Leadership Soft Skills for a Successful Vision Care Practice
By Keli O'Connor, COMT, ABOC November 11, 2020
Leadership, especially in healthcare, is not for the faint of heart. It requires a multitude of different skills and attributes, many of which are not formally taught in any textbook or continuing education class. These soft skills -- work ethic, communication, and critical thinking, to name a few -- are what differentiate "good" bosses from the "bad" in the eyes of subordinates and superiors alike. Possessing these attributes can help strengthen leadership abilities as a whole.
When we reflect on our careers, we all can pinpoint a time when we thought of a leader as either exceptional or poor. We perceived them as such, not solely based on how we felt about them, but often because of the tasks they assigned us or the rules they were made to enforce by the organization. How we as managers go about accomplishing our goals not only affects how others feel about us in our official roles, but also the results of the various jobs we complete throughout the day.
While employees may feel that managers only fit into good and bad categories, leadership styles fall on a spectrum. Knowing that staff members are inclined to lump management into these two groups, managers can make efforts to be as fair and hardworking as possible to inspire their employees to work their best. When managers are disliked for how they lead, staff are more likely to produce subpar work.
Communication and Tone
Good communication plays a critical role in leadership. Communication is a core function of leaders, and good communication skills play an integral role in effective leading. It is also important to remember that communicating is equal parts speaking and listening; hearing and digesting what others are trying to tell you. These aspects of communication are just as important, if not more important, than speaking and delegating.
When we frame messages in a positive light, what we say is often received better. No one likes to be talked down to or scolded; so when an employee is told they messed up, they may be dismissive. If they are respectfully told that there is an issue and given reasons to back the problem, the message is clearer. Instead of saying, “You need to work when you clock in,” explain “If you are in the back after the office opens, patients may be left out front waiting.”
Tone is also an important aspect of communication. Keep in mind that, while no one wants a drill sergeant of a boss, no one wants the passive aggressive one, either.
Problem-Solving and Critical Thinking
Another soft skill that is crucial for leaders to possess is problem-solving. Good leaders can think quickly and resolve unexpected issues as they arise. In patient care, this happens often and typically at the worst possible time. Being able to think swiftly and fix problems as they come is key to preventing major hiccups in the patient schedule.
Additionally, many decisions that need to be made urgently involve the patients themselves; our job as healthcare leaders is to make sure our choices produce the best possible care for the people we aim to treat. Indecisiveness will not do – when faced with tough problems, leaders need to be confident in their solutions and take responsibility if the right call was not made.
Work Ethic and Motivation
A strong work ethic is one of the most vital driving forces a person can have in their career. Having an ambitious drive to accomplish goals and genuinely caring about the effort that one put in can take employees from the bottom and raise them to top management in time.
Management cannot expect their employees to do all of the hard work for none of the benefits; the people working toward the goal need to have a reason to do so. They need to be motivated. If the staff is uninspired, then the quality of work is sure to decline; when led by example, employees are more likely to strive to do better as well.
When leaders remember that we are all human, and we are all working together to create the best environment possible for our patients, we can better create a workplace that people are proud to work for.
Management builds the structure of a business and, at the same time, business structure dictates how the leaders should uphold their responsibilities. Good communication skills, critical thinking, and the ability to problem-solve are essential pieces in a leader's toolkit. The sum of all of these things equates to a responsible healthcare professional who can lead others in the field.
Even with technology rapidly changing medicine and how it is practiced, these soft skills will never go out of style. Self-starting, problem-solving, interpersonal, and communication skills are necessary for anyone to rise to the task of leading others. Unfortunately, these attributes are difficult to teach. Fortunately, they can be learned. Not everyone possesses these necessary skill sets, and not everyone is comfortable in a leadership position. Some may not want to lead, but that is okay. They can still learn leadership skills to elevate their work performance by example. Good leaders will see these qualities in others and nurture them to grow into the next generation of eye care leaders.
Managing an eye care practice may not be easy, and leaders take on a selfless role to get the job done. Managers who try too hard to be liked by their subordinates often suffer with completing in-office tasks and those who will push hard to meet their goals are often perceived as mean. Striking the perfect balance between being authoritative and empathetic can be a difficult task, but it is possible. Ultimately, we do all that we do for the benefit of the patient; striving to be a better leader in healthcare is as much for the benefit of the patient as it is for our staff and ourselves.