What Errors Say About Leadership

What Errors Say About Leadership & Culture

Have you ever witnessed an epic failure in patient care? Maybe it’s a faux pas on the part of the providers. A breakdown in the caregiver’s communication chain. Conflicting care protocols causing the perfect storm. Maybe someone simply dropped the ball and made a human error.

What happens after this kind of error is a revelation concerning the organization’s leaders, and the values it lives by.

Blame, Explanation, Excuses

You’ve seen this. The knee jerk reaction to the problem is to figure out who owns the biggest part in the error. Seek out responsible parties. Find explanations of why it happened in the first place. Searching for explanations that make sense or can be justified in some way. Saying prayers that by having discussion with colleagues about the error, this will prevent it from ever occurring again. But unfortunately, this action turns out to be an excuse exercise journey, and will do little to prevent the incident from occurring again, quite possibly in the near future in another place and time with different caregivers.

Any way you slice it, these reactions do little to improve the situation. They don’t prevent the problems from happening again. In fact, this problem solving style can wreak havoc on patient satisfaction as well as health outcomes.

Corporate Culture

Whenever there is a culture of blame and excuse-making, it means colleagues do not feel safe and supported. The feeling in a blaming culture is “Someone is going to get it,” and they don’t want it to be them. It often means colleagues are functioning at less than their best, often feeling stressed and anxious. Many times stated by colleagues “I am doing my best,” or colleagues instead shift blame and become a survivor of the fittest by saying; “it wasn’t my responsibility.”

Ownership, Curiosity, Teamwork

Things can go wrong in life. This is the reality. The difference is how we react to the incident, and the culture that the incident occurs within, and how the incident is embraced. When a healthcare team functions in a caring work environment, that resists blaming, colleagues look at behaviors chosen and the rationale behind them. This is referred to as a “Just Culture,” when the organization encounters issues, a uniform and systematic approach is taken within a learning environment. An environment that allows questioning and a failing forward mentality, that cultivates creative and innovative thinking as a part of problem solving.

Just cultures react with ownership and curiosity. This means that everyone on the team acknowledges the error and takes the opportunity to improve processes and practices of daily work. Collaborative problem solving and prevention is done by teamwork. Teamwork that goes beyond individual job descriptions and “official responsibilities” to improve the situation together can turn around even the worst situation.

Leadership Culture by Design

When there is a culture of ownership and teamwork, it has been intentional by the leaders. Leadership sets the framework for the organization by stating and modeling the core values of the organization. Let’s talk about a culture where core values include:

  • Continuous Improvement & Innovation
  • Learning Environment
  • Integrity
  • Valuing People.
  • Teamwork for all colleagues and patients.

This creates a culture of making our excellence tomorrow greater than our excellence today. It means that leaders will invest in their colleagues and patients as top priority. It states that leaders themselves stay curious and ask questions before passing judgments. This demonstrates a proactive culture that is intentionally supported each day based on the infrastructure or curriculum of excellence built. The leaders have put into place with their colleagues not a surviving workplace environment, but a thriving environment.

Self Reflection

Are you a leader or a colleague who is surrounded by blame-placers, excuse-makers, under-the-bus-throwers? Or do you view teamwork, ownership, and the willingness be innovative and creative and problem solving, a culture to support colleagues and strives for greater excellence in your organization, regardless of job title or job description?

Personal Choice

Whether you are in the senior suite, new orientee or veteran in your job – you can control your response to mistakes, errors, and unexpected problems. If others are playing the blame game, you don’t have to. You can be bigger than your job and be an influencer of learning and creative thinking. Think of it as being the CEO of yourself. You will be a leader wherever you are in the organization’s hierarchy if you learn to live by core values of teamwork, and valuing others, creative thinking and continuous learning.

Be bigger. Be broader. You’ll be more fulfilled, effective and respected by others as an informal leader or as a formal leader.

You’ll be the leader people love to follow.

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