In today’s complex, ever-changing work environment, leadership has never been more challenging. While you may have the authority and expertise to make swift decisions, effective leadership calls for a measured, team-focused approach. And even the most seasoned leaders face confounding crossroads as colleagues disagree, emotions run high and the way forward is unclear.
As businesses and organizations adapt to the pandemic era, leadership skills are now in demand more than ever. And few professions find such skills as critical as emergency medicine. The ER is home to split-second decisions that impact outcomes, heal patients and ultimately save lives.
Dr. Richard Winters, a Mayo Clinic emergency physician and author of You’re the Leader, Now What? Leadership Lessons from Mayo Clinic, says that effective leaders in the workplace closely assess employees much like an emergency physician would. “As a physician, I would never make a final diagnosis on a patient without knowing their vital signs,” he told me.
Winters cites five actions for effective leadership to salve the woes of a toxic workplace:
1. Create Shared Vision. Consider tapping collective experience to address the context, intensity and time frame of challenging decisions. Make team-based decisionsthat work for all—not just those in charge. “Active leaders find how organizational mission, values and strategy align with each of their employee’s sense of purpose and need for personal growth,” Winters told me. “They do their best to get their direct reports the resources, time and space they need to achieve. They encourage autonomy by seeking, listening and considering their colleague’s perspectives.”
2. Discover Blind Spots within your team. One way to do this is by mining the team’s back-channel. What rumors have you heard? This helps the leader understand the limiting stories that are being told. These limiting stories if unaddressed become, well, limiting. The solution?
- Debunking the myths and clearly addressing distortions.
- Directly addressing and owning uncomfortable truths.
- Working with colleagues to figure out how together they might mitigate the chance that fears and worries become reality.
3. Consider fears, worries, and other factors most leaders miss. “Nowhere are a leader’s blind spots more evident than in unaddressed fears and worries of their teams,” he said. “Leaders must shine a light on the fears and worries of colleagues to create effective strategy. Otherwise, those fears become the monsters that lurk in the darkness waiting to disrupt the most deliberate plan.” He says in order to shine a light on fears and worries, effective leaders deliberately ask: What fears and worries might inhibit our success? This gives a name to each fear and worry. It’s hard to combat fears and worries when they are unknown.
4. Identify burnout. Learn signs of unsustainable stress to avoid burnout and other pitfalls. “As a leader, I would never decide organizational strategy without first understanding burnout, a key vital sign of my organization,” Winters said, adding that organizations cannot sustain excellence when they treat employees as if they don’t matter, building their strong numbers on the backs of burnt out workers. “Burned out employees produce lower quality products, have lower customer satisfaction, lower productivity and are more likely to leave organizations,” he acknowledges. “This is without even mentioning the severe personal costs of burnout: increased alcohol and substance use, broken relationships, depression, suicide and personal anguish.” If an emergency physician didn’t measure, understand and, when appropriate, treat an abnormal vital sign, he explains, the patient would suffer and the same is true for leaders in organizations.
5. Prevent “Quiet Quitting.” The physician believes “quiet quitting” may be a symptom of “lazy leading” and that effective leaders connect with and engage colleagues to do their best—a task at which many leaders are failing. He suggests that leaders can assess how effective they are by asking how good they are at the following tasks:
- Having career development conversations with direct reports
- Inspiring your colleagues to be their best
- Expressing an interest in employee opinions
- Encouraging employees to develop their talent and skills
- Empowering employees—rather than simply telling them—to do their job
- How do you think we can best meet this challenge? Unleash the unheard opportunities by listening with intention.
“Your employees aren’t seeds that must struggle to grow in an impoverished garden,” Winters concludes. “They can relocate. They can move on to better gardens. They can find a better job and spend their time effectively. They can find something that nourishes and nurtures personal and professional growth.”