15 Leadership Characteristics that Support a Culture of Self-Care

In a recent blog post we shared information on ways health care organizations can strengthen a culture of self-care for staff.   In patient safety we often emphasized the importance of culture and how to improve safety culture.  As the rates and cost of staff stress and burnout seem to be on the rise, expanding the discussion of safety culture to include staff self care is critical.  One key indicator of culture within an organization is how its leaders lead.  The culture and leadership style of an organization are interdependent.  

Organizational development literature is filled with discussion on leadership styles including the benefits and limitations associated with each and how they impact the culture of the organization. In recent years there has been an emerging shift of leadership styles in health care away from hierarchical and transactional to styles of transformational, servant and compassionate leadership.

The need for a different style of leadership in health care likely stems from the simple fact that caring is the nature of what we do. Health care work is not the same as a manufacturing operation. While we can and should learn from process improvements from other industries, we must remember at its core, health care is dealing with individuals in their most vulnerable state, in their “hour of need” every day, in every interaction. It’s personal…about as personal as anything can get. 

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Health care staff, especially those on the front line, is constantly faced with the challenge of completing complex tasks timely, safely and efficiently; following policy and procedures, rules and regulations; AND trying to do all this while being caring to their patients. This balancing act is made even more precarious if the leadership within the organization is not focused on creating a work environment that values staff well-being or sees the value in the caring side of health care.

Recent research and initiatives in leadership are demonstrating that the impact of depersonalizing interactions with staff is not working. Leaders and leadership models devoid of caring are no longer sustainable in health care.

There are several styles of leadership identified in the literature that are rooted in caring, compassion and nurturing. The three most popular include transformational, servant and compassionate leadership. In this post, we will not go into detail about each style, instead have pulled out common threads and specific characteristics of leaders that cultivate a culture wellbeing and caring for staff  (and patients as well).  

As you read through this list you may want to select those you would like to strengthen or learn more to foster that characteristic in your own style of leadership and within your organization.

15 leadership characteristics that support a caring culture and employee well-being include:
  1. Recognizing that being a leader is a decision to serve
  2. Possess skills beyond those required for general management and supervisory that include demonstration of genuine concern for the needs and feelings of their staff (and patients)
  3. Serve as a role model and “walk the talk”. As a transformational, servant or compassionate leader, making self-care for self and others a priority is key.
  4. Inspires and motivates others versus just commanding and directing
  5. Encourages and welcomes innovation and creativity, especially in “problem” solving. Finds resources and removes obstacles for innovative and new ways of working.
  6. Acknowledges and considers the high stakes and nature of the work of caregiving in the face of illness and dying on a daily basis
  7. Empathize and connect on an emotional level with others which creates greater engagement
  8. Takes time to understand the joys and challenges of the work staff is doing
  9. Recognizes staff well being is synonymous with patient well being and therefore supports and develops programs for staff well being
  10. The importance and value of time and space for staff to provide caring and compassion to patients is honored.
  11. Fosters real dialog between leaders, staff and patients in order to create an environment of caring and compassion for all
  12. Recognizes staff needs for renewal and re-charge in order to sustain their work. This is considered in scheduling, staffing levels and workloads, break times, leave time, and even creating space within a shift for renewal if needed.
  13. Empowers unit level multidisciplinary teams to make many daily decisions; serving as a coach instead of decision maker when appropriate
  14. Recognize and consider the hidden pain that is happening within health care organizations. This is the pain of dealing with human suffering on a daily basis. It frequently goes unspoken or just considered part of the job. We now know this hidden pain must be addressed. Creating opportunities for staff to have dialog, sharing and reflection of these experiences helps them not feel alone and offers opportunity to identify ways to offer support.
  15. Realize that it all is personal! Recognizing the human impact of all decisions

The goal of the information shared is to spark your interest in reflecting on your own leadership style and identify how you might support your self and your staff (and therefore your patients) by creating a culture of self care.  There are many resources available to dive deeper into these leadership frameworks and you are encouraged to research more about them.

CPS has created an easy way to begin to be a leader who “walks the talk” of  Self-Care by exploring the video resources CPS has developed. If your organization is interested in learning more about how you can support your staff in making self-care a priority, please contact info@centerforpatientsafety.org or visit our MemberClicks site to access a CPS annual subscription that includes access to the Self-Care Session videos.

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