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Developing compassionate leadership in health care: an integrative review

Authors de Zulueta P

Received 4 August 2015

Accepted for publication 13 October 2015

Published 18 December 2015 Volume 2016:8 Pages 1—10

DOI https://doi.org/10.2147/JHL.S93724

Checked for plagiarism Yes

Review by Single-blind

Peer reviewers approved by Dr Thomas Bart

Peer reviewer comments 2

Editor who approved publication: Professor Russell Taichman


Paquita C de Zulueta

Department of Primary Care and Public Health, Imperial College London, UK

Abstract: Compassionate health care is universally valued as a social and moral good to be upheld and sustained. Leadership is considered pivotal for enabling the development and preservation of compassionate health care organizations. Strategies for developing compassionate health care leadership in the complex, fast-moving world of today will require a paradigm shift from the prevalent dehumanizing model of the organization as machine to one of the organizations as a living complex adaptive system. It will also require the abandonment of individualistic, heroic models of leadership to one of shared, distributive, and adaptive leadership. “Command and control” leadership, accompanied by stifling regulation, rigid prescriptions, coercive punishments, and/or extrinsic rewards, infuses fear into the system with consequent disempowerment and disunity within the workforce, and the attrition of innovation and compassion. It must be eschewed. Instead, leadership should be developed throughout the organization with collective holistic learning strategies combined with high levels of staff support and engagement. Culture and leadership are interdependent and synergistic; their codevelopment needs to be grounded in a sophisticated, scientifically based account of human nature held within a coherent philosophical framework reflected by modern organizational and leadership theories. Developing leadership for compassionate care requires acknowledging and making provision for the difficulties and challenges of working in an anxiety-laden context. This means providing appropriate training and well-being programs, sustaining high levels of trust and mutually supportive interpersonal connections, and fostering the sharing of knowledge, skills, and workload across silos. It requires enabling people to experiment without fear of reprisal, to reflect on their work, and to view errors as opportunities for learning and improvement. Tasks and relational care need to be integrated into a coherent unity, creating space for real dialog between patients, clinicians, and managers, so that together they can cocreate ways to flourish in the context of illness and dying.

Keywords: servant leadership, compassion, complexity, adaptive, resilience, culture
 

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