Does having a management position make us a leader? The two terms are often used interchangeably in most industries, including healthcare. When we use the two words synonymously we can cloud the understanding of what leadership actually is.
Leadership is important. It is the difference between happy and engaged employees and employees that are merely going through the motions. According to a recent course I attended with the Australian Institute of Management, eighty five per cent of the workplace culture depends on the leadership capacity of the manager (Houghton 2016).
Alarmingly, Fernandez et al. (2012, p. 241) observes the following:
Recent work from the Center for Creative Leadership reports that the healthcare sector’s top priority for leadership development is improving the ability to lead employees and work in teams. However, this skill, along with self-awareness, was rated lowest of skills actually demonstrated by healthcare leaders.
A manager has power and authority because of the position that they hold. It is the position that has the power and not the individual. When they change jobs, they no longer have the power and authority afforded to them because of the position. A manager has the authority to request of, and direct, people to perform activities and tasks that are appropriate to the position the employee has. The employee has a duty to perform the work to an accepted standard.
A leader has personal power. The power they have resides within them. It is not a position but their behaviour and attitude that allows them to inspire and influence other individuals.
When a leader requests some effort or task performance from an individual, they will perform the task to the best of their ability because their relationship with the leader means they will use discretionary effort and energy to get a result.
Qualities of leadership may differ from person to person but there are several key qualities that are easily identified in a natural leader:
We aren’t all natural leaders but we can all improve on our ability to lead and influence others. Nursing needs emotionally intelligent individuals in leadership positions. Leadership is about helping others become their best. The flow on from that is improved patient outcomes, a happier and more stable workforce, and improvement in the financial health of the organisation (Pfifferling 2008; Porath & Pearson 2009).