Leadership during the COVID 19 pandemic

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By Derek Taylor, BS, CRA

As I sit here on this early Saturday morning with nobody else awake in my household, I’m reflecting on the situation we’re all going through in our world and in our organization. A few thoughts come to mind.

First, if you’ve formally studied the theories of leadership, it’s highly likely that you’ve run across Maslow’s hierarchy of needs (pictured below). The principal thought behind this is that you must satisfy the most basic of needs first before you can move onto higher level needs. For example, in the picture below, you have to satisfy physiological and safety needs before you can focus on the higher level needs of love and belonging, esteem, and self-actualization.

As leaders during normal times, we were more focused on meeting people’s higher level needs such as helping people feel connected, respected, recognized, and helping them to become the best versions of themselves. Those needs still exist, but they’ve taken a back seat to the lower level needs at this time. Our paradigm has shifted and the primary focus now is on people’s safety needs. If we are effectively leading, this means that our daily duties have also shifted dramatically. I know my duties have shifted as I find myself running for supplies as needed, ensuring people have the equipment they need on an hour by hour basis, and working relentlessly to communicate changes that are occurring at an unprecedented rate. In a nutshell, there’s never been a time it’s been more important to be a servant leader meeting the most basic needs of the team you’re leading.

Second, as I look at our mission of supporting our community, I can’t think of a time where that mission has been more important. People are scared, and we need to be the “calm” in their storm. But here’s a different angle that I’ve seen come to life as we continue in this battle. Our community is here to support us too! I’ve always known that the supportive relationship between our organization and our community has been reciprocal, but never have I seen so many acts of kindness that have shined a bright light on this. From the local police and first responder’s parade of lights, the countless donations of masks and food from our community, the chalk writings on our sidewalks, and countless other acts, I’ve never been more inspired in my life. Support like this fuels the fire of determination we need to win this battle… and win it we will!

My last insight is this. Back in 2018, our CEO did a project with a group of stand-out employees, highlighting the attributes of the Beacon Leader. The six concepts that those we lead expect include Honesty, Communication, Compassion, Presence, Transparency, and Positivity. If you sit and reflect on these 6 concepts, I would argue that there has never been a more important time in our history and likely never will be where these 6 things matter more! I have no doubt that how we lead now is how people will remember us, so our legacy as leaders is now front and center, and we have a calling to step forward.

Honesty – There’s no time to sugar coat the realities we are all facing with regard to our situation. There is a healthy amount of fear to have with this and as a leader I think it’s important to acknowledge that. But it’s also important to convey that you can’t let that fear consume you because that level of fear can induce stress which can actually weaken your immune system. And that’s not good in the battle against this disease if you happen to contract it. So I’ve tried to encourage people to focus their attention on other things while acknowledging the fact that it’s not always easy.

Communication & Transparency – Sharing all the information you have and being completely transparent has never been more critical. I can’t recall a time in my career where the speed of communication has been more rapid than it is right now. I mean think about it, this is a brand new virus and what people are learning is coming from information being transmitted from all over the globe. Information from the CDC is changing weekly and we have a duty as leaders to arm our staff with the knowledge they need to stay safe. And the people we lead have a responsibility to stay connected and informed. As leaders, it’s never been more important to understand that communication is not only about sharing information, but it is about making connections with those we lead.

Presence and Positivity – I’m putting these two together on purpose because I don’t think presence matters if it’s not a positive presence. Most people on my team know that I’m a positive person in my leadership approach. I’m the person who always seeks out silver linings. And there are plenty of them to go around. I think if we’re being honest as leaders, on some level, we’re somewhat happy not to have as many meetings to attend and we can focus our energy on our people. I would also argue that our sense of TEAM has never been stronger across our entire organization; alignment has never been stronger.  The need to support one another now more than ever is abundantly clear. One thing I was able to do was to get trained as a fit tester and I’ve been able to meet healthcare heroes from all over our organization which has been amazing! It’s lifted my own spirit knowing that in some small way maybe I helped some people feel safer by getting them fit into their masks.

Compassion – One thing that continues to be very evident to me is that people’s fear levels are all over the map with this situation. The important thing right now is to accept where people’s levels of fear exist even if they are different from your own. Don’t judge someone because maybe they’re more or less afraid than you are. Let them be where they are and try to be as calming of an influence as you can. That doesn’t mean you have to try and convince them to come over to your level of fear, sometimes all they need you to do is listen and validate them as a person without judgment.

I’d like to close by sharing a few of my favorite photos from these times. The last photo is the front of a card we received from a girl scout offering her support for our radiology staff. I believe there is symbolism in this image; while it may be raining today, there is a rainbow coming!

With Overflowing Gratitude,

Derek Taylor

Derek Taylor, BS, CRA, is the Diagnostic Imaging Director at Memorial Hospital of South Bend, in South Bend, IN. He can be reached at dtaylor3@beaconhealthsystem.org

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