Courage, passion, commitment, communication, humility – these make every list of critical leadership skills, and they’re certainly required in abundance of anyone who leads or manages in hospice. But to me, the most important gift is the ability to inspire and motivate those around you. Why? Hospice work is demanding, physically and emotionally – but patients and their families need you to bring 100% of your skills, compassion, and stamina to work every day. Keeping our people inspired to be their best, most compassionate selves requires us to model that behavior – to walk the walk – in how we deal with them.
How do you inspire? By remembering why you’re there, and sharing that why with your staff; by getting out of your office and into the field; by being a mentor more than a taskmaster, and sharing stories of staff successes.
What’s Your Story? If someone who knew nothing about hospice was to ask you what it is you do and why, what would you tell him? What’s your hospice story? What drew you to this work in the first place, and what keeps you in it? How you frame your story reflects your commitment to your mission; how you tell your story can encourage and motivate those around you to reach for that ideal. Nobody wanders into hospice work by accident; what motivated you, what got you safely over rough ground can encourage others. But a story untold has no power to inspire. Know your hospice story and share it.
Get into the field: When you’re hip-deep in administrative work, it’s easy to get siloed in your tower depending on written reports and balance sheets to inform you. Make time every day to get out of the office and walk around your organization; to interact with your team members, to talk to family members and patients, and to observe your team in action. Let your staff see your commitment, your passion, and your connection to the work they do. Motivational speeches are great, as far as they go – but nothing compares to walking the walk and offering encouraging talk.
Mentor more: In a field like ours, every interaction counts – all the more so because the people with whom we work are arguably going through one of the most stressful and profoundly emotional experiences of their lives; their own death, or the death of a loved one. When we see a staff member having an inappropriate interaction with someone, our first instinct may be to chastise and blame. Instead, ask privately: “What happened there? Tell me about that interaction” – and listen to the answer. It’s easy to jump on someone who’s made a mistake – but it’s more valuable to lead them, through thoughtful questioning, to see not only what they did wrong, but how they could do better next time. Remember your own rookie errors – and mentor more, reprimand less.
Share successes: Want to inspire your staff? Let them know you see the things they do right – and thank them for jobs well done. So often we overlook the good things, big and small, that our staff do in the course of their work; after all, it’s their job. But as the old adage says, what we feed, thrives – and if you want kindness, courtesy, and professionalism to thrive, feed it. Feed it with praise, both public and private. Write a thank you note, use your website, your company Facebook Page or Instagram account, and your newsletter to single out and honor those who go above and beyond. Share the letters of thanks and praise that come from your patient families. Remind them every day that what they do matters – and that the good they do doesn’t go unseen.
Image from the Kaiser Philanthropy Institute, design by Christy Whitney