‘You can give them wings to fly’: a qualitative study on values-based leadership in health care

BMC Medical Ethics 20 (1):35 (2019)

Abstract

Within contemporary health care, many of the decisions affecting the health and well-being of patients are not being made by the clinicians or health professionals, but by those involved in health care management. Existing literature on organizational ethics provides insight into the various structures, processes and strategies - such as mission statement, ethics committees, ethical rounds … - that exist to create an organizational climate, which fosters ethical practices and decision-making It does not, however, show how health care managers experience their job as being intrinsically ethical in itself. In the present article, we investigate the way in which ethical values are present in the lived experiences and daily practice of health care management. What does it imply to take up a managing position within a health care institution and to try to do this in an ethically inspired way? We carried out a qualitative study to explore the essence of values-based leadership in health care. We interviewed 15 people with extensive experience in health care management in the fields of elderly care, hospital care and mental health care in the various regions of Flanders, Belgium. Six predominant themes, presented as metaphors, illustrate the essence of values-based leadership in health care management. These are: values-based health care management as managing a large garden, as learning and using a foreign language, going on a trekking with an ethical compass, embodying integrity and authenticity in a credible encounter with everyone, being a present and trustworthy leader during sun and storm, and contributing to human flourishing by giving people wings to fly. Notwithstanding the importance of organizing a good ethics infrastructure, values-based leadership in health care entails much more than that. It is about the co-creation of an integrated and comprehensive ethical climate of which community-model thinking and authentic leadership are essential components. As a never-ending process, the six metaphors can help leaders to take substantive proactive steps to shape a fruitful ethical climate within their organization.

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