Medicine for Better Health Care: Transformative Leadership

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How will Canada’s health-care system meet the challenges of improving health outcomes and providing more efficient service delivery? Not by merely throwing money at problems.

Going forward, the health-care sector will need effective leadership suited to these turbulent, unpredictable times. A unifying vision and equitable plan for implementing change is needed to repair a fractured system.

What does effective, transformative leadership look like? Purpose, vision and goals must be articulated by those at the top. At the same time, government officials and senior leaders also must recognize that it is at the local level that these ideals become reality. Context is everything: different regions and communities need to be granted a level of autonomy in order to meet defined goals.

The health-care system is made up of many different entities: professional associations, networks, regions, institutes, councils, etc. Collaboration, communication and relationship building between factions will improve the quality and delivery of health care. But top leaders need to model the behaviours they espouse. Transparency, engagement and empathy must be demonstrated by the top people. If it is not, workers and stakeholders at all levels lose confidence in the change process.

Diversity of perspectives is one of the most important values in an organization implementing change. Everyone needs to know they have a say – physicians, care providers, front line workers, clinicians, as well as middle and senior managers. When governing bodies include representatives from all groups to participate in decision making it lets them know that the work they do contributes to the overall goals.

The health-care sector must respond to changes in technology and society without losing sight of organizational values. In a complex, unpredictable environment a strong set of guiding principles will preserve the integrity of health-care delivery. Values such as empathy and commitment to customer service must remain at the forefront.

It is a fact that change efforts in any organization will meet resistance and systematic barriers at every level. Leaders can identify and empower those who are on board with transformation and find elements of the system that are receptive to change initiatives. Working environments of mutual support and learning, along with clear lines of accountability, will create a culture where innovation and continuous improvement are possible.

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The topic of this article is covered in the curriculum for the SEEC course Masters Certificate in Healthcare Management (starting March 8, 2019). The program is designed for health-sector leaders to perform in a complex, ever-changing system, deliver better care and lead others more effectively.

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