By: Asra Riaz
When will things get back to normal? That’s the question I ask myself more and more frequently. The news is still scary with the rise of COVID variants and with the strain on the health care system; but I find myself less concerned these days than a year ago. Nearly all the people I interact with have been vaccinated. My kids are back in school and seemingly unfazed by the requirements that allow their return. Is this the new normal? Can we shed some of the anxiety we’ve been carrying around for the last year and a half? Life has not only found a way to carry on, but it is also creating new opportunities.
All of us at Integrated Work have managed to stay healthy and productive during this strange and difficult era. We are grateful to have been able to help many other organizations navigate the strangeness they face. In doing so, we are keenly aware of the growing importance of addressing emerging leadership needs.
The country is finally reckoning with the structural issues that the community health center movement was founded to address. Though it took tragedy to initiate, the national conversation is centered on diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI). No matter what the conversation, at least people are talking. Systemic problems are being recognized and called out. There seems to be a cultural shift occurring: Companies are taking a stance as anti-racist organizations, equitable compensation is being addressed, and Black Indigenous People Of Color (BIPOC) employee resource groups are providing internal forums of support at many organizations. In short, DEI issues are in the spotlight and this is adding to the need for different kinds of leadership skills than were previously required.
After decades of excellent leadership and influence, many community health center executives are retiring. Their organizations continue to seek mission driven individuals to fill these evolving roles. Leadership qualities now emphasize resilience, and the ability to avoid burn out (for staff as well as for the C-suite) is paramount. In a nod to the important role that health centers have played during the pandemic, as well as to the growing importance of resilience, supplemental funding is being made available to help health centers maintain the well-being of health care workers.
Along with the challenges already noted, hybrid work, meeting technology, and data analysis have both enabled and required leaders to learn to work together in purpose if not in person. A focus on recruiting, retention, and creation of positions dedicated to addressing diversity is critical. Hiring from within local communities along with pipeline development from local colleges and high schools to help ameliorate the growing pressure on a shrinking workforce are highly recommended strategies.
We are all doing the best we can to adapt during a period of intense change. It doesn’t really matter if the impact of the pandemic is actually being ameliorated, or if we have just gotten better at navigating the terrain. We can’t wait for an all-clear signal. There may never be a clear end or victory and we can’t afford to waste any time waiting for the world to go back to normal. This is the new normal; and cultivating and identifying strong purpose driven leadership is more critical than ever. Integrated Work stands ready to meet the challenge and to support our partners to grow into the opportunities that await them.