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Will Smart Leadership Be Enough in Healthcare?

by Diane L. Dixon, EdD

May 30, 2013

Smart Leadership

Healthcare leaders today have to be smart to deal with all of the challenges they are facing.   It is fortunate that there are so many smart leaders in the field.  With the ever growing demands, sharp thinking and intellect on many levels are required.  The confluence of complex and complicated issues impacting health care delivery is compounded by continuous change that at times borders on chaotic upheaval.  So this raises an important question—Will smart leadership be enough to address all of this along with the emergent challenges of now and the future?  So far, smart healthcare leaders have not been able to solve some of the most vexing “wicked problems”.  According to Keith Grint in Leadership (2010), wicked problems are complex and intractable that cannot be solved decisively by simple linear means because there is no clear relationship between cause and effect.  There are multiple interrelated causes and effects which call for a different way of thinking and leading beyond being just smart.

From Smart to Wise

In their recently released book, From Smart to Wise, Prasad Kaipa and Navi Radjou share a new perspective on leadership smartness and the need for wise leaders in increasingly complex organization contexts.  These authors talk about the pitfalls of smart leadership which they categorize broadly as two types, functional and business.  Functional smart leaders tend to do very well in one field or function and become technical experts in what they know and like best such as medical technology, clinical research, or a medical specialty.  They can fix short-term problems and get things done.  The authors suggest that these leaders are operating in the ‘blue zone’. On the other hand, business smart leaders are more prone to be big picture entrepreneurial thinkers that can articulate a long-term vision, see emerging trends, and quickly capitalize on innovative ideas.  These leaders are operating primarily in the ‘red zone’.  There is no doubt that both types of smart can produce results, but when leaders are driven by either blue or red zone thinking and actions, they risk becoming blind to seeing the whole picture and interrelationships.  When this happens functional or business smart leaders get locked into singular mindsets that can cause them to deal with complex issues from a narrow perspective. 

In healthcare there are numerous complex problems on many levels making it imperative for leaders to continuously see how the interrelationships and inter-dependencies affect the whole system.  For this reason smart leadership alone is not enough and wise leadership is more essential than ever.

Wise Leadership

 The book defines wise leadership as, “leveraging smartness for the greater good by balancing action with reflection and introspection” rather than just relying on skills and strengths in service to goals that may or not be best for the whole organization or system.  According to Kaipa and Nadjou, wisdom is rooted in ethical behavior, shared values, and the higher purpose.  It is wisdom that provides the centeredness and ground which enables leaders to make wise choices about how to use their smartness to make the best decisions for the whole keeping the noble purpose in mind.  Wise leaders are better able to see the big picture and understand the network of interrelationships that are the essence of complex problems.  This capability and capacity gives healthcare leaders a better chance to adapt and manage the multiple issues they are facing.   As you reflect on the meaning of wise leadership, here’s a question for you to ponder —- Are you a wise leader?   You can assess your wise leadership by going to:  www.fromsmarttowise.com.

Becoming a Wise Leader

How do you tap into your wisdom and leverage your smartness at the same time? Kaipa and Radjou would suggest that you do not have to give up your smartness but rather gain a broader perspective that would enable you to discern which type of smart leadership to use in service to the higher purpose of healthcare in an ethical and suitable manner.  In their book they offer six interconnected practices to help you develop wise leadership:

·         Shift your perspective: Are you connected to your noble purpose?

·         Be aware of your action orientation: Are you acting authentically and appropriately?

·         Gain role clarity: Can you lead from any position?

·         Clarify your decision logic: Do you decide with discernment?

·         Develop flexible fortitude: Do you know when to hold and when to fold?

·         Discover drivers of your motivation: Do you act with enlightened self-interest?

Each chapter provides a practical guide for reflection and exploration of these questions and more.  What is here just skims the surface of the useful lessons offered in this book.

Leading with More Wisdom in Healthcare

I believe that leading with more wisdom in healthcare has potential benefits for all of us since everyone in our society is impacted by accessible quality, cost-effective care delivery systems.   The higher purpose of healthcare has a better opportunity to be achieved by individual and collective wise leaders that work together for the greater good.