In good times and bad: Five keys to great leadership

March 10, 2021
By Donald Armstrong

There are several tried and true leadership behaviors that apply during the good times, as well as the tough times.
It is my belief that leadership is leadership, whether in the sun or in the storm, because as a leader it is difficult to have a different set of behaviors during a crisis and then change behaviors when times are calm. Leadership should be reliable and demands consistency. With that being said, 2020 into 2021 has been a time like the world has never seen, and we are still in the midst of it. So, while leadership behaviors must stay consistent there is some extra care that needs to be applied during unprecedented times, such as these.

Here are the leadership behaviors I believe are most important during time of crisis or when times are calm. I will also point out the extra care needed when in a crisis that helps in navigating these tough times. As important as the behaviors are, I believe that being consistent is just as important, maybe even more important.

Transparency (Honesty)
I like to use the word transparency, as opposed to honesty, because shouldn’t we all start by being honest? Transparency, like honesty, is how we build trust. If your staff/team does not trust you or know what you stand for, it will be very difficult to successfully lead though any situation. I would always let my staff know that I would be as transparent with them as possible, without getting into protected information. It is especially important during tough times to be open and transparent, as the staff may face various uncertainties, and having a leader who is willing to share the details will instill a sense of teamwork. Leaders may also feel unsure and vulnerable at times, and having a staff of professionals to work with and go through this with is a tremendous advantage. A team responds to any issue (including COVID-19) when they feel informed and truly had a say in developing a strategy.

Additionally, it is extremely important to be transparent to senior leadership about how the department is handling any adverse situation. The HTM department is a crucial part of the overall healthcare delivery system and should be a strong voice. That means providing updates and progress reports on how the department is performing.

Direct communication
A large part of being transparent is communicating with the staff about any changes or progress taking place. The best way I have found to accomplish this is by having a daily huddle to keep everyone informed and on the same page. I believe communication works best when it is a two-way stream of dialog, so asking for ideas from the staff on how to solve problems is a great way to engage them while evaluating creative and “outside the box” solutions. Leaders will ultimately have the final say in how the team responds, but getting input from all sides is an impactful way to resolve a problem.

Leaders should be approachable and available to any staff members who may have suggestions or questions about the direction the HTM department is moving in. In some cases, an individual may just need to talk, and it is time well spent to listen. I have always been drawn to leaders that were down to earth and willing to listen to my concerns or questions. I wanted to be that type of leader and really worked to be my authentic self when leading or directing the team during any situation. Being your true self as a leader is tricky but with experience and maturity you find your voice and it is a much more rewarding experience.

Direct communication is of upmost importance when it comes to reporting up to senior leadership. There is absolutely nothing gained by holding back information or skewing the information reported. Being transparent will build trust and respect within your organization as you and your HTM department will be looked upon as a group that can be trusted to do the right thing during time of crisis.

It’s also worth noting that if the HTM department at your facility is not at critical meetings or invited to command centers during adverse times, now is the time to get that invite. Even if you have to find a creative way to get inside the room… It is too important to be left out of those meetings.

Leading by example
As I’ve already said, leadership should be consistent. Nothing is more confusing to the staff than a leader who is invisible or passive when things are going well then runs around like their hair is on fire during a crisis. If your leader was acting completely different during a time of real crisis and did not explain or communicate why the change, how would that make you feel about the tasks at hand? Urgency or timelines may change, but that is much easier to understand if it is communicated in a clear and direct way. We all deal with stress differently, but having a leader whose behavior is consistent makes the tasks at hand more manageable, whereas stress can make achieving goals more difficult.

I believe leading from the front is a very impactful and effective way to lead. While delegating is an essential skill that leaders must possess, it is always appreciated when a leader can work alongside the staff to accomplish specific goals. This is most evident when the department is in crisis mode; having a leader who will roll up their sleeves and get to work is essential to the staff feeling supported. Leading by example also means being able to communicate feelings. Sometimes it is very difficult for a leader to show vulnerability, but possessing that quality is actually a sign of strength because we’re all human and we all need help sometimes. If leaders expect staff be honest with them then they should do the same in return.

Pay attention to the needs of the staff
HTM leaders are responsible for ensuring the safety and accuracy of the medical devices in the Medical Equipment Maintenance Plan (MEMP), and most of them are excellent at that facet of their jobs. Oftentimes, it’s the more human side of the job, taking responsibility for staff members and being attentive to their needs, that can create challenges. During times of adversity, HTM leaders have to be aware of how the staff members are doing and check on them more often than they normally would.

With something like COVID-19, staff members of the HTM department may be scared and/or have family that has been adversely impacted, and leaders must be sensitive in their response to that. This isn’t always easy to do when we’re also trying to juggle very important jobs at the same time. Keep in mind that we are all going through this pandemic together and we all are feeling unsure and scared at times. Kindness, directness and empathy go a long way when leading through these times.

Donald Armstrong
It is an essential part of any leader’s job to make clear and decisive decisions. Easier said than done. Even In the best of times decisions are tough to make, during adverse times it could be much more challenging. This calls for gathering information, working with trusted colleagues and team members, weighing options and making the best decision you can based on what you know. To perseverate on decisions or to change your mind from one day to the next will only make matters worse. It is appropriate to course-change when needed, but those changes are easily acceptable when communicated clearly. Trust your instincts, and your team and you will make the best decision you can.

About the author: Donald Armstrong, CBET, CHTM is a former senior manager and supervisor for HTM who currently works for Renovo Solutions.