The leadership dearth across all sectors, especially in healthcare, is destined to become acute in the very near future. Managing consultant Nanette Miner, writing for Forbes in 2019, cited projections by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) showing that over four in 10 American workers will be over the age of 55 by 2024, and that 33 percent of them will be over 65. By 2029, every Boomer will be out of the workforce entirely, according to the BLS.
Note that Miner wrote that before the pandemic began and that the healthcare crisis only highlighted the need for leadership that is adaptable, flexible, agile, resourceful and (of course) tech-savvy. Even as COVID-19 has dissipated (but not disappeared), experts predict there will be other pandemics, other crises (e.g., monkeypox). Will the next generation of healthcare leaders be prepared to show the way through such dire times? Will those leaders be able to meet the needs of the aging population?
Moreover, can healthcare organizations prepare younger generations to fill the breach created by the departure of older, more experienced leaders? While healthcare is expected to be the country’s largest employer by 2024, there is also expected to be shortage of physicians and nurses in the years ahead.
The smart move would be for organizations to develop leaders from within, but a September 2021 paper by healthcare leader Marcella M. Pyke indicates that “the level of leadership knowledge and skills is not consistent among healthcare practices or institutions,” and notes that while certain academic achievements were once judged sufficient for someone to move to the top of the org chart, that is no longer the case. Rather, training programs have been judged vital to prepare candidates for any challenges they might encounter.
Generally speaking, the idea is to develop transformational leaders, which the National Institute of Health has defined as those “who raise one another to higher levels of motivation, making changes and shaping the future,” as opposed to transactional leaders, who tend to color within the lines, or servant leaders, who focus on helping others. Transformational leaders are the ones who will be able to function in a pressurized, reactive environment where, as we have seen during the pandemic, resources might be limited and leaders might as a result be forced to improvise and adapt.
More specifically, leaders must now be emotionally intelligent and able to foster relationships. They must have strong communication skills and, again, be well-versed in technology. A two-year program at the Lehigh Valley Health Network in Pennsylvania deals in many of those topics, and identifies the steps organizations must take to “define a culture of leadership.”
Sanford Health in Sioux Falls, S.D., has developed a similar program, called “Sanford Rises.” Dr. Luis Garcia, president of Sanford Health’s Clinic Division, and Dr. Heather Spies, physician director of Clinician Experience and Wellbeing, said for the American Medical Association’s Moving Medicine video series that it involves 25 candidates being nominated by their peers. The idea at that point is to develop them into leaders who are not only mentors and coaches, but also friends and colleagues.
“A lot of people think, is this the right time to have an expense on this type of stuff?” Garcia told AMA. “And first of all, we don’t see it as an expense. We see it as an investment. If you are not ready to invest in your own people, you’re not ready to invest in anything.”
But more than that, it is an investment in the future – a future that promises to be as challenging as it is uncertain. There is no time like the present to prepare leaders to face that, so that organizations might continue to thrive.