Keys to staying positive and productive in a tumultuous environment

Ask any hospital CEO, supply chain manager or clinician why he or she chose to work in healthcare, and many will have the same answer: to bring the best possible patient care to the community. While the mission that drew them to their profession is positive, the environment they work in every day can be anything but. From tight budgets to an ever-changing regulatory landscape to patient safety dilemmas, healthcare administrators have more than enough concerns to deal with on a daily basis. After a while, the magnitude of these issues can take a toll, leaving the most optimistic leader feeling discouraged and defeated.

Adding Positive Fuel

How can managers navigate these challenges without becoming consumed by them? From the minute we turn on the TV in the morning, we are inundated with negative news, so rising above negative forces to lead in a positive way takes effort and intention.

“It’s like going on a diet; you have to make the right choices and search out the things that will make you healthy,” says Dale Thomas Smith, author and CEO of Winners By Choice.

Putting positive fuel into your mind as well as your body keeps you from feeling drained and depleted when obstacles arise.

“Just as breakfast is the most important meal of the day, so is what we listen to and focus on every morning,” Smith adds. “It’s like setting your GPS. If you program it to go to a certain destination, it’s going to take you there.”

Possibilities, Not Problems

Being positive doesn’t mean being oblivious to the reality of a situation; it means focusing on what you can control—“our attitude,” Smith says.

“It’s looking at the circumstance and seeing what you can do to make it better,” she continues. “So often we ask the wrong question. Instead of asking ‘Why is this happening?’ we should be asking ‘What can I do right now to improve this?’ ”

Healthcare leaders making the biggest difference today aren’t the ones with the most funding or the fewest hurdles; they are the ones with the best attitudes, says Chuck Lauer, a public speaker, author and former publisher of Modern Healthcare.

“They’re always trying to make things better,” he says. “They take risks … they don’t accept the status quo.”

Such enthusiasm is contagious and sets a tone that staffers are eager to emulate.

“Model the values you want to instill,” Smith says. “Make sure employees know they can count on you to be consistent. Don’t make them wonder which person is coming into work every day.”

To keep yourself and your staff on a positive course no matter what the day holds, experts also recommend following these tips:

Share the burden. It’s tempting to want to put out every fire that comes your way, but knowing when to delegate frees you up to focus on what’s important without getting mired down in mini-crises. Keep an open-door policy, but don’t get sidetracked by every person who grabs you in the hall. Know when to let go and trust your staff to do their jobs. “Give them the freedom to make decisions—and make mistakes,” Lauer advises.

When faced with a complex issue to solve or a major change to implement, seek advice on the best way to proceed, recommends Connie Podesta, a former healthcare human resources director who works with executives in the industry as a motivational speaker.

“Instead of telling people what to do, ask them for their opinion,” Podesta says. “Get them involved from the beginning, so they have ownership of the problem and have an incentive to find a solution.”

Find the good and praise it. Most days, it’s easy to notice what’s going wrong, but look at what’s going right. Be visible among staff, pay attention and “catch someone in the act of doing something good,” Smith says. Treat people as though you have confidence in them, and offer encouragement whenever possible, whether public praise for a job well done or a simple thank-you note. “Giving a small amount of daily encouragement makes a big difference,” Smith says. “It’s like water dripping on a rock. One day might not make an impact, but after a while it builds.”

Be transparent. No matter whom you’re dealing with—board members, physicians, vendors or patients—be as open and honest as possible. Help them understand the challenges you have, what you are trying to achieve and your objectives, goals and vision for the organization. From finance decisions to policy changes, keep those affected in the loop and never underestimate their ability to handle the truth, Podesta advises. “When people don’t know the full story—and changes are going on and they’re not told why—it creates lots of stress,” she says. Change is never easy, but you can “go through it or grow through it,” Smith says. Help your staff do the latter by acclimating them. Approach times of transition with a sense of adventure and share your plan for moving forward with everyone. “Enlighten them about what’s about to take place, and invite them to go with you on a journey,” Lauer says. 

Look for the solution. Tackle any misunderstandings or conflicts that arise right away, but don’t get caught up in them. Spend more time seeking a resolution than focusing on the problem, Lauer advises. “Identifying what’s wrong takes five minutes, but finding a solution is much harder,” he says. Hold people accountable for what they say and do, but when confronting someone, lead with the positive. “You can say anything; it’s all in how you position it,” Smith says. Notice when people around you, especially staffers, are struggling and offer your help. “When people get stressed, they tend to get quiet,” Smith says. Take time to listen, ask questions and negotiate. “You have to be willing as a leader to consider other points of view and move on things as rapidly as you can,” Lauer says.

Keep your perspective. Sure, everything may seem like a crisis, but it’s not. “With everything coming at you so quickly, it’s tempting to make quick decisions, but that’s when you need to take a deep breath and look at things objectively,” Lauer says. Don’t give in to panic. Stay calm and never lose sight of your mission. “We live in such chaos that we sometimes feel like we’ve done more than we actually have,” Smith says. At the end of the day, ask yourself: What have I done to move toward my next goal? And most important, pencil yourself in. “When everyone is pulling at you, take time to refuel so you can remain a great leader,” Smith adds.

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