Connect with Hearts and Minds
Seven Skills Great Leaders Use for High Engagement
by Quint Studer
I've worked in healthcare for many years now. And during this time, I've learned that the leaders who are most successful in aligning actions for departments, divisions, and organizations to achieve desired results share seven important skills. Actually, the skills are really all just aspects of one overarching skill: the ability to connect with both the heart and mind…of those they lead, work with, and for whom they provide care and services.
Why is it so important to connect with both aspects of a human being? I believe it’s because healthcare people in particular are both scientific and deeply passionate about their work. When we connect to the mind, we’re appealing to their logical, data-driven, evidence-seeking side. When we connect to the heart, we’re appealing to that passion…and to the values they bring to work every day, the very same values that led them to seek out healthcare as a career in the first place.
With patients, too, we need to be able to explain a diagnosis, lay out a treatment regimen, and discuss medication doses and instructions. That’s the mind part. We also need to provide comfort, reassurance, and hope. That’s the heart part.
The Seven Skills You Need to Excel
Let's take them one at a time.
1. Being authentic.
"Authenticity is a vital component of connecting with another human being." It builds the trust necessary to create a culture of high performance, one person at a time. Authenticity can exist on both organizational and individual levels. And while it's important in all fields, in healthcare it is vital. Like CPR, it opens up the airway.
In healthcare, leaders are under the scrutiny of many people they supervise who are professionally trained in evaluating honesty. These individuals are constantly evaluating: "Does the sender really believe what they are saying?" In fact, I have seen leaders with, at best, average written and verbal skills get rated highly by staff on, guess what? Their ability to communicate. I've also seen individuals who may otherwise be judged as outstanding communicators be viewed as ineffective by those they lead. What is the difference? Authenticity, otherwise known as believability.
2. Having empathy.
When we have empathy, people trust us. They know we care about them. Every data point I have ever read says that when someone feels cared about as a person, they listen better, are more comfortable asking questions and for help, work harder, and are more likely to stay in the organization long-term. One of the most effective ways to show empathy is to show vulnerability as a leader. Don't be afraid to share your own successes, struggles, and mistakes. Empathy means approaching other human beings with the full awareness and disclosure that we, too, are human and have flaws—but it doesn't mean we wallow in these flaws. We never quit trying to get better and better.
3. Moving a conversation back to point.
Empathy is a wonderful quality in a leader, but it must eventually be set aside in favor of taking action to move forward for results. An example: A CEO I know was recently talking to his Vice President about some concerns he had about the department that reported to the Vice President. So the VP provided a list of reasons why the department had not performed to expectation.
While many of these reasons had merit, a few were a bit of a stretch. After showing empathy with his good listening skills, the CEO then said to the VP, "Okay, now tell me what actions will be taken to get the department on track." I find that whenever a leader moves to this question, defensiveness goes down, relief is felt, and the energy then moves from excuses to how to move forward.
4. Knowing when to push…and when to hold back.
When should we push people or the organization to get forward movement? This is an important part of the art and science of leadership. After observing many highly effective people, I've learned that the best time to push is when things are going well. Why? Because that's when people are feeling confident.
Jack Welch, former CEO of GE, once said that people and organizations with self-confidence move more quickly and smoothly to innovate, make decisions, and implement changes.
So when things are going well, it's a perfect time to push a bit more. Yet, don't push too hard. Being a leader—which also includes individuals leading a patient's care—is about being able to manage the gap between where a person is and where they need to be. Too much pushing can shut the person down. Too little pushing will not create enough action to achieve the goal.
5. Limiting and sequencing change.
Most times when Studer Group is asked to assess an organization, the problem is inconsistency. The organization is seeing too much variability in outcomes. Or, after some initial positive gains, the outcomes have flattened out or are decreasing. We call our response to the first scenario (i.e., variability) intervention work, and our response to the second challenge (i.e., decreasing results) prevention work.
While there are all sorts of reasons for these two issues, our great passion to make things better is a big one. We frequently try to do too much too soon and get overwhelmed. With passion—bolstered with new skills, new knowledge, and so forth—the desire to make things better often leads to short-term gain and long-term pain because we tried to do too much too fast. We want the opposite—short-term pain for long-term gain. The fact is: less is frequently more. We want to build momentum to hardwire new behaviors, rather than experience an "easing off"—and resulting drop in consistency—due to change fatigue.
6. Breaking actions into understandable steps.
We find that organizations often fail to sequence actions into doable steps. This is a mistake, because any process will be more successful, if it is broken into doable steps during implementation. In fact, phenomenal results can be achieved using this process.
I first learned this concept when studying work done by Mark Gold, who taught young people with special needs how to break down the steps of a complex project and not move to the next step until the current step had been mastered. His groundbreaking work raised the ceiling on what could be accomplished and made a positive change with many families. This same process works in all settings.
7. Connecting the dots for people.
The most effective communicators are those who can connect the dots for others in a way that creates clear understanding and leads to desired outcomes. This is when the science and art of communication and leadership converge to create magic.
Here is what works for me. (If you have heard me speak, I believe you will recognize it.) After connecting with the group, my goal is to always accomplish three things with each item I speak about: (1) to make sure the listener understands the outcome (i.e., the result of the technique and/or tool), (2) to explain how to implement, and (3) to tell a story that illustrates the impact.
Healthcare leadership is clearly both an art and a science. Therefore, as we seek to hardwire excellence and create high-performance cultures, we need to be able to connect to people by capturing—and engaging—their hearts and minds.
I do believe there are some people who are "naturals" at most of these skills. They make very powerful leaders. Other leaders may be strong in some skills and weaker in others. However, I do believe that the vast majority of us use both our minds and our hearts to make decisions and take action, and therefore, most of us can develop these skills to more effectively connect with others on both levels. Then, we can effectively weather any storm.
Quint Studer is the founder of Studer Group and the author of seven books, including A Culture of High Performance: Achieving Higher Quality at a Lower Cost. Look for Quint's keynote on Building a Culture of High Performance at Studer Group's 2013 What's Right in Health Care® conference in October.