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Medical Group Management Association

Building resilient leadership in healthcare for better well-being

MGMA Stat - April 8, 2021

Professional Development

Leadership Development

Culture & Engagement

Daniel Williams MBA, MSEM


Though healthcare was a complex and challenging environment prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, the past year has shown just how important resiliency is for individuals, especially those in leadership.

The Medical Group Management Association’s most recent MGMA Stat poll asked healthcare leaders, “Have you invested in your own leadership/resiliency training in the past year?”
  • 46% said “yes.”
  • 54% said “no.”

The biggest takeaways or lessons learned among those who responded “yes,” included:
  • Recognizing self-care as being essential in order to take care of and lead others.
  • Being protective of your time. As one respondent said, “Being overcommitted, overscheduled and worn out creates a chasm for failure. It solves nothing and frustrates everyone.”
  • Leading with compassion and remembering that people are a practice’s most valuable asset.
  • Investing in oneself and learning more should be focused on helping others achieve success.
  • Acknowledging that taking it slow at times is important to avoid being burned out. As another healthcare leader noted, “Respect, kindness, compassion, and humility are key factors in the success of well-run healthcare organizations.”

The poll was conducted April 6, 2021, with 834 applicable responses.

Q&A: The role of well-being in individual and organizational performance

Laurie Baedke, MHA, FACHE, FACMPE, director of healthcare leadership programs, Creighton University, is a leadership expert and one of the keynote speakers at the Medical Practice Excellence: Pathways Conference DX. She recently joined the MGMA Insights podcast to detail what resilient leadership is and how to model behavior and set positive examples for staff.

Q. How has the pandemic played a role in how you approach the topic of leadership?
A. Undoubtedly the COVID-19 pandemic has amplified the pressure and uncertainty that we all feel. But healthcare has been facing challenge and disruption for years. And as healthcare leaders, we’ve been feeling this headwind increasing, and the importance of understanding how we can each individually — but then collectively — rise up against those headwinds really can’t be overstated. … It’s incredibly important for us to be good stewards of our ability to contribute excellence to the roles that we’re hired into and then to shape that for the organizations that we lead.

Q. What does resilience mean to you? What does it mean to be a resilient leader?
A. Resilience is our ability to withstand or recover from difficult conditions. I think about it as a mental picture. When I’m thinking about resilience, I picture a rubber band — it’s pretty useful, it has a lot of utility. I can wrap a rubber band around a big package of markers … I can wrap it around a big stack of papers. And if I then take it off those items, it really kind of goes right back to its original shape.

When I think about resilience, I think about the utility that we each need to have to withstand or recover from difficult conditions. I think that there are two different ways that we can look at resilience. It can be bouncing back, meaning kind of go back to the state that you were in before, like that rubber band.

But there’s a second way to think about it that I think is really useful for us as leaders. Anytime that we endure a hardship or an adversity or a season of challenge, like the one that we’re living in right now, we can think about bouncing up. We can think about taking with us some of the lessons learned or the information that we’ve gathered … and we can wrap ourselves in that learned experience and bounce up. We can let what we live through inform the way that we go ahead, so that we can do it in a more effective way.

If we think about resilience with those definitions and metaphors in mind, then resilient leadership is leadership by example. It is our ability as leaders in whatever capacity that we’re leading to be an example or a role model [for others]. They see us vulnerably and authentically and humbly, facing into that headwind and possibly stumbling from time to time, but continuing to seek learning and formation from it — and rising again and rising, better informed.

I also think it’s a call to self-advocacy. When we are in challenges, we need to make sure that we are taking care of ourselves. It’s about sustaining ourselves so that we can better serve others and steward what’s been entrusted to us.

Q. Is resilience something you’re born with? Is it innate within someone, is it learned or a little of both?
A. A substantial body of evidence confirms that we can increase or strengthen our resilience. Hard is normal. It’s true in our personal and our professional lives. Adversity is inevitable. … It’s really not a matter of if but when. This global pandemic is an example of the types of adversities that we will experience.

