The focus on compliance and regulation in aged care limits the opportunity for aspiring leaders to take risks and learn from their mistakes, which is a challenge for organisations that seek to develop their staff, an industry consultant says.
Philip Mayers, director of Dakin Mayers and a consultant in executive recruitment and organisational reviews, will tell providers at next week’s Tri-State conference that the sector requires courageous chief executives who can “model the way, challenge the system and inspire future managers and leaders”.
Mr Mayers, who is a former CEO of Montefiore Homes for the Aged in Melbourne and former deputy chair of RDNS, said it was difficult to be a “bold manager” in aged care, given it was a compliance driven sector which operated under multiple layers of regulation. “It is very difficult in that context to have the courage to do what you want to do, to be bold or creative,” he said.
The ongoing challenge for organisations was to encourage their aspiring leaders to step up into senior roles, but this was hindered by the lack of opportunity for them to be bold and to learn from their mistakes.
“Leadership needs to start at the top and must be modelled by the CEO who has the courage to allow small errors; forgivable, risk managed errors.”
Mr Mayers said that several organisations were overcoming this challenge by allowing aspiring managers to work on projects, ideally not within their particular department, in addition to their day job. This was an opportunity to develop new skills, exert influence and authority, and explore other areas of the business.
“It might be designing a new area, a renovation or a new program, and allowing them to manage a team that is responsible for a particular part of that. It’s about giving them that leadership experience in a safe environment.
“Through that process they realise they are capable of working in wider areas. They will then have confidence to make leadership decisions.”
Follow the leader
Discussing the qualities of a great leader, Mr Mayers cited the academics James Kouzes and Barry Pozner who documented five practices of exemplary leadership: model the way; inspire a shared vision; challenge the process; enable others to act; and encourage the heart.
“Challenge the process doesn’t mean break the rules, it means asking why are we doing things the way we are, and is there a better way,” he said.
“It reminds me of the saying from Abraham Maslow that, ‘If the only tool you have is a hammer, you will see every problem as a nail’. Leaders need to ask, what tools do they have? Can they do things differently and still comply?”
Mr Mayers will also discuss “role ambiguity” whereby new managers struggle to reconcile the professional values and practices of their former role with their newly acquired responsibilities.
“A new manager might find that she was always a good nurse, had advocated for her residents, and stuck with her colleagues. Now, all of a sudden, she’s the boss and she’s telling people they can’t have certain shifts, or there’s no money in the budget.
“She’s still working alongside the same colleagues and residents, but now she has to be a tough manager. That creates a lot of ambiguity for some people; and many wear that authority with great difficulty.”
Mr Mayers said his presentation “did not have all the answers” but rather he aimed to raise some pertinent questions and start a discussion about leadership in the sector.
The Tri-State conference, organised by Leading Age Services NSW/ACT, South Australia and Victoria, takes place in Albury from 23 to 25 February.
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