Effective Leadership in Healthcare: 5 Essential Traits

Industry Advice Healthcare

Great leaders inspire teams, boost productivity, and help their organization achieve its goals. In healthcare, strong leadership is essential—decisions made at the top can profoundly impact entire populations.

“Healthcare should be looking to the future, toward solutions where we can provide the best and the most healthcare to those who need it most—regardless of insurance status, access to money, or where they live,” explains Dr. Robert Baginski, the program director of Northeastern University’s Doctor of Medical Science (DMSc) in Healthcare Leadership program. “That’s why [healthcare leadership] is important right now, because, at the moment, we’re not.”

Professionals with strong leadership qualities are in high demand today. According to one report, 77 percent of organizations report that leadership is lacking in their companies.

Because demand is high, now is a great time for aspiring healthcare leaders to hone their skills.

Below we explore the top leadership qualities for healthcare professionals and offer tips for sharpening these skill sets today.

5 Effective Healthcare Leadership Skills

1. They mentor others.

Mentorship—a relationship in which someone more experienced or knowledgeable helps to guide someone less experienced or knowledgeable—is particularly important in the healthcare field. This is because many leaders are training the next generation of healthcare leadership. 

Mentorship might be formal, as in a company-sponsored initiative that leaders and mentees may choose to be a part of. It may also be informal, such as creating a relationship with someone who has taken an interest in your career path or role. Either way, it’s a valuable opportunity to help up-and-coming professionals challenge themselves, set goals, and carve their own career paths.

“Often, leaders want to give back because they had great mentors themselves who helped them get to where they are today,” says Neil Maniar, PhD, professor of the practice, and director of Northeastern University’s Master of Public Health program. “There’s also the benefit of new perspectives and new ideas. You might find that you learn just as much from them as they do from you. That’s incredibly rewarding.”


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2. They challenge the status quo.

Great leaders are not only thoughtful and deliberate, but they’re also willing to step outside of their comfort zones to try new things—whether it’s testing a new process, idea, or different approach.

“Healthcare leadership ideally should be guiding healthcare in the direction that we feel it should go,” Baginski says. “It should also be identifying things about healthcare that are in need of correction and guiding us toward solutions to those problems. It shouldn’t just be maintaining the status quo.”

Maniar recounts a story from earlier in his own career when he had an idea that was a significant departure from the traditional method. “I brought the idea to my boss, who said, ‘Let’s do it.’ It was her willingness to get out of our comfort zone and try this that eventually led to the foundation of a statewide program that exists today,” he explains.

It was his boss’s openness to new ideas that encouraged Maniar to bring the idea to her in the first place. That, he says, is how innovation happens.

“A leader is not someone who hears what the crowd says and follows them,” Baginski adds. “A leader is somebody who should have a clear idea of where whatever they’re leading should go.”

3. They educate others.

Teaching others is a fundamental component in healthcare, and a key quality of great leaders. Great leaders educate those following in their footsteps, passing on knowledge and raising awareness about important issues to entire populations.

A great example of this is in the leadership of Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease, during the Covid-19 pandemic. “He has been the paragon of a good leader. He’s helped navigate us through crises while educating the public about the virus, how to protect ourselves, and updating us on new discoveries,” Maniar says.

4. They practice humility. 

Great leaders in healthcare are not only able to recognize different points of view, but they’re also able to accept that the base of knowledge evolves, and change direction accordingly.

Humility in healthcare requires leaders to take the following actions:

  • Taking an empathetic approach to communicating with patients
  • Talking with patients, rather than talking at them
  • Inviting other perspectives and involving others in decision-making
  • Accepting responsibility and not shifting blame
  • Knowing your limitations and asking for help when needed

Studies have shown that humility in leadership improves both team performance and team engagement. The healthcare field is no different.

Cultural humility is a component of humility that’s critical to ensuring quality healthcare across the board. For example, cultural biases and stereotypes can easily result in a misdiagnosis due to assumptions about someone’s lifestyle.

5. They create opportunities for others.

The impact of focusing on the next generation of leaders can’t be understated. Mentoring, thinking outside the box, challenging the status quo, and educating others is how healthcare professionals can create opportunities for future leaders.

“You have to be willing to take a step back from the spotlight and let someone else take the lead so they can challenge themselves and see what they can achieve,” Maniar says. “By doing this, you’re helping them think about the path they want for themselves by creating opportunities for them to build their foundation and achieve their own personal goals.”

Honing Your Leadership Skills

Even the best leaders must consistently work to improve their leadership skills, a process that starts with assessing your current abilities and acknowledging gaps or opportunities to improve.

“Learn how to critically assess information—what’s been done before? What are potential solutions? And get all your ducks in a row before you start to confront change,” Baginski advises. “In order to do that, you have to have a solid plan. You have to have facts and data behind you, and you need a support system behind you as well before you can go ahead and just change the world.”

In Northeastern University’s Doctor of Medical Science (DMSc) in Healthcare Leadership program, professionals hone these skills through an engaging curriculum and experiential learning.

“Education is the key to everything,” Baginski explains. “If you want to advance your career, or if you want to advance a specific issue, you need to know what you’re talking about.”

Northeastern’s DMSc will equip you with the knowledge and qualifications to become an effective leader in healthcare and find innovative solutions to common problems.

For more information on how to become an effective healthcare leader, download our career guide below, then explore Northeastern’s DMSc in Healthcare Leadership to learn how you can advance your career in this exciting field today.



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