Healthcare Leaders Shouldn’t Fear the Empowerment of Others in Making Executive Decisions

by webadmin on September 30, 2013

HLS-thumb5“Get out of the C-suite” is a common observation we’ve been hearing recently from healthcare executives in relation to incorporating more effective leadership strategies.

This is certainly a refrain that comes to mind upon reading Philip Betbeze’s opinion article at HealthLeaders Media on the need for healthcare leaders to “sometimes…get out of the way.” Instead of leading from the top down, the article speculates, leadership through empowerment is where true success lies, especially in the evolving accountable-care environment.

“As a leader of your hospital or health system—and for many of you, as the leader—you’re used to providing the vision and asking your lieutenants to execute that vision,” Betbeze writes. “That’s traditional top-down leadership, and there’s nothing inherently wrong with it. But it’s not the only way to lead, and in many instances, it’s far from the best way. That’s not just my opinion; more and more of you are telling me that in a new era of accountable healthcare, the CEO can’t always say…‘The buck stops here.’”

Instead, Betbeze continues, empowerment or bottom-up leadership, could prove to be the more effective strategy.

The term, empowerment, radiates New Age vibes, but its meaning is actually much simpler than accessing an alleged cosmic force within each of us. Empowerment means, Betbeze relates, “enabling others to lead,” which for executives means “getting out of their way.”

Take Lean. Implementing Lean techniques is completely dependent on the frontline workers “to identify wasteful steps in providing care and which also relies on them to design better, more efficient processes.”

For many leaders, the article contends, “bottom-up leadership is counterintuitive because many don’t consider it leadership at all.”

“On the contrary,” Betbeze writes, “it takes a special leader to know that he or she doesn’t have all the answers, and that those on the front lines of care—whether they’re nurses or business analysts or registrars—might be best equipped to get your health system focused on driving out inefficiency.”

He continues, “You know you don’t have all the answers, and neither do your subordinates, but they know about their world, and they’re more likely to have the right answer in those narrow areas than you are. Make them accountable for their decision, but let them make the call. That’s the only way you’ll be able, overall, to make the transformational process change that will prepare your organization for a much different business model.”

As healthcare executives and leaders, what are your thoughts on Betbeze’s theory that bottom-up leadership as opposed to top-down leadership will yield for success in a reform environment? Are there ways in which you’ve decentralized your decision-making and involved the frontline staff in moving your organization forward? What are some of the lessons you’ve learned during this change of focus?

-by Pete Fernbaugh

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