Changing health care systems depend on strong organizational leadership that realizes the collaborative potential of both physician and nonphysician leaders.
The aim of this study was to seek insight into the everyday health care leader experience by examining 24 physician and nonphysician leaders working in the U.K. National Health Service. We explored (a) how they make sense of and act with respect to specific collaborative tensions in their interactions and (b) which aspects of their everyday leadership contexts heighten the probability for producing and resolving such tensions.
We conducted 24 in-depth interviews with physician and nonphysician leaders in job titles including Chief Operating Officer, Managing Director, Medical Director, and Clinical Director. Ideas from the social psychological perspectives of sensemaking, organizational role theory, and organizational citizenship behavior helped frame the study.
We identified four areas of ongoing tension between senior leaders. Each of these was linked to a set of underlying drivers, with the strongest support for drivers with interpersonal roots. Effective strategies for resolving tensions involved significant effort by leaders at improving the interpersonal dynamics associated with everyday interaction and forging relational connections through enhanced trust within the leadership team.
This study outlines the organizational and individual characteristics that lend to effective collaboration among senior health care leadership and the types of collaborative tensions likely to be experienced by senior health care leaders.
Organizations should provide greater role clarity for senior leadership roles, promote “soft” interpersonal competencies within them, and better assess potential leaders for success in senior roles. Organizational support in the form of facilitation, time, and spaces to learn together can provide a better context for collaborative decision-making.