Leading in the time of COVID requires vision, empathy and engagement

Posted on 12/23/2020 - 9:23 AM

Across industries and professions, we’ve been hearing a lot of talk about how the pandemic requires a new type of leadership. 

I suppose I agree, but the type of leadership we need today is the same that we’ve needed, and nurses and case managers have been embracing, for years. 

Here’s a definition of leadership, one I like because it captures the spirit of teamwork so essential to what we do: “Leading is influencing, guiding in a direction, course, action, or opinion.”1

We often think of a leader as the one in charge—a boss. But we all know that not every boss is a leader. And, of course, not every leader is a boss. Case management and nursing leaders guide and influence, facilitating collaboration between the team members—including doctors, social workers, pharmacists, NPs, PAs, etc. 

There are many different leadership styles. Leadership is complex and informed by individual circumstances. With this in mind, let’s look at six characteristics of nursing and case management leaders in the context of COVID-19. 


1. Leaders are visionary—not consumed by the immediate. It’s easy to be overwhelmed by the immediate impact of the COVID-19 crisis. Leaders need to focus on the future as well as the present. In fact, a recent issue of Professional Case Management took this on. The conclusion applies to nurses as well as case managers:

 “The time is now for case management leaders to make sense of the current experiences of the crisis, reflect on what made the action plans effective, and begin to identify how the new environment of case management should be like.” 2

That also applies to nurse leaders. 

2. Leaders communicate: They communicate early and often, using different modes of communication. They collaborate with team members providing input and offering feedback. Leaders promote transparency, alleviating fear. Accept the fact that you may not have the answer for every question; exercise vulnerability, admit what you do not know, obtain the answer and close the loop. Spend appropriate time listening to the team members. 

3. Leaders are empathetic: In a 2019 Harvard Business Review article, Stanford Professor Jamil Zaki—author of The War For Kindness: Building Empathy in a Fractured World—talks about the relationship between empathy and leadership. He stated that it’s not just that leaders are empathetic; they foster empathy. That’s important because people conform to other’s good and kind behaviors. In other words, empathy is contagious.

4. Leaders are mentors, even when things are uncertain. In fact, it’s probably when things are uncertain that mentors are needed the most. Challenges and unprecedented times offer important learning opportunities for mentors and mentees.

5. Leaders are visible. They step up: It’s tempting to turn inward and attempt to avoid the challenges. During unpredictable times, leaders need to be present. Nursing and case management leaders confront these challenges. To cite the Professional Case Management article again, 

“Without hesitation, as leaders and health care professionals, including case managers, we must play an active role in protecting everyone's life and mobilize appropriate resources and personnel in new ways to ensure the provision of safe, quality, necessary, timely, compassionate, and patient-centered services all while being kind to ourselves.”3

That talk of kindness leads to the next point.

6. Leaders embrace self-care and practice compassion for themselves and their teams. They look for signs of burnout and sadness. They recognize when their team members need help, and they facilitate team members' access to these services when needed.4 The Commission for Case Manager Certification has compiled a robust list of resources for those seeking support—or those simply looking for some self-care tools. We’ve also invited some of the nation’s top inspirational speakers to record moments of wisdom to inspire hope and resilience. (See them here.)

7. Finally, leaders are nimble. So much in health care is in flux now, from how we work with patients and clients to how we collaborate with our teams. The arrival of a vaccine along with a new administration will bring more changes. Leaders must be able to pivot—and take their teams with them. Actually, it’s less of a pivot and more of a dance. The music keeps changing, but if we listen carefully, we can make sure that we keep dancing the right steps.

1Leaders: The strategies for taking charge, by Warren Bennis and Burt Nanus. New York: Harper & Row, 1985, 244 pp 

2Tahan HM. “Essential Case Management Practices Amidst the Novel Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) Crisis: Part 2: End-of-Life Care, Workers' Compensation Case Management, Legal and Ethical Obligations, Remote Practice, and Resilience.” Prof Case Manag. 2020;25(5):267-284.

3Tahan HM. Op cit. 

4Tahan HM. Op cit.


Originally published on Allnurses.com

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