Blog Post
Man pondering and looking towards the future.

Reflections on Leadership: Being Intentional About How to Approach What’s Next

November 13, 2020

By Sunita Mutha, MD, FACP, Director of Healthforce Center

As we look forward from this recent presidential election, there is a lot to celebrate given the huge success of “get out the vote” efforts. However we might feel about the results of the state and presidential elections, there are important reflections about where we are at this moment in time and how we prepare for what’s ahead of us still. 

There’s a lot to unpack and understand in the vastly disparate viewpoints that shape political views in our country. Though we likely can all agree that the path ahead for our country, our work, and our daily routines is going to be difficult as we experience another terrible surge in COVID-19 cases threatening lives, livelihoods, and our communities. 

In my own reflections on preparing for what’s ahead with so much uncertainty, I’m reminded of Scott Sonenshein’s perspective that we cannot plan for perfection. We have to work with what’s in front of us now and be intentional about how we approach what’s next with what we know. So, as we prepare for the many unknowns ahead, including expected surges, the president elect’s response to the pandemic, and the future of the ACA, here are some of the takeaways shaping our work at Healthforce Center: 

1. Leadership has consequences. Who we choose to lead us – and how we follow – shapes the values that inform our plans, options for solving today’s problems, and who is involved in decision making. We need to choose and prepare the pipeline of leaders wisely and hold them accountable. At Healthforce Center, our Cedars-Sinai Community Clinic Initiative: Managing to Leading Program, which is actively recruiting its next cohort until January 29, 2021, exemplifies our focus on improving health care by offering managers transformative leadership development opportunities. This process of coming together as a cohort of 30 dedicated, mission-driven managers to uncover strengths and weaknesses, grow capacity to lead teams and understand the environment, communicate effectively and design projects that help improve care is essential for ensuring the care communities need and want.

2. Chaos can catalyze change. We are all navigating many challenges – in our communities, at work, and in our personal lives. How are we choosing where to put our focus and effort? How can we use this chaos as an opportunity to get really clear about our values? How are we testing new ideas, evaluating innovations, and creating equitable structures? How are we sharing what we’re learning and leveraging our networks to drive better processes and solutions in the face of so much change? 

At Healthforce Center, one way we catalyze change is by bringing together leaders to identify gaps, share innovations, and deliver health care in ways that were unthinkable even a year ago. For example, in our California Improvement Network, on the first Wednesday of every month, quality improvement leaders from across California meet over desk lunches and Zoom to discuss the evolving challenges of addressing social determinants of health during a pandemic and collaborate on ways to better meet the needs of their communities.

3. Stay prepared to act. We have to keep in mind that some of the work we do today will have its full impact only when the right opportunity aligns with the evidence-based research and advocates to champion our work forward. It’s important to build the evidence, network, and advocacy so that when the window of opportunity opens, we can quickly take action. We saw this at the beginning of the pandemic when we responded in a matter of hours to create guidance for the state on a list of strategies to rapidly increase the workforce for the crisis that was coming. The final recommendations reflect our many years of evidence-building work, which enabled us to identify what actions would quickly create the workforce needed to provide care.

Another recent example is the extensive work, over many years, that created the evidence base and contributed to the recent passing of pivotal workforce-related legislation in California. These legislative successes, specifically, AB 1544: Community Paramedicine, SB 1237: Nurse-Midwives, SB 803: Peer Providers, and AB 890: Nurse Practitioners, reflect the culmination of years of research, advocacy, education, and commitment to improving access and the health of communities in California. 

The road ahead to equitable and better health in our communities is long and this journey will have many unknown obstacles. Even with our limited knowledge of how things will unfold in the coming months, this is a time to take a breath and prepare together, intentionally, to address the challenges we’ll face.

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About Sunita

Sunita Mutha, MD, FACP, is the director of Healthforce Center at UCSF. For over a decade, she has been engaged in transformational leadership in health care with a special focus on emerging leaders and inter-professional training.