10 Traits of Highly Effective COVID-19 Leaders

Michigan Medicine identifies characteristics of positive leaders who will be effective now and in the future.

If nothing else, COVID-19 has proven that good leaders can be forged in fire. As this pandemic has raged on, providers and administrators nationwide have had the opportunity to test their leadership skills in ways never before possible – and, in doing so, several characteristics of positive leaders have risen to the top.

In an article, published June 17 in Academic Radiology, radiology leaders from Michigan Medicine detailed 10 traits that have emerged among individuals who have been instrumental in helping the institution navigate this pandemic, providing concrete examples on how to characteristics. And, these features could have long-lasting impacts during future crises, they said.

“Whether we acknowledge it or not, we are shaping the culture of our departments for years to come in how we show up to lead our departments during this time,” said a team led by Kimberly A. Garver, M.D., assistant professor of radiology and associate chair of the Department of Life and Culture. “Not only is the virus contagious, but so are our attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors.”

Together with the University of Michigan Ross Business School Center for Positive Organizations, the radiology faculty encouraged good leaders to focus on being:

Principled: Focus on helping your colleagues see the link between their work and a greater calling. Share your personal, departmental, and organizational mission, vision, and values often to help solve problems and make decisions.

Trustworthy: Share reliable facts without embellishment or minimization, and be sure you ask questions that will help you understand situations. Always circle back around to provide answers to any queries presented to you.

Compassionate: Practice empathy and show your colleagues that they matter to you as individuals. Work hard to build quality connections with staff at all levels within you organization.

Transparent: Be a source of frequent, consistent, and clear information. Doing so will squelch any rumors or incorrect assumptions. If you see anxieties building, make an effort to increase communication.

Authentic: Do not be afraid to admit your weaknesses and ask for help from your colleagues to overcome them. Identifying a “red team” that can pinpoint problems with your ideas can help flesh out the strongest plans. Remember to be open to their thoughts and criticisms.

Accountable: No one expects perfection from you, so be willing to acknowledge and accept responsibility for your own mistakes. Holding yourself accountable fosters greater trust from your colleagues.

Learner: Ask more questions than you provide answers. Remember that most mistakes come from systemic problems rather than personal errors, and offer additional training, coaching, and feedback when it is needed. And, always take time to reflect on what went well during the day and where you could have improved.

Humble: Medicine is not a solo activity – getting good outcomes requires teamwork. Search for ways to offer sincere compliments and praise to others in your department.

Flexible: Just because something has always been done one way does not mean it is still correct. Be open to new ideas and willing to change plans if it will help you meet you challenges effectively.

Present: Consistently be in the moment, and never expect your colleagues to do something you would not want to do. Embrace new things, and always be the first one to jump in and the last one to depart.

Internalizing these traits, Garver’s team wrote, will build stronger leaders today who will be better positioned for being effective leaders in the future.

“Seizing the opportunity for change has required us to be deliberate in how we show up rather than relying on a ‘leadership through crisis’ cookie-cutter strategy,” they wrote. “We are called to bring the very best version of ourselves to work; the one that we aspire to be and the one that we can be if we were to rise to the challenge.”