Developing leaders for changing times: Investing in leadership development to improve care

Like many healthcare providers, Providence Care knows about change. The need to embrace change – as individuals, as an organization and as an industry – is our new reality. With new standards of care, a growing population and shifting demographics, strong leadership skills are essential in today’s complex healthcare environment.

Faced with significant pressures on time and resources, Providence Care intentionally started to develop participatory leadership competencies within the organization.  Participatory leadership fosters an environment of strong collaboration and shared responsibility to enable rapid change.

Providence Care began to look at engaging in this non-traditional approach to developing leadership, Lauri Prest, Director of learning and leadership services explains, “It is clear that traditional and conventional methods of leadership are not sustainable for the type of leadership that is needed today.” She began calling on global stewards like Margaret Wheatley, Juanita Brown, Toke Moller and Tim Merry to share their stories and world experience in methods of conversational participatory leadership. This “meeting of the minds” led to the creation of a leadership program that uses participatory methods to harness innovation and lead change.

The leadership development strategy was designed to build internal leadership capacity based on the organizational values of respect, dignity, compassion and stewardship. “Change is fast, transition is what’s slow. To lead change through the values of our organization, the focus should be on strengthening our community through leadership practices that host values-based conversations enabling collaborative and wise action,” says Prest.

A six-week experiential leadership development program was started that incorporated an additional six month, mentor-guided practicum. Integrating a practicum in to the program means that emerging leaders are putting their newly acquired knowledge directly to work.

Participants of the program identify opportunities within the organization – seeking innovative ways to lead change. Attendees practice participatory methods of engagement to improve processes that have a direct impact on the patient, client and resident experience.

“The effort we put into leading intentionally and working collaboratively has resulted in the delivery of sustainable, responsive and quality person-centred care.  We can truly see a change in how we relate to each other and the type of care we provide through work that was initiated in the leadership development program and practicums,” explains Prest.

The Partnerships That Work conference held in Kingston this past spring is an example of the work emerging from the leadership development program. Fifty-five front-line clinicians, administrators and policymakers from across the South East region participated in this one day knowledge exchange. The conference encouraged participants to move forward with current collaborations, establish new partnerships, and generate innovative ideas for the future of mental health care in the region.

Partnerships That Work was organized in part by Karin Carmichael, a graduate of the leadership development program. Many of Carmichael’s team also participated in the leadership development program and together they formed the Client Transition Working Group. In collaboration with staff from the Frontenac Community Mental Health & Addiction Services they are successfully working to create a better plan and supports to transition clients to the community.

Based on the participatory methods that they learned at Providence Care’s leadership program, the working group used World Café and Appreciative Inquiry techniques to solicit involvement in the planning process. “The results have been significant with respect to getting commitment from all those involved in this process,” explains Carmichael. “We are cultivating leadership right from the front line and engaging clients in their care.”

“Collaboration is increasingly seen as a key factor in the efficient delivery of care and in the improvement of the health system as a whole,” says Prest.

The leadership development program is setting the stage and continues to grow – over 250 staff and community partners have participated, with hundreds more affected by the leadership initiatives that have sprouted from the program.

Providence Care has been intentional about developing sustainable internal leadership capacity “We are taking the time to understand how to design and lead change within multidisciplinary teams and the complex systems within health care. [We are] building a common language, framework and set of principles to lead as a community of practice through the values of the organization.”

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