What the Includer Strength Can Teach Healthcare Leaders
Belinda West, OTR, MSML, C-SIPT, CDE®
Of the 34 talents that Gallup has studied over many decades, the talent or strength, ‘Includer,’ provides some key principles that serve healthcare leaders particularly well. Over my long career as a healthcare leader, I frequently noticed a familiar pattern of behavior that positively impacted the trajectory of patient outcomes. I sometimes noted it as compassion. At other times I felt more definite that it was empathy. Empathy is integral to patient satisfaction, and good clinical outcomes, according to Derksen et al., 2013. Maxwell, 2008, used the term compassionate empathy, which emphasizes deep emotional resonance with another person’s suffering that moves us to action. Inclusive leadership amplifies empathy and compassion while increasing satisfaction and outcomes for all staff and patients.
Inclusive leaders consider customer feedback confirming that their organization delivers excellent care but also the mortality and readmission rates that often tell another story. They search for a complete picture by analyzing data that speaks on behalf of patients and staff that may never complete a satisfaction survey. Includers might approach satisfaction data with a deeper look at why the trends exist. They listen to the stories of even the quietest voices.
Includers, as described in Strength Finders 2.0 by Tom Rath, love to “stretch the circle wider.” Includers embrace a fundamental leadership principle; ‘Watch for the excluded people and invite them in!’. Rath notes that Includers seek opportunities to bring together people from diverse cultures and backgrounds.
Even though there is often a great desire to master this quality, inclusive leadership doesn’t come easily. Inclusion is hard work and, at first, may feel a bit contrived or awkward, but you can scaffold your way to mastering this skill, even if this one is 34th in your ranking of talents. Those successful behavior patterns I noticed can be defined as rungs on the inclusion ladder.
Move beyond your usual peers, and ask other clinicians, doctors, therapists, and providers, what they wish other disciplines knew that would make the workplace and care coordination function more effectively. Take the initiative to be the gatherer of diverse ideas and find fun ways to bring people together for sharing and discovery. Allow for anonymity when gathering information around loaded points of tension. And remember to stay focused on leveraging common viewpoints instead of over-amplifying opposing ones.
Seek to understand ideas and opinions you find confusing or foreign to your lived experience. Although most healthcare leaders, in addition to their clinical expertise, may garner success by combining operational skills and influence, there is a risk that, over time, ruts of knowledge and well-engrained patterns of achievement may create dangerous blind spots. Practice the habit of asking more questions and staying engaged with the other person or group until they verify that you are paraphrasing their viewpoint accurately. Of course, this requires you to come from behind the desk and sit with others in a welcoming environment. For online engagements, dump the avatar and turn on your camera. In all cases, opt to listen twice as much as you speak. Seek deeper engagement and plan time to explore the “why” behind misunderstandings and mistrust.
Embrace cultural discomfort until it’s no longer uncomfortable. Now and then, I fall off my exercise routine, and it’s painfully more challenging when I get back to working out. However, I know I must push past this stage until I can perform within my usual comfort range. Expanding our cultural flexibility and engagement is no different. Remember that cultural diversity encompasses a wide range of attributes, from ethnic and racial norms within a group to occupational and generational tendencies. One of the most fulfilling moments in my career was when I mastered enough Spanish to engage better with a fantastic team of women who were most comfortable speaking Spanish. We bonded, and I truly felt I belonged because they told me I did in Spanish! My circle had been expanding, but the growth was validated that day, and our relationships blossomed over the years. What started as clumsy attempts to engage became effortless and heartwarming!
Practice towards mastery! Rung four and beyond requires practice as you approach a level of proficiency, shifting your Includer strength higher in your ranked list of talents. But, whether your Includer strength progresses or you find that your circle of inclusion has grown, you will be forever changed. By widening your circle, you will find that those standing with you represent more diverse backgrounds and insights. You can become a highly trusted partner in building teams, departments, organizations, and systems that thrive due to the essential trifecta of compassion and empathy amplified by inclusion. Remember that inclusion is attainable and sustainable when you leverage the Includer principle!
Derksen F, Bensing J and Lagro-Janssen A. Effectiveness of empathy in general practice: a systematic review. Br J Gen Prac 2013; 63: 76–84.
Maxwell B. Professional Ethics Education Studies in Compassionate Empathy. New York: Springer, 2008.
Rath, T. (2007). StrengthsFinder 2.0. Gallup Press.
Belinda West is an affiliate coach/facilitator with SixSEED Partners and the owner of Occupation Humanity, which is committed to promoting humanity in healthcare. She helps healthcare leaders attain personal wellness and peak performance through executive coaching and organizational consultation.
As an Advanced Certified Personal and Executive Coach, registered & licensed Occupational Therapist and accomplished facilitator, she also enjoys motivating groups to achieve their goals through custom assessments, experiential learning, and deliberate practice. She also holds a Master of Science in Management & Leadership and is certified in Sensory Integration Praxis Testing and as a Diversity Executive. Connect with me on LinkedIn!
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