healthy leaders

Recognizing the Six Core Values of Healthy Leaders

How do you define healthy leaders? Even a casual look at research on unhealthy workplaces, bullying, or otherwise unhealthy organizations demonstrates conclusively that such environments diminish creativity and productivity. The literature on personal effectiveness and productivity is equally clear. Disorganization, multi-tasking, lack of stewardship of our internal resources, and other destructive habits reduce your productivity.

Unhealthy leadership is not sustainable. Eventually it will run aground either because the toll required of the leader is too high, or because people led this way fail to commit themselves fully to the suggested path.

There are six core values healthy leaders adhere to.

Self Discipline

Focusing your attention consistently on your most important goals requires self-discipline. You need to create a way to keep your focus clear, even with competing demands for your attention, time and energy. This doesn’t happen spontaneously. It requires effort and consistency.

When you take this seriously, you protect yourself and your own scarce personal resources so you can do more of what really matters.

Personal Development

You are developing constantly. New experiences deepen your knowledge and hone your skills. This is a continuous process and can be unconscious unless you reflect on it.

To make the most of this experiential learning it makes sense to be intentional about your own development. Some formal or semi-formal development will help you see your experience in new ways . It might improve your understanding and so prepare you better for the next time .

A reflective development process will help you make better future decisions, react better to events and cope more successfully with whatever happens. That’s why it matters that leaders attend to their own development.

Respect for Teamwork

In healthcare, as in so many other organizations, teamwork is a fundamental part of delivering successful outcomes. Teams work best when they understand their goals, when roles are clear and when individual members of the team are both respected for their contribution and trusted to do what is required. Objectives are developed with and by the team, and success is defined at the team level.

When behavior within your team matches these characteristics – good things happen .

Belief in Human Potential

In one organization I worked in, access to some social media sites was forbidden. Staff responsible for complaints were off from important channels of customer feedback. Elsewhere a lot of frustration and disappointment was expressed at what was regarded as heavy-handed control.

The implication behind the restriction is clear. We – the organization don’t trust you to be responsible in your use of social media. It’s is an example of believing the worst of people. There are many other ways leaders can allow similar impressions to develop.

Rather than issuing prohibitions maybe it would be better to set expectations. Instead of attempting to exert control over people, maybe it would be better to empower people to do the job you’re asking them to do to the best of their abilities. You’ll still spot the people who don’t respond responsibly.

Leaders have a choice. Some will be motivated by their fears: healthy leaders choose to be driven their hopes.

The Power of Positive Psychology

Understanding that happiness drives success – rather than the reverse is a radical research finding. It underlines the large evidence base which confirms that healthy working environments make for more creative, safer and productive organizations.

A healthy organization has a fully engaged workforce. The benefits of an engaged workforce are measurable. Here are some of the (healthcare related) research findings.

    • For every 5% increase in staff working in ‘real teams’ there was a reduction in mortality of 3.3%.
    • Staff who feel more engaged at work, do less harm to patients.
    • The proportion of staff having high quality appraisals is related to patient satisfaction, mortality, staff absenteeism and turnover, and hospital performance.
    • Higher levels of performance and profitability are associated with engagement.
    • Rudeness leads to a reduction in cognitive ability – which primes people to make mistakes. This is also true for those who merely witness rudeness. Leaders set the tone and define what kind of behavior is expected and tolerated. Healthy leaders will hold themselves accountable for safe-guarding these principles – starting with their own behavior. If you’re curious about positive psychology, I’ve summarized some of the best popular literature on this subject here.

Acceptance Of Complexity And What This Entails

Healthcare is a really complex business. It’s usually the case that many people must combine their various clinical, therapeutic, technical, administrative, and support service expertise to deliver high quality results. This creates great complexity – so there is wisdom in accepting that it’s not possible to ‘know’ everything as a leader. This is one of the reasons why trust is so important.

When faced with a problem there are basically two ways to go, with lots of middle ground between. Some organizations respond when problems appear by immediately commissioning plans to deal with them. Other organizations commission teams to investigate the problem and develop responses by cycling through small tests of change, learning and adapting until they have found something which is an improvement.

The first response does have it’s place. If there’s an issue that requires fast action for reasons of safety – it could well be appropriate to respond like this. In many cases though these quick fixes have squeaky wheels and quite often the issue will be back in the repair shop.

The major insight a healthy leader has obtained is that the world is complex and for every action there is usually at least one and sometimes several unexpected responses. Organizations are systems, not machines. Instead of believing it’s possible to see into the future and know what solution is appropriate, it’s far better – and more engaging – to invite those who know most about the problem to come together and develop a response.

The Takeaway

Leaders need to do more than pay attention to results. Healthy leaders hold onto a set of values which ensure that organizational outcomes are not delivered at the expense of their own health and happiness – or of the people in their care.



Adam Cairns

Professor Adam Cairns is CEO of Medical City and Al Wakra Hospital at Hamad Medical Corporation, Doha, Qatar. He writes about leadership, innovation and personal productivity at

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