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Nurturing New Leaders to Resist the Temptation of Radical Change: Embracing Human-Centered Leadership in Healthcare

A few weeks ago, my adult son, Sam, newly graduated and working in his first “big boy” job in the Computer Science field, wanted to talk about how recent changes in leadership for his work unit had changed the work environment and the culture. When he started the job a year ago, his manager was supportive of his growth as a new digital practitioner, connected him to resources to engage with coworkers, and recognized his humanity by providing a caring and psychologically safe work environment to voice concerns, solutions, and successes. He loved his work providing level two support for clients because it played to his strengths as a “people” person working in a traditionally “non-peoplely” industry. He received a lot of positive feedback from clients, colleagues, and his manager. He could see himself working for this company for a long time. However, the atmosphere changed significantly when his manager was promoted, and a new leader was brought in from outside the company. My son described how the tone of the team meetings changed. Instead of focusing on relationships with clients, there was a discrete shift in focusing on results. The new manager shared things such as, “We need to get our numbers up. No more of this chit-chat and taking too long with clients.” Also, she provided a thinly veiled warning to the team, “This team is overstaffed but that doesn’t mean we’re going to fire anyone. If the team shows growth in the numbers, everyone will be fine.”  The team was clearly shaken and many, who stayed loyal to the company through the lean times, felt their livelihood was in jeopardy. As Sam put it, “It was clear we were just a means to an end for her numbers.” The fear and intimidation were real. The company had been growing and thriving with a more human-centered approach that recognized the value of relationships alongside results. Was this radical change necessary? Was it appropriate?

As a healthcare professional, have you ever experienced something like this? The new nurse manager, Chief Nursing Officer, or CEO comes in and wants to change everything. Aims to make their mark and show their worth by driving productivity?  Productivity is important but so is the way we approach it. In the ever-evolving landscape of healthcare, effective leadership is crucial for driving positive transformation. When new leaders step into their roles, they often face the temptation to enact radical changes to make their mark. However, an approach like Human-Centered Leadership that prioritizes relationships alongside results, can mitigate this temptation and ensure a more thoughtful and inclusive path towards progress. In this blog post, we’ll explore the concept of Human-Centered Leadership in Healthcare and how it can empower new leaders to resist the urge to change everything and instead foster sustainable improvement.

Understanding Human-Centered Leadership:
Human-Centered Leadership is an approach that puts people at the core of decision-making processes. It focuses on building relationships by prioritizing the well-being of self and the team, resulting in a culture of excellence, trust, and caring. In the context of healthcare, Human-Centered Leadership acknowledges the importance of those at the point of service in driving meaningful change.

  1. Engaging Stakeholders:
    New healthcare leaders often inherit complex systems with established protocols, structures, and cultures. While change may be necessary, it’s vital to engage stakeholders to understand their experiences, challenges, and aspirations. By actively involving those who are directly affected by decisions, leaders can gain valuable insights and build a shared vision for the future. This collaborative approach minimizes resistance, fosters buy-in, and builds trust.
  2. Listening and Empathy:
    To resist the temptation to change everything, new leaders must prioritize human-centered communication skills such as active listening and empathy. They should pursue diverse perspectives, acknowledging the unique contributions and expertise of the individuals on their teams. By understanding the underlying needs and concerns of the people they lead, leaders can create a more supportive environment that promotes innovation while respecting existing processes and traditions.
  3. Building Relationships:
    Building strong relationships with team members, colleagues, and stakeholders is a critical aspect of Human-Centered Leadership. Taking the time to understand individual strengths, challenges, and aspirations allows leaders to create an environment that promotes personal and professional growth. By fostering relationships based on trust and respect, new leaders can nurture a sense of shared purpose and commitment, enabling them to drive change without alienating those they lead.
  4. Incremental Improvement:
    Instead of pursuing radical change, Human-Centered Leaders focus on incremental improvement. They recognize the value of small, targeted changes that yield measurable results. By breaking down larger goals into manageable steps, new leaders can make progress while respecting existing processes and the expertise of their teams. This approach ensures a more sustainable and effective transformation.

You’re probably wondering what Sam’s plan is at his company. After being courageous and sharing his concerns about culture with his new leader, she tabled the discussion without really listening. With a healthy level of “wait and see,” he, along with many of his colleagues, are searching for other opportunities, either within the company or outside. Human-Centered Leadership in Healthcare is a powerful tool for new leaders in healthcare and, perhaps also in other industries such as information technology, to resist the temptation to change everything and instead foster meaningful and sustainable improvements. By engaging stakeholders, practicing active listening and empathy, building relationships, and embracing incremental change, leaders can navigate the complexities of healthcare systems while maintaining a focus on the people they serve.

As we move towards a future that demands continuous adaptation and innovation, Human-Centered Leadership will play a pivotal role in creating a healthcare environment that prioritizes patient and employee outcomes alongside the relationships that generate those results. By resisting the temptation to change everything, new leaders can lay the foundation for a more inclusive, collaborative, and effective professional practice environment.

1 Comment. Leave new

  • Chris Akerson
    July 18, 2023 11:08 am

    Building relationships truly is the center of what heals. Human Centered Leadership uses language that is extremely powerful! Words such as embrace, respect, empathy, build, trust, direct our path towards a common goal that we are working to cultivate environments of health and healing. This work can only be grown from the inside out. Thank you for the reminder! I look forward to reading more!


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