What the Prism Psychometric Portraits of 2,500 Healthcare Leaders Tell Us

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Leadership resides at all levels of the organization, whether in a formal title or not. As a result, we need to expand the box on our thinking about what capabilities all leaders need to impact organizational culture.

But this task seems daunting. How can we possibly evaluate and assess all the leadership traits and behaviors needed for success? Thankfully, data is available to provide insights and lead to action. 

At SurePeople, we’ve spent significant time engaging with clients in the healthcare field and have accumulated a wealth of data about leaders in such organizations.

In looking at a sample of approximately 2,500 healthcare leaders, we’ve found that there are certain common or dominant psychometric traits and attributes that characterize leaders in healthcare organizations, across a variety of roles. 

We looked at five themes across this universe of leaders, and perhaps as expected, there were a few traits and attributes that emerged with very strong definition, providing a hypothesis for “why” and revealing some of the ways in which healthcare leaders consistently behave and lead. 

Theme #1: Power & Precision Dominate 

On the dimension of Personality & Personality Under Pressure, Power and Precision dominate, with a significant increase in Precision when people are in high-pressure situations.

In healthcare and research-based environments, this makes sense. Attention to detail (Precision) and the ability to take action, and maintain confidence when dealing with colleagues and patients (Power) are core and critical capabilities required for success in a healthcare environment. 

In the context of leadership, however, these two strengths of Power and Precision, can create challenges from a relationship/engagement/leadership perspective when over-used. This is especially relevant in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, where so many healthcare workers are emotionally taxed, suffering from burnout, and where people are in need of high-levels of compassion and empathy. These skills are not front and center for Power-Precision leaders. 

Theme #2: People Are More Oriented Toward One-on-One vs. Group Relationships 

Although relational attributes are not as dominant, when healthcare leaders do focus on relationships, their preference is toward one-on-one or small-group settings vs. large groups. This is highly compatible with collaborative healthcare models that require smaller teams to work together, where colleagues engage in one-on-one consults, and patient cases are evaluated and monitored in smaller team formats. 

Theme #3: Logic & Cognitive Processing Rule the Day 

Concrete, cognitive and orderly processing are how healthcare leaders “make sense of the world around them.” This is also logical as protocols and processes need to be followed, decisions need to be data-driven, and although a good “bedside manner” is important, emotional reactions are not ideal in potential life-and-death situations. 

From a leadership perspective, however, these natural attributes can create a dynamic where people may feel unsafe to share feelings and perspectives that aren’t fully “backed-up” by proof and data, they may feel anxious about making changes to plans or shut-down when creative ideas are proposed to address challenges. 

Theme #4: Goals, People & Freedom Matter 

Healthcare leaders are highly motivated by three key attributes: Attainment of GoalsAffiliation, and Freedom. What is significant about this particular collection of motivators is that if people do not feel as though they are achieving positive outcomes, if they are struggling with the quality of work and/or capabilities of their colleagues, and if they feel that they are being “micro-managed” or don’t have the latitude for creative problem-solving and decision-making, they are at-risk of being demotivated. 

Conversely, if they are focused on outcomes, working in small teams with colleagues they respect and feel as though they have variety and latitude in their own work and decision-making abilities, they will be highly motivated and energized, even in the face of major challenges. 

Theme #5: Purpose & Impact Are A Key Lever for Engagement

We already know that for healthcare leaders, mission, purpose and impact are of paramount importance. The field beckons those who want to truly make a difference in people’s lives. This truth is validated in the psychometric data with very high scores in “Significance” which is defined as the desire to have an impact, align to purpose, and feel valued. 

From a leadership perspective, it is imperative for leaders to understand that Significance is a core need for healthcare workers (and themselves). This is a key lever for motivating and inspiring the workforce — continually linking the value of what people are doing to their impact, value and purpose. 

At the same time, we’ve also drawn on groundbreaking scientific studies that explore leadership behaviors and organizational strategies to prevent burnout and increase leadership resilience.

One leading study from the Mayo Clinic reveals approximately ten leadership behaviors and organizational strategies that significantly impact organizational culture, satisfaction and retention, burnout levels, and employee engagement, among other key metrics.

The challenge is that these attributes and behaviors to prevent burnout do not always readily align with the dispositions and psychometric wiring of successful leaders in these organizations. Put simply, highly driven and impactful leaders are also often predisposed to burnout and dissatisfaction. 

Many of the behaviors revealed in the Mayo Clinic study (and others) are oriented toward emotional, relational, and team intelligence (ERTi), belonging to the world of so-called soft skills or behaviors — such as listening with empathy, giving and receiving feedback, and managing conflict. These align with key metrics and traits that matter for satisfaction, resilience, retention, longevity, and engagement. Organizational cultures that focus on developing ERTi see increases in these and other measures. 

Leadership traits in healthcare are not always naturally or spontaneously aligned with the soft-skills traits needed to foster working environments that support resilience and engagement. But there is good news in all of this: 

  • Incremental improvements have proven to make a significant impact. For every 1 point increase, burnout is reduced by 3.3 percent and engagement is increased by 9 percent, according to a Mayo clinic study.
  • We do not have to “boil the ocean” on all soft-skills that exist in the universe. If leaders learn to focus on the 10 that matter, they will positively impact their organizations. 
  • At least 1/3 of the 10 capabilities that matter are positively aligned to the overall psychometric portrait of healthcare leaders. This means that they can leverage their natural strengths to significantly increase their impact, while simultaneously focusing on making incremental improvements in a few key areas that may be out of their “comfort zone”.

The power of the SurePeople Prism approach is that we maintain a psychometric focus. This means we don’t just look at leadership behaviors, which are often situation and role specific. Our data are revealed based on an individual’s own input and self-assessment. This is more fundamental and permanent and travels with you regardless of role or context. It is also compelling in leadership development as it is “me telling me about me” vs. “me receiving feedback from an outside source about me.” 

The coaching guru, Marshall Goldsmith often speaks of high performers as not really feeling concerned about what everyone thinks of them. They do, however, deeply care about what a few key people think, and those are the people they typically lean-on for strategic insight and advice. Given this reality, and a narrowed list of key ERTi capabilities to be developed, leaders can easily prioritize which competencies matter most to them in their unique context. 

Furthermore, organizations can use information gathered from their employee Prisms to identify hidden talent or prioritize members of their population who are naturally oriented toward the successful implementation of the 10 critical skillsets outlined above.

In this way, a broader pool of talent, oriented more toward these skills naturally, can act as a “booster” for the organization to reduce burnout and increase engagement. 

In conclusion, behavior is crucial, but it’s often superficial and situation specific. Alone, it is insufficient as a measure of potential and impact.

We need to look deeper into psychometrics and psychological wiring and let these insights drive the agenda. Prism portraits provide this information and can be used to help organizations empower and support leadership at all levels, and build cultures that promote resilience, satisfaction, and impact over the long term. 

To learn how Prism psychometrics can help your organization, please reach out.

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