Developing leaders must navigate the hallway of hell

Mike Zappa Hallway to hell.jpg

by Michael J. Zappa

Enhancing our own leadership development along with the novice and advanced leaders on our teams is mission critical in healthcare today. The environment that we are challenged to be successful in is very harsh — increasing the cost of technology and pharmaceuticals, the ever increasing cost of labor, on top of declining reimbursement.

The formula for success appears simple enough, but the challenge (as always) is the execution. Clearly, educating leaders and enhancing their skills will yield great outcomes; yet the material that must be mastered is not intuitive, and the skills must be practiced over and over to be mastered.

One of the first lessons to be mastered is abandoning time-tested strategy, focusing on maintaining current productivity and volume levels, and being content with the fundamental processes currently in place. In other words, leaders must be comfortable being uncomfortable, embracing the feeling of being unsettled.

I refer to this as Creative Disruption. Make no mistake this is not easy. I do not intend to discourage, but to inspire. A common saying summarizes the challenge of creative disruption well, “God closes one door and always opens another, but the hallway to get there may be hell.“

A teachable talent, which is a combination of education, situation analysis, and critical thinking, that is seen in the most successful leaders is the ability to see around corners.

In this era of Creative Disruption in addition to being adept at predicting the future, leaders must be able to champion and manage change and be able to assess the competency of their teams.

This is clearly explained by Quint Studer, identifying the continuum of the phases of competency and change, realizing that team members may progress along the continuum or fall backwards depending on obstacles encountered or compounding changes.


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Unconscious Unskilled - A new nurse has no idea that she is ill-prepared to care for a critical patient.

Conscious Unskilled - That same nurse recognizes her limitations.

Conscious Skilled - The nurse is able to focus and care for the critical patient on multiple meds by frequently checking her references and asking senior staff for advice.

Unconscious Skilled - The nurse knows her patients' illness and meds so well that doing the right thing comes automatically. She has become senior staff.

Mastering the navigation of change: knowing where our team members and ourselves are on this continuum will help us navigate the hallway of hell to the door we predicted would be there. Remember the most powerful leaders manage change the best.