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Perspectives: Leading Together Through COVID-19

Demonstrating strength and solidarity.

Deborah J. Bowen, FACHE, CAE, president and CEO of the American College of Healthcare Executives, addresses the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic in her recent column in Healthcare Executive Magazine. To see more from the May/June 2020 issue, visit healthcareexecutive.org

Martin Luther King Jr. noted that the ultimate measure of human beings is not where we stand in moments of comfort or convenience, but where we stand at times of challenge and controversy.

Effective leaders are at their best during difficult times, drawing on our experience to respond, rather than react. We acknowledge our uncertainty and still rally our teams to step forward and serve. And we are reminded of how fortunate we are for the expertise, will and optimism that characterizes our field.

The skill set we need in a crisis goes beyond technical knowledge and can be employed regardless of title or setting. All that you are and all that you have learned is harnessed to manage what may, at first look, seem like insurmountable challenges.

How we lead.

Communication has always been the currency of leadership. It is how we build trust and transparency, and keep on track to best serve patients. In a crisis, speed is essential to success. While plans are needed, decisions often need to be made in real time and changed quickly as circumstances evolve. We are learning a great deal, yet, we do not have all the answers. One truth remains: There is no such thing as over-communicating. Transparency, clarity and consistency are key to be heard over the fear, concerns and demands inundating your workforce and communities. 

As many experts note, a crucial part of managing a dynamic challenge is resilience. These are long days, full of stressful decisions and often gloomy outlooks. Considering how to take care of your team is essential. Fostering mental health, including promoting employee assistance programs, activating designated quiet spaces and providing support, need to be prioritized. Equally important is providing hope—that together we will persevere and be stronger for it as individuals, as organizations and as a field.

Innovation will be necessary, and all ideas are welcome. CEOs have shared stories of leveraging new technologies and forming unique partnerships to solve PPE shortages to acquire, for instance, 3D-printed masks that can be sterilized and reused. Ingenuity could be our secret weapon. Even the simple things matter right now—like cutting a viewing panel into ICU doors to reduce exposure for front-line care providers.

Leadership is a team effort.

From clinical to nonclinical, across hospitals, systems and geography, we are a strong community. For our part, ACHE is committed to being your partner in navigating this unprecedented time. You have shared that you need more information to sustain a positive morale among your workforce, to understand how to address capacity challenges, and to lead effectively now and into the new normal.

We’re creating and curating resources, including education, related to your issues in managing COVID-19. We’re unlocking content to help leaders across the field help more patients. And we’re extending deadlines to ensure you will not lose access to your benefits and network of peers while your primary focus is on this pandemic.

We may be practicing social distancing where we can, but the ACHE network brings us together and can offer guidance. We’ve heard many stories of our members helping one another, and of the many contributions from our federal-sector leaders deployed throughout the U.S. Even as ACHE works to share insights and best practices, we encourage you to reach out to each other to seek or offer support.

Finally, I offer my thanks to each of you for the work you and your teams are undertaking to keep our communities safe and healthy. Your optimism and passion to serve reinforces all that differentiates our profession and our field. I know that together, we will get through this and be stronger, more connected and more able to fulfill our vision to advance care for all. We are here for you.

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