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Want to boost staff resilience? Make yourself vulnerable.

By Vidal Seegobin

May 27, 2021

    Whether their capacity strained to manage Covid volume or they stayed in a readiness position to brace for the worst, the last 15 months have been exhausting for health care professionals.

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    The last 15 months have been exhausting for health care professionals, whether they've been strained to capacity to manage an influx of Covid-19 patients or forced to maintain constant state or readiness. In fact, a recent Brexi survey showed that 48% of health care professionals have considered retiring, quitting or changing careers—and an even larger proportion of staff have reported burn-out.

    And all of this is happening amid the backdrop of hard truths about societal inequalities that manifest in health care. From the United Kingdom, to Canada, to the United States, health care leaders are starting the challenging work of not only improving outcomes for the most vulnerable populations but also ensuring their leadership teams represent those communities largely excluded from the boardroom.

    How can you boost resilience and support minority leaders?

    The good news is that there is one approach that CEOs can take to both bolster leadership resilience and welcome and support colleagues from minority backgrounds. It involves CEOs showing more vulnerability.

    My colleagues Sydney Moondra and Alex Polyak recently presented our insights and best practices on fostering adaptive and resilient leaders. They discussed the tactics to roll out emotional support resources, elevate emotional intelligence as a skill, and block time to reflect and compose.

    But simply putting those practices in place is rarely enough. Leaders and colleagues from minority backgrounds are less likely to take advantage of these resources or strategies because they're seen as indicative of individual shortcomings instead of critical resources to help them perform well at their job—and those concerns make complete sense.

    Think about which behaviors we commonly associate with great leaders and managers: decisive, confident, and "calm under pressure".

    For colleagues from minority groups, all of the above holds true—plus they may feel additional pressure to be the representatives for their entire communities and therefore disinclined to draw perceived negative attention to their performance.

    The way to start to change those deeply held perceptions and normalize vulnerability comes from the top. CEOs need to model vulnerability to their teams, a process that involves being open and honest about when they need help, struggles they are currently facing, and instances where they didn't succeed.

    'Maybe I can do it too'

    The one case study that sticks in my head comes from Inuit's former CEO, Brad Smith. While in seat, Smith shared a wide range of information with the organization including his performance management rating from the board, his personality analysis, and breakdowns of how he spends his time.

    What caught my eye, however, was that Smith publicly shared a $40 million mistake he made with the following intention: "I hope people look at me and say, 'Wow. If he can do it and he's that flawed, maybe I can do it too'". Smith continued to have a 96% approval rating from the organization across his tenure.

    While there is real strength in vulnerability, it's not easy to practice for leaders or minority colleagues. For many of us, it runs counter to the self-presentation honed over an entire career. But at this moment, when the people who make health care succeed are under so much strain, executives need to model the behaviors that are critical for staff within the industry to see. This way, we can all pull through the crisis and create a culture where colleagues at all levels are ok to seek out help when they need it.

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    surveyHealth care organizations worldwide are currently navigating how to boost workforce recovery and pivot to meet new operational needs. Health care leaders will play a vital role in this shift, provided they themselves are equipped for personal recovery and with the skills needed to operate in an uncertain health care landscape.

    Our Health Care Leader Well-being Survey will inform our research agenda so that we can provide you with the resources you need to support yourself and your fellow leaders during these uncertain times—and it only takes 3-5 minutes to fill out! We appreciate your time and insights.

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