Healthcare Leadership Lessons Learned from COVID-19

“Attitude reflects leadership.”

This line from the football film Remember the Titans powerfully, yet simply, communicates the impact of a leader. Periods of positive transformation and times of turmoil both test leadership. The way leaders approach these changes can influence the morale and productivity of their team.

Leadership makes a difference, especially in today’s burdened world. COVID-19 has altered lives and exposed gaps in management across industries. The magnitude of the pandemic puts healthcare in the spotlight, as leaders scramble to protect the healthcare workers on the front lines.

What Is Healthcare Leadership?

The concept of leadership has evolved in the past two decades. The traditional model, characterized by an authoritarian style, has taken a backseat to a collaborative approach informed by teamwork and an understanding of emotional intelligence in addition to the traditional functions of command.

Healthcare leaders today must take a comprehensive stance. They should understand the activities that take place under them — research, regulations, finance — and at the same time value empathy, mentorship and strong communication skills. Healthcare leaders must be multifaceted to navigate the ebb and flow of the industry.

Issues Revealed from COVID-19

Since the spread of the novel coronavirus, healthcare workers have worked tirelessly to treat those affected by it, putting their own lives at risk. As their courage and efforts are applauded globally, apprehension surrounds their safety. Personal protective equipment (PPE) and other supplies dwindled as case counts increased, leaving these essential workers vulnerable to becoming patients themselves.

The inconsistency of information shared between local health departments, state health departments, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the World Health Organization has presented other issues, leaving many workers confused about protocol in an already unsafe environment. The proper use of PPE while treating patients, for instance, continues to be debated.

Healthcare professionals are navigating uncharted waters. Even after there is a vaccination for COVID-19, much will remain uncertain, and leadership will be tested. The mark of a great leader, though, is devotion to education. This pandemic has given a master class in the values of adaptability and transparency.


COVID-19 has transformed the way we live, work and operate as a society. The crisis reveals how important it is for healthcare leaders to shift perspective for the benefit of the whole. Examples:

  • Adjust the plan of action. With the constant bombardment of new information, leaders must understand that no two days will look the same. It takes a team effort to manage ordinary tasks and the surge from the pandemic. This may mean supporting cross-functional collaboration, changing the scope of projects, creating more nimble response groups, and better delegating responsibilities.
  • Take advantage of technology. When human interaction is limited, technology is the best way to stay connected with patients, community members and other healthcare professionals. Technology can also be used as a safety measure for healthcare workers. Many healthcare facilities are employing facial scans to detect fevers in visitors.
  • Evaluate the big picture and not just immediate problems. What leaders do now will impact how things look months from now.


A chief nurse representative for the California Nurses Association said she “cried almost every day” going to work on the front lines, and she emphasized that transparency would make everyone feel better. Today’s healthcare leader must embrace this value, as ambiguous communication could be society’s downfall in such an uncertain climate.

Healthcare leaders must find a way to communicate the realities of COVID-19 while motivating workers and creating a space for them to feel safe, both physically and emotionally. This builds trust and morale.

History tells of the events that reshaped society, from how we travel to how we view security. These events also present a chance to learn and adapt for the betterment of society or, perhaps, an industry. The novel coronavirus offers many lessons for the healthcare industry, now and in the future. It is imperative that leaders remain open, flexible and focused on the big picture.

Learn more about Boise State University’s online MBA with an Emphasis in Healthcare Leadership program.  


Journal of Healthcare Leadership: Health Care Leadership Development and Training: Progress and Pitfalls

The Economic Times: The World Wasn’t Prepared for Covid-19

CIO: How the Covid-19 Pandemic is Reshaping Healthcare with Technology

ABC News: The Battle to Protect Healthcare Workers on the Front Lines of the Coronavirus Pandemic

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