Leading in aged care

There are multiple forces at play in the aged care sector that make leadership more vital than ever. An increase in competition and consumer expectations continue to raise the ante on service delivery. On the other hand, ongoing funding restrictions put continued pressure on the resources available to deliver. Add to the mix a skill shortage across the industry, particularly in regional areas, it is no wonder Aged Care leaders are constantly being asked to do more with less.

There are plenty of silver linings though. One of the great things about my work in aged care consulting is the opportunity to work with staff from aged care providers across the entire country. In my experience there is a wealth of passionate individuals and leaders who are completely loyal to aged care despite all the above challenges. Aged care leaders, particularly those at the front line, are managing not only a large and diverse workforce, but also resident families and at times clinical delivery. Wearing these ‘multiple hats’, it is no wonder that aged care leaders struggle to find the time to effectively lead and inspire their staff.

So in a time poor environment, what areas of leadership should we be focusing on? One simple method is think about leadership in two broad categories of activities; leadership or management activities. 

The distinction between managing and leading others has been discussed by leadership experts for over four decades. Managing activities are considered operational in focus and include coordinating resources, monitoring budgets, following up on delegated tasks, and ensuring processes are followed. Managing is therefore about control, systems and structure.

Leadership on the other hand focuses on empowering and inspiring individuals, and includes activities such as communicating a vision, fostering culture, being a role model, and understanding individual staff motivators.

Managing and leading are both important in their own right, but as the leadership expert Warren Bennis once said, “organisations that fail are usually over managed and under-led”.

What is key for leaders is to ensure they are maintaining a healthy balance of both sets of activities to suit their organisation and workforce. The reality is management activities often demand our attention due to their urgent, must do nature. As a result, leadership activities are often pushed down the priority list.

A useful exercise for any leader is stop and reflect on where their time is distributed across the two categories, for example take the previous 7 days. Consider how much time you spent the last week reminding staff to follow a process versus having a coaching conversation to support their development? Or compiling and managing a roster versus communicating the facility’s culture or vision. Or following up a task to be done versus having a 1-1 conversation on individual career goals and motivators.

After this reflection leaders are often surprised how much time was spent managing their staff people rather than leading them. For those who struggle to achieve a good balance, consider what activities can be delegated to free up more leadership time. Delegating can be a valuable learning opportunity for others. Identify a couple of leadership activities and book them in for the following week. By creating a better balance of managing and leading others is a positive step to motivating and empowering your staff.

This article was written by Andrew Hoggan.
Andrew is the General Manager at Mirus Australia. He is passionate about creating changes in the aged care industry and empowering others to deliver on positive outcomes in their workplaces.