Leading in a continuous improvement environment is very different from the way many healthcare leaders have been taught. It isn’t about having all the answers and fixing every problem. It’s about enabling others to solve problems and helping people connect their work to the work of the system.
It can be challenging for leaders to make this transition and change their own behaviors so they can effectively support the culture transformation. In the book Becoming the Change, by John Toussaint, MD, and Kim Barnas, they introduce a way for leaders to assess their leadership so they can intentionally change specific behaviors.
Below are some fundamental characteristics for leading in a continuous improvement environment:
Willingness to Change
First a leader must be willing to change their own behaviors so they can model the way for others in the organization. Leaders must be willing to shift and adapt based on what they learn and demonstrate this through their behaviors. One way to do this is to ensure you have dedicated time for reflection on a regular basis. Some questions you should ask yourself are, “What did I do that unleashed the creativity of my team?” and “What did I do that shut my team down?”
It takes humility to lead in a continuous improvement environment. Leaders need to understand their limits and acknowledge what they do not know. Going to gemba to observe, learn, and help people think differently is a great way to demonstrate humility.
Curiosity is an invaluable trait for anyone leading in a continuous improvement environment. The desire to learn, understand and improve sets the tone for how you want others to act. Leaders can demonstrate curiosity by asking open-ended questions, empathetically listening, and using A3 thinking rather than jumping to conclusions.
Leading in a continuous improvement environment takes perseverance. While changing the way you think about leadership and your personal behaviors is challenging, it is important to stay committed. These are big changes and will not happen overnight. In fact, a leader is never done working on their personal leadership behaviors. It might be helpful to find a coach or buddy to help you stay the course.
Finally, self-discipline is an essential trait for leading in a continuous improvement environment. Leaders need self-discipline to continue to grow and develop their own leadership behaviors. Self-discipline is often the area where leaders have the most trouble. Developing leader standard work can help you remain disciplined as you work on your leader behaviors. Leader standard work should include activities that add value; like going to gemba and coaching team members.
Remember, leading in a continuous improvement environment is about developing and supporting others to solve problems and making the connection clear between their work and the work of the system. Leading in a new way takes willingness to change, humility, curiosity, perseverance, and self-discipline. Executives determine the organization’s culture through their behaviors. If you want to change the culture of your organization, you must first start by changing yourself.
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Becoming the Change by John Toussaint, MD, and Kim Barnas