April 16, 2020  /  Barry Dornfeld and Jennifer Tomasik
Developing leaders and leadership in healthcare has become increasingly important during normally turbulent times, a topic we reflected on in our piece in the Wharton Healthcare Quarterly last spring. But now that we find ourselves in a full-blown public crisis, with our health delivery systems—from front line workers to clinical and research leadership to executives—completely focused on responding to the crisis, should we expect healthcare organizations to focus on leadership development? 
The simple answer is, of course, no. 
Leaders must focus their attention on the urgent needs of patients and communities, and put formal leadership development on the back burner for now. At the same time, this is an incredibly valuable time to sow the seeds for future learning and development, as leaders grapple with the dual task of managing the crisis and looking ahead to prepare for and build the future.
What do we mean by this?

► Crises like the one we are moving through are forcing us to stretch our own capabilities and those of our teams and organizations. They act as “stress tests” for these systems, allowing us to see where we have more resilience than we had imagined, and to identify weak points in our systems. We should take note of these strengths and challenges in our organizations, and make sure we come back to think about how to address them in the future.

► We can also take brief moments during this crisis to reflect on how our own personal leadership capabilities are being stretched, and where we feel we have been successful and where we felt less so. Perhaps a “pandemic learning journal” can act as a helpful outlet for these reflections. In fact, social media—Twitter posts, blogs, and other platforms—have been an excellent source of reflection and learning, and a place where one can read our colleagues’ insights on how they are managing and taking up leadership at this time.

► We can also reflect on the resilience our organizational cultures exhibit through this crisis. What practices and behaviors have been most helpful from a cultural perspective through this time, and where we will want to adapt and strengthen these practices and behaviors into the future?

We will have time to gather together for more formal learning post-crisis, hopefully not far off from now. There will be many lessons to learn, after action reviews to take up, and case examples upon which to reflect. Learning about our individual and collective leadership capabilities and practices during this crisis will be most critical as we take up our new normal in the times to come.
Dornfeld, Barry and Jennifer Tomasik. “Developing Healthcare Leadership in Turbulent Times.” Wharton Healthcare Quarterly, Vol. 8 No. 2, Spring 2019.
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