A Guide to Leadership Styles in Healthcare

sponsored


Many aspiring healthcare leaders attend a master of healthcare administration (MHA) program to learn how to effectively run a healthcare organization. In doing so, they gain a strong foundational understanding of accounting, finance, marketing, and operations. But just as critical to the successful management of a healthcare organization is an administrator’s leadership style.

Leadership is distinct from management. Management is related to the strategic division of resources and application of talent, while leadership is more ineffable. You don’t need to be the leader of a healthcare organization in order to have a leadership style: one’s leadership style is an ethos that has applications in team-based roles at every level. Leadership embodies both science and creativity, and it bears the majority of the responsibility for a healthcare organization’s success or failure.

There are as many different styles of leadership as there are different leaders: Khan, King, and Gandhi would all define leadership a little differently. However, some general archetypes of leadership do exist, and in healthcare, those archetypes can be as important to know as the proper methods of marketing and accounting.

The three major archetypes of leadership are authoritative leadership, democratic leadership, and laissez-faire leadership. As the labels imply they are, respectively, defined by top-down, collaborative, and hands-off leadership. Others may define the same leadership archetypes across different axes, such as innovative leadership, distributed leadership, and delegated leadership.

But today’s healthcare leaders rarely adhere to a single archetypal leadership style. Healthcare is beset by a number of different crises: the shift to value-based care, the rise of digital medicine, the protection of patient data, the threat of pandemics, the persistence of health disparities, and the constant struggle to improve patient outcomes while meeting an institutional bottom line.

The best leaders will switch between leadership styles as the circumstances demand, combining the best parts of different leadership archetypes into novel forms that match well with the tasks ahead.

To learn more about the four most powerful leadership styles in healthcare today and their strengths and weaknesses, read on.

Charismatic Leadership

Charismatic leadership has no structure beyond personal influence. Related to authoritative leadership, charismatic leadership relies on confidence, personality, and charm to draw together and motivate different groups.

Charismatic leaders can be particularly effective when paired with a strong vision, and operate best where clear organizational structures are lacking. This style is adept at motivating others. However, it may struggle when faced with technical problems and regulatory constraints.

According to a 2012 article in Sociology of Health & Illness, a group of health practitioners in the UK used charismatic authority to establish themselves as specialists in diabetic foot care and open a specialized diabetes foot care practice, which resulted in a 50 percent reduction in major amputations in their patient group.

Servant Leadership

In servant leadership, a leader puts the needs of others ahead of their own. Related to laissez-faire leadership, the servant leader is focused on the service of others and imbues a similar sense in those around them.

Servant leadership works best in healthcare organizations with strong teams who are focused on improving the value of patient care. This style is best for empowering others. However, it may struggle when faced with disorganized staffing and complex technical challenges.

When the term was first used by Robert Greenleaf in 1970, it was not with full-throated optimism: Greenleaf believed servant leadership was used by the very best leaders, but unlikely to catch on as a trend.

But servant leadership still has many champions today, including the Mayo Clinic, which also believes that when people feel a sense of autonomy over their environment, they are more motivated to change and grow. That’s not only a benefit to Mayo Clinic staff, but also to the patients they serve.

Transactional Leadership

Transactional leadership is a process-oriented leadership style based on the principle of social exchange: good performance is rewarded, and poor performance is sanctioned.

Related to democratic leadership, it prioritizes technical competence and order to achieve clear organizational goals. Transactional leaders are particularly effective when facing technical and measurable challenges, such as those related to budget or regulatory compliance. This style is ideal for meeting key performance indicators, but it can struggle when faced with the need for innovation or thinking outside the box.

Transactional leadership has fallen out of favor in recent years, but perhaps unfairly. A 2020 article in Nursing Standard found that transactional leadership was still useful in achieving short-term goals and completing clear tasks, but should be combined with other leadership styles to maximize its effectiveness in healthcare settings.

Transformational Leadership

Transformational leadership is based on instilling an organization with a strong shared vision. Combining key aspects of both democratic and charismatic leadership, it utilizes influence, motivation, and collaboration to bring about a radical organizational change.

Transformational leadership works best in organizations either facing or anticipating facing major existential crises. It is adept at harnessing innovation and embracing change. However, it may struggle when deployed in less urgent settings when pushing for radical changes causes more harm than good.

Since the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, transformational leadership has been perhaps the most in-vogue leadership style in healthcare. But this is an industry where there’s always another crisis either at the door or on the horizon, and transformational leadership has always been of use: a 2004 report published by the Institute of Medicine called transformational leadership an essential precursor to effecting change in healthcare organizations.

Matt Zbrog
Matt Zbrog
Writer

Matt Zbrog is a writer and freelancer who has been living abroad since 2016. His nonfiction has been published by Euromaidan Press, Cirrus Gallery, and Our Thursday. Both his writing and his experience abroad are shaped by seeking out alternative lifestyles and counterculture movements, especially in developing nations. You can follow his travels through Eastern Europe and Central Asia on Instagram at @weirdviewmirror. He’s recently finished his second novel, and is in no hurry to publish it.

Related Posts

  • 1 September 2022

    Best Small and Midsize Companies for Healthcare Administrators

    Healthcare administrators remain some of the most sought-after professionals in the country. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the need for medical and health services managers is expected to grow 32 percent between 2020 and 2030, a rate that’s four times the national average for all professions.

  • 29 June 2022

    Moving into Healthcare Leadership Roles After Obtaining Your Advanced Degree

    Holding an advanced degree is increasingly considered a requirement for upward movement through the leadership ranks in healthcare. As the consolidation of healthcare systems and the complex recovery from the pandemic continues to play out, the knowledge and skills gained from studying for an advanced degree are more critical than ever to navigate this complex environment.

  • 7 June 2022

    The Post-Pandemic Healthcare Sector

    During the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, many healthcare workers were furloughed and many voluntarily left their posts permanently due to concerns of potential viral exposure. This contributed to the overall jump in unemployment claims from all industries. What is often overlooked, however, is that within the healthcare sector itself, this impact on the labor market was not evenly distributed among all types of roles.

  • 9 February 2022

    Joining the C-Suite: Top-Paying Positions for Healthcare Executives in 2022

    The highest-paid people in the healthcare industry are not necessarily doctors. In many settings, they are healthcare executives. According to the New York Times, executive salaries in healthcare saw a considerable increase in the 1990s, and the trend has since continued.

  • 6 December 2021

    Five Emerging Careers in Healthcare Administration (2022)

    Healthcare administration is one of the fastest growing careers in the US. But in an increasingly complex and fragmented landscape, healthcare administration is becoming more of an umbrella term than a specific career.