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During a Crisis

A Conversation with Dr. David B. Nash, Founding Dean Emeritus of the Jefferson College of Population Health

I recently had the privilege of speaking with Dr. David Nash about leadership during a crisis. As we all know, the coronavirus is causing unprecedented health, social, and economic issues on a global scale.  Unfortunately, the healthcare industry is facing unprecedented and simultaneous challenges, on both clinical and financial fronts, as a result of the COVID-19 virus.

Below are some thoughts from Dr. Nash regarding effective leadership through this crisis and what we should all be thinking about when we come “out of the tunnel.”

You Can’t Overcommunicate

Teams look to their leaders for information, inspiration and guidance during times of trouble. It is not possible for a great leader to overcommunicate. Crisis communication needs to be timely, frequent, credible, straightforward, and honest. These critical skills must be honed over time and possibly with the help of a coach; you don’t just wake up one day and decide you’re going to be a great communicator. Instead, leaders need to be constantly making deposits into their communication bank. Now is the time to spend those deposits, but if you aren’t adding to this “account” in the good times, you will have nothing to spend during a crisis. In other words, if your account is low, you will not have the credibility necessary to lead an organization.

Filter The Noise

Great leaders know how to discern urgent matters from everyday business concerns. This is key in times of crisis, given both the high level of unsolicited noise and the pace of activity. Leaders need to decide who can be helpful, both externally and within their organizations, and where to focus their efforts. This will allow them to delegate appropriately and ensure urgent issues are handed off to the right teams.

Protect Our Frontline

Our healthcare colleagues are on the frontline – at the “tip of the spear” in this fight. Above all else, protecting them must be the key strategy for a leader. Given that we are currently at war with this virus, it makes sense to use a military analogy at the squad level. Troops will do almost anything necessary for each other as a result of their bond, regardless of any broader personal or political differences. Healthcare workers at all levels are putting their lives on the line every day. In response, leaders must do all they can to support their workforce, show empathy, and publicly recognize the dedication and sacrifice of these workers in the service of others.

Looking Beyond

Hoping (praying) that we will soon get past this crisis, leaders will need to take this experience as an opportunity to redefine the healthcare industry moving forward. Leaders should be asking, “What is the business of healthcare?” Healthcare leaders will likely be the core and essential voice of the entire economic recovery. The healthcare industry will spur innovation in areas such as telemedicine, medical devices, biotechnology, pharmaceuticals and academic research. Leaders will be open to considering new models of care incorporating quality, patient safety and population health. This crisis will give us the ability to come together and believe we can make the impossible…possible!

As we all come to grips with this “new normal,” great leadership is critical to our ability to withstand and move beyond this crisis. Dr. Nash certainly understands the challenge ahead and has touched on some of the most important factors for our healthcare leaders to consider. “Looking ahead,” Dr. Nash comments, “this crisis will unfortunately be a great platform for much needed change in healthcare.”