March 18, 2020

Healthcare Leaders during a Crisis: Be a Hope Dispenser

Clinician Leadership | Leadership Development

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Our brains are story-making machines. When faced with the unknown, those stories always spin negative.

The world today is faced with the unknown of COVID-19, and the healthcare environment is moving at an unprecedented pace. As humans, our default setting is to find and focus upon every negative consequence imaginable. That’s fear, and it is paralyzing.

Leadership is using your influence to co-create coordinated movement forward, shifting from the paralysis of fear to hopeful action.

But, how can you do that in the midst of a world in fear? I’m reminded of a mental picture someone shared with me years ago.

Swept Away

Imagine a raging river full of rapids that surges over a huge waterfall; and you see many people being swept downstream toward the falls.

You notice people all along the shore of the river trying to help those in the river:

  • Some are reaching out at the edge of the falls to snatch victims at the last moment.
  • Others are just upstream, stepping out on the rocks to grab whomever they can reach.
  • Some are upstream a bit further, throwing life rings to people and pulling them to shore.
  • Still others are much further upstream teaching people how to swim
  • While others are installing fences along the river to prevent people from falling in.
  • Finally, there are still others gathered at the bottom of the falls, trying to recover and save the few who survived going over the edge.

There are many of ways to help people in need.  Which one of these groups of helpers did it best?

Honestly, they all play a crucial part in the helping process. However, many are convinced that their way is the best.

Looking at the current crisis of COVID-19, I see a lot of intramural fussing over the “best” way to help. Some argue for more ICU beds and emergency responses to the crisis. Some argue for procedures for better testing and social distancing. Others argue over alternative ways to support one’s immune system. And I’m sure there are many other approaches I’ve not listed.

All the helpers on the riverbank have a part to play.  None of them can catch everyone in need, and I believe each is called to their own particular station along the way.  One thing they all have in common is a love for helping others, and instead of arguing about it on social media they are out there doing it!

So, here’s an opportunity in front of you today as a healthcare leader: choose to be a Hope Dispenser in the face of fear.

Leading in a Helping Profession

Historically, healthcare helpers were given little opportunity to offer preventative help – standing at the bottom of the falls to try to help the injured.

As we learn more about the processes of disease and ways to supplement the body’s innate ability to heal itself, healthcare helpers take up various stages along the river above the falls: critical care interventions at the point of trauma, procedures in advance of an impending illness, educating people on how to avoid illness, and ultimately teaching people how to take personal responsibility for their wellness.

The fact is none of us can solve this crisis alone. It is a team effort. We must each stand at our station, fulfilling our duty to those in need, and linking arms with those to our right and left. That’s really the best we can do. We must trust that our teammates will do the same and that our combined results will be enough.

One last thought:  What good is any helper who gets swept into the river as they try to help?

The first job of a healthcare helper, and of you as a leader, is to take care of yourself in order to have the wherewithal to help others. If you or your colleagues get swept away by fear, you can’t help others. It’s like the airline crews tell us:  in the event of a loss of oxygen, put the mask on yourself first so you can attend to others.

We’re in for an extended time of challenge in healthcare. Step up as a leader: take care of yourself first, be a Hope Dispenser daily to those on your team and in your life, and link arms with others in the profession of helping and let’s create a force together!


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About the author

Eric P. Norwood, LFACHE, PCC

Eric P. Norwood, LFACHE, PCC is a trusted, experienced advisor to C-Suite leaders, helping them improve their performance individually and corporately. He is a catalyst for change for his clients.

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