Leading Your Team Through Complexity

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By Rand O’Leary

Leading and working in healthcare has always been complex, never more so than in today’s healthcare environment.  Increased regulations, government reforms, alternative based payment models, rising consumerism and expectations have come together in a perfect storm swirling around the industry.  On top of this, the world economy has become a destabilizing factor as we realize now more than ever how interconnected we are to our world partners, almost a giant game of Jenga, where one false move by a world leader could topple the whole tower. 

So how do we lead in an era of increasing complexity and more ambiguity than ever before? In previous articles I’ve discussed the importance of mission and a common set of values to ground the organization and guide our decision making, and this is foundational.  However, in this article I would like to discuss the skills and the leadership maturity it takes to lead successfully in a complex environment. 

I’m going to use the term “maturity” here, not necessarily the chronical definition of age, but the maturity that comes with leaders who have had numerous and diverse leadership experiences. Leaders who have seen enough, had their share of successes and failures to understand the important role they play in guiding the decision-making process.  

Playbook for Leading in Today’s Complex Environment: 

  • Understand there are no black and white issues, but many shades of grey.  Focus on the overlapping space between the issues when searching for the commonality between opposing sides and the answer. 

  • When facing complex issues, with many diverse stakeholders, break down the problem into its individual pieces and parts.  Understand how they fit together, how each piece interrelates to the other.  Solve one piece, then use that momentum to take on the rest of the puzzle with renewed vigor and energy. 

  • Be comfortable with being uncomfortable, complex issues mean ambiguity that many of use are not comfortable with.  Be flexible with the rules and be prepared to abandon tradition in favor of untraditional thinking and problem solving.  

  • The team you assemble is critical, complexity often means you cannot do this alone.  Recognize and embrace the diversity of your team, diversity of thought is a powerful driver of unique solutions to complex problems. Create an environment where ideas can be heard and more importantly acted upon. 

  • Practice active listening, put aside personal biases and seek to learn.  Listening is probably the hardest and most under practiced skills we have as leaders.  Recognize this by sitting quietly, and listening at least twice as much as you speak. 

In closing, leading through a complex environment, requires a greater understanding of self and being mature in your leadership and style.  I hope these few thoughts will help you expertly navigate relationships, competing priorities and stakeholders interested with a renewed sense of confidence and success.