Why Adaptive Leadership is So Critical in Healthcare Today
When it comes to The Great Disruption reshaping our world today, there is arguably no industry or sector that has been more affected than healthcare.
For the past two years, healthcare has been on the front lines of the battle against the COVID-19 pandemic. The pandemic clearly exposed some major fault lines in our health care systems – particularly in regard to long-term care and health equity. But at the same time, the digital transformation taking place today has also opened the door to new possibilities and new practices within the health sector.
Discussions about the future of health care often focus on funding, resource allocation and the adoption of technology. This month’s column tackles health care from a very different perspective: leadership; and in particular, what style of leadership is best suited to navigate disruption and help shape the healthcare sector of tomorrow?
Detlev Zwick, PhD
Dean, Tanna H. Schulich Chair in Digital Marketing Strategy
Schulich School of Business
Why Adaptive Leadership is So Critical in Healthcare Today
The pandemic has highlighted significant challenges and opportunities in the health sector, including the importance of high-performance leadership and management. In Canada and most other countries globally, health care is experiencing many layers of crisis and needs leaders who can navigate these complexities effectively and efficiently. More specifically, we need adaptive leaders – individuals who embrace innovation, change and experimentation – and we need them now more than ever.
Here are just a few of the challenges the healthcare sector faces. On the one hand, there are inefficiencies in care delivery, widening care gaps, changing patient demographics, and increasing healthcare costs. On the other, there are opportunities and innovations related to rapid advances in medical technologies, artificial intelligence, and big data. Yet, we see significant bottlenecks in the uptake and implementation of these new innovations.
The Canadian healthcare industry is the country’s largest vertically integrated enterprise. Canada spent 10.8 % of our GDP on health care in 2019. The OECD average was 8.8%. Canada’s health care expenditure rose to 12.7% in 2021. Further, Canada’s health labour market is experiencing increased job vacancies due to job transitions and early retirements. For example, 25% of Canadian physicians are over 65. This will significantly impact the physician workforce in the near future. Similarly, the Canadian Nurses Association estimates that, Canada will face a shortage this year of more than 60,000 full-time equivalent nurses. Other change drivers, in addition to the COVID-19 pandemic, are an aging population, the climate crisis, social justice, technological advancement, and economic pressure. All of these factors will significantly impact health care in Canada and around the world.
So, what kind of leadership is required to reimagine the health care of the future and lead health care delivery in a highly dynamic world? And how should we prepare the current and future generations of leaders to face a complex healthcare environment? To answer, we must first understand the successful leadership behaviours required to lead health care. Then we need to use that insight to develop innovative teaching programs that prepare leaders for today and tomorrow.
The Schulich School of Business is leading in this space through our newly launched Krembil Centre for Health Management and Leadership. The Krembil Centre has three primary focuses: teaching, research and industry outreach.
Our research portfolio is led by Dr. Abi Sriharan, an Oxford-trained leadership scholar who has joined the Krembil Centre as our new Senior Krembil Fellow. Our cutting-edge healthcare leadership research is supported by competitive grants from the Canadian Institute for Health Research, Associated Medical Services, and the Social Science and Humanities Research Council.
Our research demonstrates that health care leadership is complex. Leaders should master human factors such as agility, sensibility and trust. They also must demonstrate adaptive behaviours to navigate the ever-changing landscape that shapes health care delivery. Consider the following: 75 percent of the Canadian health care labour force identifies as women. Our research explores healthcare labour market needs through a gender lens to understand strategies that create a thriving work culture for women. And another new line of research at the Krembil Centre is taking a global lens to explore how artificial intelligence and big data can address health industry challenges.
We have been working on the development of a one-year Master of Health Industry Administration program that will be the first of its kind in Canada. It will combine business thinking, systems science, and health industry knowledge, creating a pathway for highly motivated graduates. Our curriculum will integrate non-traditional subjects, such as preventative healthcare and population health, value-based care, as well as analytics and modelling for healthcare, together with core management subjects. Most importantly, the curriculum will include hands-on experiential learning that will provide students with adaptive leadership competencies to lead in the future.
We support our industry partners by providing just-in-time training for current leaders to face these new and emerging health care challenges. To this end, we formed a collaboration with the Schulich Executive Education Centre (SEEC) that builds on SEEC’s executive education programs for health industry leaders. We also launched public summits that bring thought leaders in healthcare and technology together to address timely industry challenges. On September 23, 2021, our first summit focused on “Leading the Way Post-Covid” and explored key issues related to long-term care, the digital future, AI, and strategies to reimagine the health workforce. And last month, our second summit explored “Workplace Culture, Talent, and Leadership in the COVID Era.”
We are living through transformational changes in the health sector. As a result, employers and students will be looking for these changes to be reflected in health management education in the coming years. The Krembil Centre is uniquely positioned to address this challenge. We will prepare future leaders and managers with critical knowledge and skills, including the ability to think holistically and collaboratively, and to perceive diverse perspectives and interdisciplinary input as an opportunity to grow and adapt. In short, we will help develop the adaptive leaders that the healthcare sector of tomorrow needs.
Joseph Mapa, MBA, FCCHL, LFACHE
Krembil Chair in Health Management and Leadership
Abi Sriharan, MSc, D.Phil (Oxon)
Senior Krembil Fellow, Krembil Centre for Health Management and Leadership