Great leaders inspire teams, boost productivity, and help their organization achieve its goals. In the field of healthcare, strong leadership is essential—decisions made at the top can profoundly impact entire populations.
“In healthcare and public health you need individuals who can both help to raise the awareness of certain concepts and champion innovative ideas while inspiring others to be a part of the work,” says Neil Maniar, PhD, professor of the practice, and director of Northeastern University’s Master of Public Health program.
Professionals with strong leadership qualities are in high-demand today. According to one report, 84 percent of organizations predict they will experience a shortage of skilled leaders in the next five years.
Because demand is high, Maniar notes that now is a great time for aspiring public health leaders to hone their skills. Below we explore the top leadership qualities for healthcare professionals and offer tips for sharpening these skill sets today.
5 Effective Healthcare Leadership Traits
1. They mentor others.
Maniar identifies that mentorship—a relationship in which someone more experienced or knowledgeable helps to guide someone less experienced or knowledgeable—is particularly important in the healthcare field. This is because many leaders are training the next generation of public health leadership.
Mentorship might be formal, as in a company-sponsored initiative that leaders and mentees may choose to be a part of. It may also be informal, such as creating a relationship with someone who has taken an interest in your career path or role. Either way, it’s a valuable opportunity to help up-and-coming professionals challenge themselves, set goals, and carve their own career path.
“Often, leaders want to give back because they had great mentors themselves who helped them get to where they are today,” Maniar says. “There’s also the benefit of new perspectives and new ideas. You might find that you learn just as much from them as they do from you. That’s incredibly rewarding.”
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2. They challenge the status quo.
Great leaders are not only thoughtful and deliberate, they’re also willing to step outside of their comfort zones to try new things—whether it’s testing a new process, idea, or different approach, Maniar says.
He recounts a story from earlier in his own career when he had an idea that was a significant departure from the traditional method. “I brought the idea to my boss who said, ‘Let’s do it.’ It was her willingness to get out of our comfort zone and try this that eventually led to the foundation of a statewide program that exists today,” he explains.
It was his boss’s openness to new ideas that encouraged Maniar to bring the idea to her in the first place. That, he says, is how innovation happens:
“The person in that leadership role is the critical factor in whether or not an idea gets implemented, and it’s a function of whether or not they’re willing to get out of their comfort zone.”
3. They educate others.
Teaching others is a fundamental component in healthcare and public health, and a key quality of great leaders, Maniar says. Great leaders have a responsibility to educate those following in their footsteps and pass on knowledge to entire populations about important issues, all while raising awareness.
A great example of this is in the leadership of Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease, during the Covid-19 pandemic, Maniar says. “He has been the paragon of a good leader. He’s helped navigate us through crisis while educating the public about the virus, how to protect ourselves, and updating us on new discoveries.”
4. They practice humility.
Great leaders in healthcare are not only able to recognize different points of view, they’re also able to accept that the base of knowledge developments, and change direction accordingly.
“A good leader can do that and not just fixate on a paradigm. When you look at some of the great public health leaders, they’re able to say that their knowledge [of Covid-19] back in January and February was very different than it is now, and so we have to think differently now,” he says. “We didn’t wear masks back then because we didn’t understand how aerosolized the virus is, and that’s its primary form of transmission. Good leaders can say, ‘Our knowledge has changed,’ and then champion a new or better approach.”
5. They create opportunities for others.
The impact of focusing on the next generation of leaders can’t be understated, Maniar says. Mentoring, thinking outside the box, challenging the status quo, and educating others is how public health professionals can create opportunities for rising leaders.
“When you do these things, you’re inherently helping [the next generation] become good leaders. You have to be willing to take a step back from the spotlight and let someone else take the lead so they can challenge themselves and see what they can achieve,” he says. “By doing this, you’re helping them think about the path they want for themselves by creating opportunities for them to build their foundation and achieve their own personal goals.”
Honing Your Leadership Skills
Even the best leaders must consistently work to improve their leadership skills, which starts with assessing your current abilities and acknowledging gaps or opportunities to improve.
“Think about your own professional goals and the skill sets you want to develop and grow,” Maniar says. “Who can help you achieve that? You need a sense of what you want for yourself and then seek out or talk to others about how you can achieve that.”
“One of the great things about this program is how it integrates opportunities for students to develop their own leadership skills, connect to leaders in the field, and seek out mentors who can help them create their own pathway toward achieving their goals,” Maniar says.
For more information on leadership in healthcare, download our eBook below, then explore the Master in Public Health program at Northeastern to learn how you can advance your career in this exciting field today.