do a better job equipping their front line leaders with the skills, strategies, and core principles they need to address and eliminate workplace bullying and incivility.

When I perform organizational assessments, what I typically find included in new leader orientation, and ongoing development programs, are topics such as how to do payroll, the schedule, monitor quality metrics, the budget, etc.

But what’s missing here?

Yes!! How to deal with PEOPLE.  Coaching, counseling, how to establish peer-to-peer accountability, how to have an honest conversation with their most clinically competent nurse who happens to be toxic, how to cultivate and sustain a professional workforce culture. All missing.

Perhaps organizations don’t realize that dealing with people is just as important – if not more important than the tactical tasks of the role. And, dealing with people has everything to do with leadership.

I recently read the book, “Extreme Ownership – How U.S. Navy Seals Lead and Win”, by Jocko Willink and Leif Babin. The book received a lot of attention because of the way the authors took key military leadership principles and translated them to civilian leaders. Each chapter introduces the principle, shares an example from the front line in combat, and then shows us how to apply that principle to today’s business world.

As I read each chapter, I kept thinking about how these principles could easily apply to healthcare leaders where, as with combat, the stakes are high; where the way we treat each other is just as important as the care we provide; where bullying, incivility, and violence towards each other, may feel like our healthcare environments are in a combat zone.

We must do a better job.

Although in the book the authors introduce 12 principles, I’ve chosen the five (5) I believe are the most relatable to healthcare.

Principle 1: The leader must take ownership of everything

The #1 characteristic of any high performing winning team, military unit, sports team, or business industry is that the leader takes 100% responsibility for everything.

I frequently hear leaders blaming their staff, blaming their organization, or blaming ______. It’s not to say that if your department isn’t meeting expectations regarding quality metrics or isn’t staffed with highly compassionate, respectful, and professional employees that it’s your fault. But it is your responsibility. You own the outcomes of your department.

Adopting this mindset actually frees you from spending time and energy complaining, and allows you to shift your time and energy towards solutions.

What can YOU do right now to “own” everything in your world? Doing so is a game changer.

Principle 2: There are no bad teams, only bad leaders

Ouch. I know. I’ve coached numerous front line leaders regarding how to set behavioral expectations and hold their employees accountable for professional behavior. Through our conversations, I’ve heard numerous examples of really bad behavior from competent employees but when I ask the leader… why is this person still employed… they don’t know how to respond. I often get a series of excuses and justifications like, “she’s my best nurse”, “the physicians love him”, “she’s been here for decades,” etc.

Leadership isn’t about preaching. Leadership is about what you tolerate. If substandard performance and bad behavior are accepted and no one is held accountable, badness becomes the new standard.

Take a look at your employees. What behaviors have you been tolerating because _______. Today, stop tolerating any badness. Set a new standard.

Principle 3: Believe in the mission

The leader must function with an understanding that they are part of something greater than themselves. A belief in the mission is critical for any team or organization to win and achieve big results.  It’s a bit easier to do this in healthcare because generally, our mission involves patients.

What’s your mission? How does your mission show up every day? Do your employees incorporate the mission in their conversations or are they going from task to task? “My patients. My shift.”

According to a study conducted by AON, an employee who knows and understands their organization’s values is 51 times more likely to be “fully engaged” at work.

Say this to your team in your huddles, staff meetings, one-on-ones, etc. “Our work is not just about getting tasks done. It’s also about making a difference in the lives of our patients and each other.”

Principle 4: Check the ego

It’s easy to get sucked into the ego when you’re in a leadership role. We often think we have to have all of the answers, can’t make mistakes, and always have to be right. However, leading from a place of ego not only prevents your department from reaching its full potential, but it negatively impacts the relationship you have with your team.

The number one way to build trust with your team is to be vulnerable. Admit your mistakes. Reinforce that you’re department is a sum of everyone on the team. Coach K was famous for the way he built cohesive winning teams. He said, “The goal is to create a dominant team where all 5 fingers fit together in a powerful fist.” As the leader, you are just one of the fingers in that fist.

Leave your ego at the door.

Principle 5: Cover and move

It’s about the team. The team is everything. It’s about protecting and supporting the team. Departments must break down the silos, depend on each other and understand who depends on them.

I wrote an article about how the military make decisions. Mission first. Team second. Self third. I think we have it backwards in healthcare! I see a lot of people making decisions based on what’s best for them.

This goes for leaders too.  True leadership is the willingness to place other’s needs above your own.  In exchange for being the leader, it’s your responsibility to run towards danger. If your people believe that you have their back, they will follow you.

[Tweet “True leadership is the willingness to place other’s needs above your own. #NurseLeader”]

Transforming a workplace culture isn’t easy, but it is possible when leaders are equipped with the skills and principles they need to effectively and compassionately lead their teams. We’ve got important work to do in healthcare and need to develop better leaders!

For more information on equipping your leaders with the skills to cultivate a healthy workforce, contact us at wecare@healthyworkforceinstitute.com.

Be kind. Take care. Stay connected.

Renee Thompson

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