Healthcare administrators, practice leaders, office managers and other executives tend to develop certain leadership styles. First, there’s the traditional authoritarian approach, where a leader might tells his subordinates, “Do what I say and don’t ask questions.” This style is usually best suited for crises or other situations that require an immediate response. But when applied on a day-to-day basis, the authoritarian approach can drive away knowledgeable and creative employees who see that their ideas and suggestions are not welcome.
In contrast, a democratic leader tries to build consensus around each decision. She might ask her team, “Tell me what you think we should do.” This is a far better approach when facing a challenging issue, because it provides multiple perspectives on a problem. A marketing manager, for instance, will likely make different suggestions for developing a new outpatient program than the organization’s risk manager or CFO. However, the democratic process takes time and can try the leader’s patience.
Of course, there are plenty of variations on these two styles, such as the “open door” leader, who welcomes employee feedback, but ignores those suggestions when making decisions. And there’s the “share the blame” leader who asks others to buy into her actions after she’s already made a decision.
In today’s fast-paced world, there seems to be a shift back toward more traditional decision-making. When there’s a “crisis” every day – whether real or perceived – it’s hard to spare the time for thoughtful decision making. But successful healthcare executives recognize the importance of the democratic approach in facing immediate issues and developing longer term strategies. That’s why an annual retreat or weekly planning sessions can help a leader stay focused on the organization’s mission, goals and objectives. In the end, there’s no right or wrong when it comes to leadership styles. Instead, it’s a matter of knowing your own preferences, but not letting those habits sway you when deciding how best to handle a particular situation.