Engaging Others with Leadership
The topic of leadership and engagement enjoys the growing presence in nursing research and media discussions. The centrality of leadership to delivering excellent healthcare results has been widely praised and recognized. Still, little is known of how leaders could engage their followers in productive teamwork, empower them to become effective decision makers, and ensure that they benefit from their active involvement in organizational processes. The current state of research shows that leaders can foster engagement, by creating a favorable organizational culture that supports participation, communication, and shared governance. They can motivate their employees, provide regular feedback, share positive appraisal, thus improving employee readiness to work towards the desired organizational outcomes. However, one point of concern for leaders is the difference displayed by employees. According to Babcock-Roberson and Strickland, “employees differ greatly in terms of their dedication to their job and the amount of intensity and attention they put forth at work”. Therefore, the task of a leader is to reconcile and overcome these differences, while allowing the members of the same multigenerational and multidisciplinary team to operate to their full capacity. The present work aims to clarify possible controversies surrounding leadership and its implications for engaging others, by using a workplace scenario shared by Second LifeTM. The paper explains the importance of leadership in engaging others, evaluates the team ability to accomplish tasks, and offers a comprehensive valuation of the team’s performance from a supervisor’s perspective. Implications for leadership and engagement in healthcare settings are also provided.
Section One: The Importance of Leadership in Engaging Others
Despite the growing body of empirical and theoretical literature, the role of leadership in engaging others is frequently taken for granted. Yet, it is with the help of effective leadership that individual professionals and teams can successfully advance themselves to meet the most ambitious goals of healthcare organizations. Today’s healthcare operates in a challenging environment, and the lack of employee engagement in organizational decision making remains one of the greatest frustrations facing healthcare organizations. In the meantime, employees are becoming more sensitive to the issues of organizational engagement, social responsibility, accountability and participation, and others. As such, organizational leaders who can foster a culture of engagement are in a better position to secure higher levels of productivity and better results of workplace performance among their followers. This is probably why more leaders turn their heads towards employees in an attempt to understand their motivational drives and use these to shape and facilitate their engagement. The role of a leader is to create the most favorable conditions for engaging others in organizational decision making. Leaders promote the organizational, communication, administrative, and cultural improvements needed to make engagement a reality. They assume complete responsibility for demonstrating their commitment to engaging others and providing employees with an explicit understanding of how they contribute to the ultimate organizational result. Unfortunately, the process of engaging others in individual and team decision making is not always smooth.
One of the challenges facing leaders in terms of engaging others is diversity. Modern healthcare organizations bring together employees from various ethnic, cultural, professional, and career backgrounds. These differences further impact their dedication to work. Another challenge to be considered is the model of leadership used to engage others. Researchers consistently emphasize the advantages of charismatic and transformational leadership philosophies in boosting employee engagement. In either case, leaders must be able to clearly articulate their vision and provide regular performance feedback, which will create positive impressions among followers and increase their motivation to engage in collective decision making and teamwork. Here a note should be made about the importance of teams in engaging others. Leaders have profound impacts on the quality and effectiveness of teamwork, by encouraging and facilitating supportive relationships among team members. In its turn, effective teamwork promotes regular communication and feedback among team members, which certainly contribute to their motivation and subsequent engagement. Therefore, teamwork could serve as a strategy for engaging others in the presence of a visionary leader. However, not all leaders can readily adopt a philosophy and position needed to engage others in decision making.
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Section Two: Evaluating the Team Ability to Accomplish Tasks
The Second LifeTM scenario features a team, which is highly dysfunctional. To begin with, the team does not have any ability, capacity, or motivation to handle differences. These differences are both actual and perceived. On the one hand, the team features the key stakeholders and professionals working in diverse disciplines and specialties. On the other hand, most members of the team perceive these differences as being insurmountable. The nurse and the physician represent two different generations of healthcare specialists, who feel that differences in age and expertise are too significant to easily overcome them. The public relations case manager talks of race and injustice, while the team leader does nothing to reconcile and balance these differences, while translating them into a team advantage. These differences have a strong potential to give the team a powerful competitive edge, by allowing its members to bring their attitudes, experiences, and competencies to the table and use them as a decision making tool. Unfortunately, in the absence of any team policy, structure, and order, its leader enjoys little, if any, influence on the way the team members manage their difference perceptions.
