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'It's not complicated, but it's really hard': 3 ways to promote a culture of respect

By Ryan Furr-JohnsonTaylor HurstMatt Cornner

March 17, 2021

    Medscape's 2021 physician burnout data shows that over a third of physicians cited "lack of respect from administrators, employers, and colleagues" as a top burnout driver—and 39% cited that greater respect from their colleagues would help most to reduce burnout.

    How to check-in with a colleague about their well-being

    Feelings of disrespect can stem from anything from a passing comment from a colleague to being excluded from an organizational initiative. However, one of the most frequently overlooked drivers of disrespect is feeling that our organization does not value our perspective. With the one-year mark of the Covid-19 outbreak and the start of a new year of deep disruption, this is a critical moment for leaders to pause and acknowledge the many losses and contributions during this unprecedented time—and invest in building an environment where everyone feels heard.

    Advisory Board has worked with countless organizations in recent years to solve complex strategic, operational, and cultural challenges. Based on that work, we have identified three ways leaders can promote a culture of respect.

    3 ways leaders can promote a culture of respect

    1. "Here's our goal—and why I need your help to achieve it": Leadership starts with purpose

    Part of feeling valued is seeing the critical role you play in advancing organizational purpose—and leaders have a powerful voice in defining that purpose for their team. When people can connect their efforts to a higher purpose they believe in, they are exponentially more engaged. In addition, a shared purpose is the most powerful tool for organizational adaptability. When leaders and team members are wed to a specific process or plan rather than to a purpose, they are unable to shift when the world around them shifts. Being an emotionally intelligent leader requires fierce orientation to that purpose. It positions you to decide rather than react. You'll find that you may not always make the right or most popular decision, but you'll make the decision the right way. And physicians will respect you for it.

    Put it in practice: Consider starting all your standing meetings by reiterating your team's purpose—or better yet, inviting team members to restate purpose—and look out for ways to recognize individuals whose actions help push that vision forward.

    2. "I know this is hard": The importance of accounting for loss

    This year has demanded a lot of physicians: grueling hours, rapidly changing roles, and putting their loved ones at risk. One of the most important steps leaders can take is acknowledging the losses of the last year—and recognizing the challenges that lie in the uncertainty ahead. Approach change through the lens of empathy, being mindful of its pace and intensity as well as who has absorbed the most of it.

    One of the simplest, yet most powerful phrases in leadership is, "I know this is hard." Why? Because it recognizes the challenge teams and team members are going through. Rather than focusing only on the positives or minimizing the negative impact of a change, proactively acknowledging the stress and difficulty of change is a powerful way to build respect. There are plenty of opportunities to account for loss in team meetings and in one-on-one conversations by taking a moment to identify and acknowledge what a change will mean for your team—even if it's something you can't fix.

    Put it in practice: With respect to every change you are leading, ask yourself what the positive and negative impacts may be on physicians' day-to-day. When you prepare to communicate it, acknowledge the tradeoffs up front.

    3. "How are you doing, really?": Listen without judgement or problem-solving

    While no leader sets out to ignore their team, it's easy to make them feel that way if they don't feel heard. Active listening requires going beyond the "what" to uncover the "why."

    Active listening isn't complicated, but it can be hard. It requires total presence – an attention to the person in front of you that leaves them feeling totally seen, heard and understood. To be present, listen closely when someone approaches you with a concern. Listen not just to what they are saying, but the meaning and emotion behind it. Ask probing questions to deepen your understanding such as: "can you tell me more about what you mean?" Rather than trying to solve their problem or redirect them, reflect back what they say throughout your conversation. The goal is to understand a stakeholder's emotional concerns (as well as the technical ones) and to ensure they feel heard.

    Put it in practice: Next time someone approaches you with feedback, notice if you start to problem solve before they finish speaking—or make assumptions about their objective. Then take a step back and ask a clarifying question to better understand their concern.

    "Respect" can feel amorphous and challenging to inflect, but leaders have a real opportunity to help promote a culture of respect by modeling it through their day to day interactions with their team. Take the time to continually orient around your shared purpose, acknowledge loss, and truly listen. Approach these conversations with empathy and honesty and you'll be surprised by the results. 

    How to check-in with a colleague about their well-being

    Get the 15-minute physician leadership essentials

    One of the most important steps leaders can take is to proactively identify and check in with team members who may need additional support. Watch the webinar recording and download the slide deck to learn:

    • How to know when a member of your team would benefit from a check-in
    • How to prepare talking points and identify relevant support services before your check-in
    • How to facilitate a productive conversation—and prepare for a variety of responses
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