Anyone can be a manager. That is, anyone can learn to do the daily paperwork and routines necessary to function. However, leadership implies something completely different. Leadership requires self-reflection and self-assessment on a daily basis. Leaders are faced with many challenges in their daily routine. It is sometimes difficult to know when one is making the correct decision.
Norman and Peale (1998) suggest using one's own emotions as a gauge to assess their leadership decisions. If a decision makes you feel guilty or uneasy, there is probably a good reason for it. If a decision makes you feel good, then there is a good indication that the decision passes the test of being for the good of all. Not all managerial answers are in the numbers. The job of a manager goes beyond the numbers and into the ability to inspire those under them. Emotions should not be ignored for the clues that they can provide as to the integrity of decisions. That being said let us now examine three leadership attributes and how they affect the materials manager in a healthcare setting.
Influence leader influences those under them in many ways. The nature of their daily routine often dictates that they delegate and assign tasks to others. However, this is only the surface of the influence that a manager has on the effectiveness of the team. A manager sets the tone of the department by their actions, attitudes, and general morale. If the manager approaches their task in a manner that does not seem serious, or if they appear lazy in their tasks, then this atmosphere will spread to the rest of the staff as well. If they always try to convey a positive attitude and a "can do" ethos then this will spread to others as well.
In order to have a positive influence on the rest of the department, the manager must continuously monitor their actions and interactions with others. They must be concerned about the image that they convey. They manner in which they dress carry themselves, and talk sets the tone of the workplace. A strong leader is a trendsetter and others will follow, for good or for bad. They must constantly monitor themselves to make certain that the image they convey is a good one.
The influence that was discussed in the previous section was an indirect action that can be taken to influence those around you. However, power or coercion represents a different type of influence. Any manager has a certain amount of power and control that is inherent with the position. It goes with the territory and is a part of the formal job description. The manager must be able to delegate jobs to underlings and be able to make certain that they follow through. Setting a positive tone in the way the manager presents themselves is only one aspect of this ability.
The manager has certain powers that are vested upon them because of the position. They often have the ability to punish and reward as is deemed necessary. This is where power and coercion come into the picture. There are many different managerial styles. Some managers are more lenient towards their employees and give them a high degree of freedom in how they perform their job. They allow the employee more decision-making ability and trust their employees more. Other managers feel that they must dictate every aspect of the employee's day. They are authoritative and rely on punishment more than reward as a means of control.
These managerial styles represent extremes and most managers fall somewhere on a spectrum between the two poles. These two managerial styles have a dramatic effect on the perceptions and attitudes of the employees. Both managerial styles get the job done as far as the work is concerned. However, the authoritative manager is less likely to build an atmosphere of trust and cooperation among department members. They may face a department that is plagued by low morale and a bad work attitude. This attitude permeates through the organization and results in mistakes and fear. The employee with low morale will not perform at their best.
In order to inspire workers to be conscientious and develop a good work ethic, the manager must inspire rather than punish. Reward and trust gain more respect than power plays through threats and punishment. Threats and punishment make the manager appear to be fearful and lacking in confidence. Employees are more likely to challenge this attitude than a manager that displays confidence in their ability to lead. This in an important difference between what makes a manager and what makes a leader.
This is not to say that punishment is unnecessary. At time situations may arise that require punishment of an employee. However, the manager must be conscientious of the appropriateness of the punishment in relation to the crime. Punishment should not be used to make a public example of an employee. Punishment should be used sparingly and reward used lavishly. The manager must always keep a mental tally of how they are doing in this department. Reward builds a positive foundation of good morale, whereas punishment tends to tear down morale. The style of power/coercion goes hand in hand with influence.
Consultation is the third leadership aspect that will be discussed. We now know that the effective leader must be aware of how they present themselves and how they use their power. In addition to these attributes, the manager must act as a mentor to those under him. He must be approachable and make the employees feel that he is there for them. At times situations may arise that do not fit clearly into defined policies and procedures. The effective leader will be there as a listener and mentor at these times.
The leader must be willing to help employees resolve issues and address their concerns. The employee that sees their manager as another part of the team, rather than an authority figure will be more willing to work thing out, than to allow a bad situation to continue out of fear of what the boss will say. There is a big difference between respect and fear. The effective leader will foster respect, without fostering a sense of fear from their employees. Fostering a team atmosphere is the most important tool that a manager has at their disposal. Acting as an effective mentor and consultant is key to their ability to do so.
The materials manager can be seen as the blood of the organization. The various departments need supplies to carry out their daily activities. The materials department delivers these supplies so that the entire organization can operate smoothly. Materials management goes beyond ordering supplies and delivering them. In order to minimize mistakes and foster committed employees that are dedicated to the smooth operation of the facility, the materials manager must be able to inspire other members of the department to do their best.
Effective leadership in the materials management department translates into a higher quality of patient care. It is easy to lose this perspective when one works in a department that is often behind the scenes. However, the materials department must never lose sight of their role in achieving organizational excellence and the front-end perceptions of the customer. Attitudes are as contagious as disease. A bad attitude in one department will eventually permeate the entire organization. However, a good attitude will help to improve the attitudes in other departments as well. Leadership is a journey of continuous self-reflection and self-assessment. The most important thing that a leader can do is to take a good and honest look at themselves and the spirit that they take to work. The leader helps to focus the organization and drives the group to the achievement of group goals and visions. As we have seen, one cannot separate the leader from the position. Leadership is a journey of personal growth as well as growth of the bottom line.
Covey, Stephen R. The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Restoring the Character Ethic. Simon and Schuster, 1989.