The lack of any team order is more than obvious. Members come and go whenever they feel they feel it is appropriate for them, regardless of the effects their actions may have on teamwork. The leader is in a position to establish the rules and norms of behavior within the team. An effective team is that which follows predetermined routines. Its members assume responsibility and display accountability for their actions and their potential impacts on other members. The members of the discussed team lack any cohesive spirit that could make them behave more responsibly and follow the basic rules of conduct.
Communication, both verbal and nonverbal, is also a huge problem. The members of the discussed team display little interest in pursuing collective goals. The key barriers to effective communication within the team include the existence of career hierarchies, a focus on personal autonomy and professional interests, cultural and ethnic differences, lack of a collective spirit, and even heavy clinical workloadsА. The manner and style of non-verbal communication display low motivation, disinterest, and at times even disgust towards the goals and purpose articulated by the leader. In fact, the team lacks any cohesiveness. The latter means that “members work as one, or a unit, for the common cause, and are concerned about the welfare of each member as well as the whole team. The members of the selected team do not display any concern about the welfare of others. Nor are they ready to sacrifice some of their autonomy and ambitions and contribute to achieving the common result.
Section Three: Creating a Team
Overall, the team interactions as presented in the scenario are highly and irreparably dysfunctional. The team fails to handle differences and use them as a source of competitive advantage. It does not have any explicit internal order. Communication, both verbal and non-verbal, is either problematic or absent. The team lacks any cohesion, since its members are not willing to work collectively and consider each others’ needs and welfare while pursuing a common cause. Here, one positive action demonstrated by a team member is when the supervisor asks the physician to stay, insisting that his contribution to teamwork is increasingly valuable. Lamont confirms that healthcare workers feel more engaged when they know that they can make a difference and contribute towards the collective goals pursued by the team.
However, the team featured in the above scenario display more non-productive behaviors than productive and positive reactions. Firstly, the supervisor is non-productive in that she fails to articulate a vision and mission of the team. According to Lamont leaders must be visible to all team members and communicate the vision and mission of the team in a clear and consistent manner. However, the leader keeps silence while the members of her team keep arguing. Instead of reconciling the existing differences and uniting the members around the core goal, she sighs and hopes that the next meeting will be better. Secondly, the nurse is highly non-productive in her communication with other members of the team, particularly the physician. The latter takes a similar stance, using the language of superiority with the nurse. Superiority and hierarchies have been cited to present a major obstacle to effective communication within teams. Thirdly, although the leader communicates the need to review policies and promote shared governance, she fails to explain the roles and functions of each member within the team. This is a non-productive behavior, because each member of the team expects a comprehensive feedback on their roles and how well they are coping with their tasks.
The lack of a visionary leader is probably the key cause of the team’s dysfunction. In the absence of a strong leader, the team’s diversity also becomes dysfunctional, although it could potentially become its greatest advantage. The perceived differences among the team members are much more significant than the actual ones. Failure to handle these differences leaves little room for productive communication and interaction. This being said, two actions can foster teams with multiple generations to work as a productive group. First, it is an open discussion and subsequent analysis of the needs of the employees representing different generations. Second, it is recognizing the value brought by a representative of each generation to the team. Two other actions can foster teams with multiple disciplines to work as a group. First, it is an open recognition of the existing differences. Second, it is the development and communication of clear roles and role boundaries. Each member of the team must be aware of his or her function within a multidisciplinary team to be able to accomplish it with dignity.
The scenario team has all features of dysfunction. It lacks cohesion. Its members fail to handle difference and translate diversity into a source of the team’s competitive advantage. The results of the scenario analysis confirm the importance of leadership in engaging others. The absence of a strong, authoritative, and visionary leader reduces the team’s capacity to handle difference and make it work in the best interests of the entire team. The members of the scenario team are focused on differences rather than commonalities that could unite their efforts and empower them to pursue collective objectives. This being said, a team supervisor should recognize the existence of these difference, recognize the value and contribution of each member to team performance, and delineate roles and role boundaries that would facilitate the attainment of the established performance objectives within the team.