Five Leadership Vices to Avoid for Health Systems Strengthening

Jim Rice

Former LMG Project Director

How can Hospital and Ministry of Health Leaders from SE Asia master new approaches to leadership and management? To address this question, The US Embassy Singapore developed a two week program involving faculty from the Singapore public hospital system, SingHealth, and USAID supported health sector managers from the US. Bob Stevens, CEO of Ridgeview Medical Center and I conducted four workshops in this program. Twenty-three participants from the health sectors of Philippines, Thailand, Vietnam, Myanmar, Laos and Cambodia were encouraged to avoid common vices of ineffective leaders such as the inability to take risks, and the failure to engage and listen to diverse stakeholders. Effective frontline leaders should embrace the flip-side of such vices by striving to accomplish these five virtues:

Virtue 1: Engage Diverse Stakeholders

Stakeholders have a right and need to understand and guide the good work of clinicians and community health workers to deliver health services that are not only of good clinical quality, but that also satisfy patients, are cost effective and contribute to stronger communities and nations. Smart leaders provide sincere invitations for eclectic and diverse groups of people to engage in important decision-making processes.  

Virtue 2: Ask Smart Questions

Experienced leaders know how to ask smart questions that seek to probe the real meaning of the essential characteristics of a situation, challenge, problem or opportunity. These questions are asked not just of close confidants of the leader, but of diverse stakeholders and especially the most vulnerable and disenfranchised of the organization’s service population.

Virtue 3: Listen to Stakeholder Insights and Advice:

Effective leaders must also listen carefully to the answers and insights gained from the question asking process. Many leaders are not good at listening.

Virtue 4: Take Sensible Risks:

Effective leaders are willing to take sensible risks to overcome obstacles, to yield innovation and to create conditions for health workers and managers in which they can explore new methods and processes for accomplishing their goals and plans.

Virtue 5: Provide Recognition & Rewards:

Great leaders create “celebration cultures” in which health workers, staff and stakeholders believe their ideas, insights and initiatives are needed, welcomed and valued. Smart leaders provide recognition and rewards for participants in their organization’s pursuit of service improvements. These leaders also recognize that sustainable rewards are often more than just money.

To expand your effectiveness, we hope you will avoid the vices and embrace the virtues outlined in this blog.

James A. Rice, Ph.D., is the Project Director for the Leadership, Management & Governance (LMG) Project.