Academic journal article Frontiers of Health Services Management

Connect for Success: Social Leadership, Mentorship, and the Female Healthcare Executive

Academic journal article Frontiers of Health Services Management

Connect for Success: Social Leadership, Mentorship, and the Female Healthcare Executive

Article excerpt

AS THE HEALTHCARE FIELD EVOLVES, more women are moving into healthcare leadership roles. The pipeline of women leaders is expanding because of the growing participation of women in undergraduate and graduate programs, of which women represent 60 percent of enrollment (US Census Bureau 2006).

After reading the feature articles, we reflected on the journeys of the feature authors and the contributions of other female trailblazers at the helm of healthcare organizations. While many of the leaders from the past were members of religious orders, as one feature notes, other pioneers paved the way for the female leader of today. The similarities between the women of the past and the feature authors can be seen in the leadership traits they exhibit.


Are women in leadership roles really considered that different from men in such roles (Ibarra and Obodaru 2009), or does anecdotal information reinforce what we already think and feel? Eagly and Karau (19 91) found that in groups initially without leaders, men emerged as leaders more often if the group's work was task oriented, while women tended to take the lead of groups whose governance required complex social interactions.

Social leadership is defined as the method by which a leader gets members of the team excited about their task, increasing the energy level around accomplishing an assignment, instilling team spirit, and reducing conflict (Balkundi and Kilduff 2006). The feature authors' character traits and leadership skills embody social leadership in their organizations.

There are commonalities in what Alyson Pitman Giles and Teri Fontenot reveal as they reflect on their journeys to leadership. They advocate a focus on patient care, optimal communication, transparency about goals, collaboration, and skill building. They also emphasize the importance of cultivating relationships with mentors, participating in professional and community organizations, taking calculated career risks, surrounding oneself with talented people, and maintaining a positive mental attitude.

How Women Shape Organizational Culture for Success

Popular among developmental psychologists is the idea of separate cultures - that children learn rules for social interaction from experience in largely sex-segregated peer groups in childhood and then carry this learning into adult social interaction (Maccoby 1990; Tannen 1990). This developmental theory plays out in the work environment. Women appear to be better listeners who work better in teams (Hingston 2012). Women also ensure that others working with them are recognized and given credit for their contribution (Price 2009). They also tend to ask people what they think and to request help. This is not to say that men do not exercise these same characteristics, but anecdotal experiences and the literature support the notion that gender does make a difference in how people are perceived and how they function.

Women tend to manifest socially sensitive, friendly behaviors and show concern for others' welfare, whereas men tend to manifest behaviors that can be described as dominant, controlling, and independent (Eagly 1995). Characteristics most ascribed to women, such as niceness and nurturance, contribute to the exclusion of women from certain kinds of high-status roles where toughness and aggressiveness are warranted (Eagly 1995). These female and male characteristics all help shape an organization's culture.

The feature authors support the notion of finding a leadership style that represents one's values and those of the organization. They also discuss breaking down the communication barriers between the CEO and frontline staff. Fostering engagement and getting staff to relax for optimal communication have been critical to the success of the feature authors. Are these traits unique to women, or is this just good commonsense management? An authentic leader knows who she is and what she believes and values, and she acts upon those values and beliefs while transparently interacting with others (Avolio et al. …

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