We’re baaaaaaack… Sort of.
After ten weeks sheltering and working mostly remotely, the primary care team I lead will phase back into regular office hours this week. What a long, strange trip it’s been! And it’s nowhere near over! But the next chapter begins, and we are ready. We return with limited staff, all spaced, masked, and sanitized. We have planned for weeks and done our best to anticipate hiccups and pitfalls. Now it’s time to dig in and execute. Exciting!
And maybe a little scary? We will have minimal face to face appointments in the beginning, but as with businesses and services across the country, we will ramp up over time. How will this affect and be affected by coronavirus infection and illness rates going forward? What will flu season look like, while we continue mitigation efforts for COVID-19? Despite the multitude of models, nobody can say for sure. And still we must move.
So what’s a leader’s role here? How can I best serve my team as we step boldly back onto the path, besides planning and execution of operations and logistics? Now more than ever, I must be both clear and adaptive about my leadership—its meaning, influence, and potential.
This weekend some strong feelings emerged to center, ground, focus, and guide me. Interesting, isn’t it, for my professional peace to rest so surely on emotions? The cognitive knowledge that my own leaders have my back gives me confidence and reassurance—I trust them. I trust us all to flex and adapt as our collective situation evolves. One could argue that trust itself is, by nature, more limbic than rational. And such is the human condition—we are emotional beings who think, not the other way around.
So I embrace and anchor to my positive emotions. I can moderate turbulence with solid intellect and steady spirituality. I believe good leaders do this visibly and vulnerably—they lead by example. Right now we all need to manage through a morass of complex feelings—to identify, accept, and allow their passage through us. This is how we take care of ourselves and each other, and get the work done.
I could not be more proud of our team. Like so many cohesive teams in an emergency, we pulled together, reorganized, and mobilized like champions. Computers were set up at home, schedules rewritten, tasks redistributed, and personnel reallocated. Folks overcame fear and anxiety, at times severe, to help other departments, learn new skills, and grow into leaders themselves. They made connections across the health system and broadened perspectives that will now benefit our whole team. We supported one another through semiweekly touch points, instant messaging, photos, stories, and some tears. I have no doubt that we can not only navigate but crush this crisis arc, and emerge a stronger, even more cohesive version of ourselves.
As clinical director, I appoint myself chief cheerleader and den mother. Through various channels, it’s my job to keep a finger on the pulse of morale and engagement. And while I hold the team up to its own standards of integrity and accountability, I also keep a vigilant eye for assailants from outside. As we prepare to reopen, I consider how I will protect my team from abusive patients. I think the risk is low, but what if someone refuses to mask or submit to temperature screening? What if they become aggressive or belligerent? Our team has cultivated empathy and compassion, especially for patients who feel anxious and sick. Still, I will not compromise our safety for someone’s angry outburst or agitation. We have a plan for handling such situations that will never tolerate physical confrontation or humiliation.
We’ve been through a lot together the two years I have been back on this team. Turnover was high in 2018, and engagement low. We’ve since built a culture based on connection and accountability, and this complex work continues—culture work never ends. Technically I hold an interim position; I am a steward. But I will not leave until the right successor is identified and groomed. I’m in for as long as this takes, as long as I am able, as long as the team will have me—I will not abandon ship.
Our team has a particular, holistic approach to patient care and relationship. In order to live this approach for ourselves, we defined our core values a year ago: Kindness and compassion; connection and collaboration; fun, joy, creativity; and accountability. I see now that we have an opportunity in this moment to further clarify our mission and vision. Nothing like a global, existential pandemic to make us reorient and reclaim our raison d’être!
Vision and Execution: It is the leader’s role to manage both—to host the ball and move fluidly between dance floor and balcony, as Ronald Heifetz and colleagues say.
Let’s get this party started.