But resilience is enabled by well-being. We can’t necessarily outsource or buy that, but we can condition ourselves to grow the muscles that enable or inform our best selves.

There are a number of different categories that make up well-being: our physical well-being, our social or community well-being, our financial well-being, our spiritual well-being. … How can we grow or build that within ourselves? We should probably start with sleep, nutrition and exercise. Is it hard? Yes. But it’s important.

It’s a law of diminishing returns for us individually — if we are not making sure that the vessel that we pour from as a leader is full, we can’t give to others what we don’t have for ourselves. That is terrifically challenging, especially in months like we’re living in, because the workload just compounds.

Think about how much more you can produce and the potency and the efficacy of your performance individually, when you are firing on all cylinders, when you’ve been consistently investing in your physical well-being. Think about the social and community aspects or elements of well-being. … We as humans are renewed by the reciprocal nature of relationship. It’s important for us to be there for others, because we will be renewed by that. … Giving help to others has renewing elements that helps us to be resilient.

When we’re challenged by things, it’s tempting to just isolate, withdraw, hunker down, focus on work, but we should not overlook the importance of investing in those social relationships. … That can help us to grow resilience.

Q. There are so many disruptions in healthcare today. How do resilient leaders steel themselves against those “headwinds,” as you put it?
A. The more intentional and strategic that we are as leaders, the more effectively that we can combat the disruptions. The more effectively that we condition ourselves to have a realistic expectation that hard is normal, the better that we will be able to strategically and consistently show up and chip away at those challenges.

Our brains are hardwired to give emotion the upper hand. Our lower brain — the limbic system, the amygdala — loves to engage in fight or flight. But our upper brain is where executive function occurs. So the wise leaders invest in making sure that they can stretch that space between stimulus and response, practicing mindfulness, preparing ourselves to perform under pressure, so that our actions are measured, they’re aligned to our desired objective and that all of our actions and our directives follow suit.

It’s very easy for people to compare IQ and emotional intelligence (EQ). … I look at them as technical and behavioral competencies. Regardless of your role within healthcare … it’s easy to focus on the black and white, the technical competencies that have prepared us for that role: our certifications, our degrees, our credentials. Those are so important. But they are only the table stakes.

What differentiates us in our ability to perform at a high level are those behavioral competencies. It’s tending to that neuroscience approach — knowing how we’re hardwired as humans to respond but then hacking it just a little bit. Practice small things. Take very small, consistent incremental steps every day to reprogram or rethink the way that we respond.

It’s really easy when we’re in the middle of a challenge or an adversity to only see crisis and just want to run around with our hair on fire. … But if that is ungoverned, unregulated, unchecked, I will misfire. So knowing that about myself and then conditioning myself — putting measures around me, in the types of people that I collaborate with, in the types of systems and processes that I put in my daily life — the better I can manage my environment. Because none of us can control what happens around us, we can only control how we respond to those challenges.

If we take a couple of ingredients from the emotional intelligence recipe, and we mix it in, whisk it up with a couple of the elements from the well-being, resilience and mindfulness recipe, we’ll end up with a formula that will produce in us the type of effective leadership that we all want to bring to the table.

Do you have any best practices or success stories to share on this topic? Please let us know by emailing us at connection@mgma.com.

Join MGMA Stat

Our ability at MGMA to provide great resources, education and advocacy depends on a strong feedback loop with healthcare leaders. To be part of this effort, sign up for MGMA Stat and make your voice heard in our weekly polls. Sign up by texting “STAT” to 33550 or visit mgma.com/stat. Polls will be sent to your phone via text message

About the Author

Daniel Williams
Daniel Williams MBA, MSEM
Sr. Editor MGMA Englewood, Colorado

Daniel provides strategic content planning and development to engage healthcare professionals, managers and executives through e-newsletters, webinars, online events, books, podcasts and conferences. His major emphasis is in developing and curating relevant content in healthcare leadership and innovation that informs, educates and inspires the MGMA audience. You can reach Daniel at dwilliams@mgma.com or 877.275.6462 x1298.

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