Do you work in health care? Do you have leadership aspirations? If so, you’ll need to develop your strategy and management skills right now. That’s because in today’s rapidly changing marketplace, employees at all levels must be equipped with a much more diverse set of strengths than in the past. They need to adapt to an array of new and challenging situations.
These insights come from Louise Weed, Instructor at the Department of Health Policy and Management at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. Weed is also co-director of the Chan School’s Leadership Strategies for Evolving Health Care Executives. This six-day certificate program is geared to people from a wide range of health care positions and levels who want to develop their skills in critical areas of leadership and management as a way to support both their individual and organizational goals and successes.
Leadership Training Supports Individual and Organizational Goals
Providing opportunities for health care employees to think in a more deliberate manner about strategy and related issues, including conflict resolution, operational analysis, employee management, and quality management techniques, and to do so earlier in their career path is particularly relevant in the current health care setting.
“Historically, we see people move into leadership positions and think they have learned everything they need to know,” Weed explains. Yet today, both current and aspiring leaders need to be constantly developing and honing their skills in order to be relevant, both now and in the future.
A major component of a company’s success hinges on the role of middle managers to strategically guide the efforts.
Why Strategy Matters
Weed points out that in the past, most strategy training was geared to CEOs and others already positioned in top-tier leadership roles. But these days, middle managers and others also need to be at the top of their game when it comes to understanding strategy and the elements required to successfully lead an organization through an array of changes.
“We are in a place with health care where things are shifting. We are seeing more of a focus on value-based care, complex case management, health care outcomes, patient satisfaction, and much more. This requires more strategic thinking at all levels or organizations to be successful,” Weed stresses. Leaders need to also shift with these changes—or run the risk of being left behind.
Key Aspects of Leadership Training
“For our organizations to be successful, we need people who are nimble and adaptable, and who understand how all of the pieces really fit together,” Weed says. In practical terms, this translates into the need for leaders to be confident, surround themselves with the right people, purchase products and services efficiently, improve their organization’s quality and productivity, reduce waste, and prevent medical errors, among a number of other pressing responsibilities.
The flattening of the organizational chart in companies around the world further fuels the need for employees to think about taking a more strategic approach earlier on in their career.
Leadership Skills for Middle Managers
Weed refers to a study published in the journal Procedia—Social and Behavioral Sciences, which looked at how the flourishing economy in Indonesia has driven Indonesian companies to step up their operating strategies in order to be competitive. One of the study’s key findings is that a major component of a company’s success hinges on the role of middle managers to strategically guide the efforts. Further, the study discovered that the most effective managers operate with guidance and support from leadership. Weed points out that these findings can provide real insight for American organizations as well, both in terms of encouraging people to explore how to be more strategic at earlier points in their careers and also on a broader level when it comes to encouraging organizations to position their infrastructure in a way to support their employees on all levels.
David Javitch, who teaches at Harvard Medical School, is an Adjunct Assistant Professor at the Harvard Chan School, and co-directs Chan’s Leadership Strategies program with Weed, agrees with her assessment about the need to provide key opportunities for people of all levels—and particularly for those in the middle management tier—to enable them to keep pace with the changing health care marketplace.
When you get promoted, almost instantly you will be expected to have new skills you didn’t need before.
Keeping Pace with the Changing Marketplace
“Middle managers are often one of the most overlooked group of important employees,” Javitch says. “Researchers and theorists usually say that leaders create the vision and managers put it into action,” he explains. But he points out that this idea is a fallacy. “We believe that when managers start acting more like leaders by helping to define and implement the vision, they develop feelings of ownership and enhanced commitment,” he stresses. He says that “the flattening of the organizational chart in companies around the world further fuels the need for employees to think about taking a more strategic approach earlier on in their careers than ever before.” This premise carries through to health care organizations, as well.
“First- and second-line leaders are being forced out for personal, political, and economic reasons. As a result, many people who used to be responsible for creating strategy and providing foresight are gone, so the next layer of employees are forced to cope with that by picking up some of those responsibilities,” Javitch says.
“This means it’s never too soon to start thinking about your skills,” Weed says. “Whether you’re a nurse, a patient care coordinator, an administrator, or a middle manager, when you get promoted, almost instantly you will be expected to have new skills you didn’t need before.” Therefore, it’s important to be building these skills before you actually have to put them to use, she adds.
Positioning for Success
Further, Weed points out that even people who don’t see their career trajectory taking a leadership path can benefit from thinking more strategically.
“Everyone should think about how to grow and how to position themselves in a better way,” she says. “Because our work in health care is so high stakes since we are talking about people’s lives here, it makes it even more true that we need to be making sure people in all roles have access to leadership training, so they can guide their careers, and their organizations, in the most effective way.”
Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health offers the Leadership Strategies for Evolving Health Care Executives program, which focuses on skill building in the critical areas of leadership and management development, conflict resolution, operational analysis, employee management, and quality management. To learn more about this opportunity, click here.