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Five Strategies to Thrive in Difficult Times

Damian McKinney, for HealthLeaders Media, August 28, 2009

Healthcare leaders have long felt that they are on the front lines: Fighting disease, budget cuts, insurance, and reimbursement procedures. Now these organizations are feeling the added pain of a global economic meltdown that is threatening their very existence. Generally required to keep more cash on hand than other businesses, healthcare organizations are suffering from an inability to access capital and remain solvent. The economic downturn has forced hospitals and health system executives to make difficult decisions in recent months.

In order for healthcare organizations to emerge with their reputations and operations intact, they will need to be inspired in the way they lead their organizations now, and in the months ahead.

Last fall, Warren Buffett said the nation had been hit by an "economic Pearl Harbor." In these circumstances, employees and colleagues are looking for genuine leadership; leaders that can reach beyond the routine of managing, and focus on the morale, productivity, loyalty, and survival of their organizations. The military has lived with these responsibilities for a long time. In the army, there are key leadership rules in a battle, and they are relevant for directors wondering how to lead their shell-shocked and cynical troops.

The healthcare leaders that are successfully battling through the downturn—and surviving—are those using the same principles that have been tried and tested during times of both war and peace.

Everyone is afraid in a battle, the leader included. It is natural to feel this way in a high-pressure environment, but the leader must not reveal his or her fear to their teams. They must conceal their fears to avoid amplifying hysteria. Forget all the talk about showing your weaknesses and vulnerability. No matter how bad you feel, don't show it!

Do not let your troops lie down in a firefight or they may not be able to get up.  Instead, you need to maintain momentum and purpose by forging ahead rather than risking inertia through a "wait and see" attitude. Keep their energy and enthusiasm focused on the future and preparing for better times. Unfortunately, it appears that too many organizations have already allowed paralysis to happen. We see paralysis in leaders in every industry and healthcare is no exception. If we are to come out of this war, we will need innovation, ideas and direction

Forget all this talk of "human capital." If you treat your people as dispensable units, then they will behave like them—costing you more and achieving less in the process. It is a military leader's responsibility to bring his troops back alive. Similarly, healthcare leaders have an obligation to their teams to help prepare and protect them. In turn that leader will inspire confidence, loyalty, and hard work.

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