Reflect on these situations:

  • It’s 2 am and there’s loud talking at the nurses’ station. Marty realizes she and her coworkers must be disturbing patients. She lowers her own voice. Is Marty doing enough?
  • Joan has seen her patient Mrs. Kennedy’s symptoms worsen over the past few days. Joan tells the doctor that she thinks Mrs. Kennedy is becoming septic. The doctor says he saw her that morning and not to worry. The next day, Joan tells the doctor she feels sure sepsis had set in. He said he is aware of how Mrs. Kennedy is doing, and isn’t concerned. Should Joan let it go and hope for the best?
  • Max finds a restroom in the hospital where he’s on staff utterly filthy. He thinks, “How embarrassing that the public sees this!” He picks up some trash, but the bathroom is still a mess. Did Max do enough?
  • Fanetta notices that Hannah the lab tech doesn’t wash her hands between patients. She says, “I think you forgot to wash your hands after your last patient.” Hannah tells her to mind her own business and continues not washing her hands. Should Fanetta let it go?
  • A receptionist overhears a tech bringing a patient to an exam room say, “I’m sorry about the long wait. We’re short-staffed.” The receptionist thinks that comment makes their clinic look bad and unsafe. Should the receptionist let it go?

Many of us spearhead strategies to create a consistently exceptional and healing patient and family experience. We identify best practices and implement them with gusto. We give our all to launching and sustaining initiatives.

That’s great. And it’s not enough.

We have to engage in more than tactics that feel exciting, appealing, and heartwarming. We have to do what is called for even when it feels scary, awkward, or unnatural. We need to decide not to let pass words, actions, oversights and infractions that interfere with safe, high quality, compassionate care. We need to allow ourselves to see pain and problems, and take immediate action to make things right.

Daily Acts of Personal Courage

In my view, personal courage needs to be a job requirement in healthcare. I’m not talking about seeking people capable of one-time acts of extraordinary heroism. I’m talking about screening for people who have the guts and skill to do the small, daily acts that have a profound and immediate impact on patients, families and ourselves—even when they feel uncomfortable.

Courage starts with being willing to really see ourselves and others. It requires us to look in the mirror to see the good, bad, and questionable. Courage requires tuning in to other people’s behaviors and to act when we see problems that make the patient and family experience anything short of satisfying, heartwarming and healing.

Is this a lot to expect? YES, definitely.

I’ve heard people say, “Courage is not the absence of fear.” As I see it, courage is acting when it’s the right thing to do, even in the face of fear, instead of quietly fuming or pretending not to see.

How we handle painful moments, like those illustrated in the situations described above, shapes our character and effectiveness at work and beyond.

The Challenge to Leaders

Every healthcare leader needs to model courageous action when we see patients and families not getting the care, respect, service, consideration and compassion they deserve–even when this means behaving outside of our comfort zone, counter to our training or personality.

We also need to urge our team members to demonstrate the courage to speak up and act—to seize opportunities to make quality care happen. We need to encourage our teams to listen to their feelings about disturbing situations, swallow fears about rocking the boat or making people mad, and express their truth with compassion.

Leaders need the courage to invite feedback. It takes guts to ask for critical criticism, to really hear it and consider it seriously. We have to be vulnerable, if we are going to learn and become more effective.

We need to consciously model courage, and to expect it of those we hire. Without daily acts of courage, we cheat patients and families, and we cheat ourselves of the joys of aspiring to greatness.

Engage your team in exploring the importance of personal courage in everyday moments of truth. Click here for a print-ready tool.

Also, click here for a compelling and related blog by Susan Mazer.

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