September 15, 2023By Erin Carn Bennett

Infusing Empathetic Leadership Skills into Clinical Simulation

Empathetic leadership occurs when leaders display a genuine concern for their team members and is extremely valuable in healthcare simulation. Crisis Resource Management (CRM) style healthcare simulation courses are a common place for healthcare leaders to practice this leadership skill. This article by Erin Carn-Bennett, MSN, RN, will explore what empathetic leadership is, why empathetic leadership is important, and objectives to learn with empathetic leadership that could be incorporated into healthcare simulation courses in the future.

What We Can Learn From Aviation’s Crew Resource Management (CRM)

Healthcare is prone to crisis and an incredibly high-stakes work environment. Crises are more common within acute care environments such as operation rooms, emergency departments, and other specialties such as critical care. CRM principles historically relate to the aviation industry. However, these principles and their educational points have been transferred over time into many iterations of teamwork in healthcare, particularly healthcare simulation. Incorporating empathy with CRM promotes psychological safety.

Sponsored Content:

Lei and Palm (2022) describe CRM principles as leadership, communication, anticipation and plans, resource utilization, workload distribution, situational awareness, triage, prioritization, and management of disruptions. CRM-based clinical simulation education focuses on key principles to detect potential adverse outcomes earlier and empower team members to intervene and improve patient outcomes. CRM based clinical simulation education is an effective form of healthcare simulation used to train team-based skills for healthcare workers for many years globally.

Effective leadership and strategies that surround the concept and the impact on teamwork are infused and taught through CRM principle based healthcare simulation education with a focus on cognitive and interpersonal behaviors. The next level of leadership based learning outcomes in clinical simulation could be the addition of softer skills, such as empathetic leadership skills. The hard skills that surround teamwork learning objectives are already present in healthcare simulation; however, layers of more soft skills of empathetic leadership would add depth of skills acquired in healthcare simulation, which translates to care of patients in real life.

Empathy and Empathetic Leadership

Empathy is described as the ability to understand the needs of others and be aware of thoughts and emotions. Elements of empathetic leadership include active listening, a conscious effort to fully engage and present, and understanding others’ backgrounds, experiences, and challenges. Empathetic leaders understand their team members’ emotions and their associated challenges. Empathetic leaders know how to be empathetic by having the ability to put themselves in others’ shoes and therefore understand others’ perspectives. In a crisis, the possession of these skills allows for awareness to alter the team’s focus or roles to enable the best outcome for the patient.

Sponsored Content:

Empathetic leaders advocate for others, are skilled in perspective taking and removal of judgment, and are qualified to recognize the emotions in others. Empathetic leaders have self- and peer awareness and take action accordingly to these factors. Empathetic leaders create more effective and productive work environments. This impact is made through empathetic leadership and a psychologically safe space so the team members feel empowered to speak up, especially about patient safety.

Empathetic leadership builds solid relationships, promotes teamwork, maximizes productivity, and encourages innovation. The best leaders pull from a portfolio of skills that are a mix of hard and soft skills. Empathy is needed more than ever now as stress levels are at an all time high in all workforces, particularly healthcare across the globe. There is nothing soft about the true power of empathy.

Leadership in Healthcare Simulation

Though leadership skills are woven through all elements of healthcare simulation-based education, specific leadership workshops in healthcare simulation are in the infancy stages for many areas of the world. Most healthcare workforce disciplines initially learn leadership skills through examples modeled by colleagues. As the healthcare workforce staff shortages across the globe continue, more junior colleagues are placed into leadership positions sooner than anticipated to enable clinical care to continue as productively as possible.

For many without the clinical wisdom that comes from the years of observation of others, there is a need to intentionally teach the soft elements of leadership skills that can assist with the retention and development of the healthcare workforce. The ability to foster empathetic leadership skills will allow new leaders to have skills to use that will not only assist teams in a crisis to function more effectively but assist new leaders with stress management, stress tolerance, problem-solving, and the ability to make decisions under pressure.

Focus points for emphasis on empathetic leadership skills could include:

  • Recognition of team members with task overload and attempt to resolve
  • Recognition of team members struggling with knowledge gaps to complete skills
  • Optimization of team member roles and to swap these roles as necessary
  • Maintenance of situational awareness by use of communication skills to notify other team members of decision fatigue as it arises and
  • Share the mental load among other team members by a request of input around whether other team members have anything to add to plans
  • Resource management through an empathetic leadership lens would be to know team members’ skillsets and purposefully allocate roles to allow for workforce development to acquire new skills while well supported

The transformational impact of empathetic leadership is that leaders lead with confidence, authenticity, and energy and are humble at their peak performance. The ripple effect of empathetic leadership for healthcare in high-performance teams should be considered. Central to all of these outcomes is the sustainability of the future for healthcare and improved patient outcomes as high-performance teams work together more effectively and safely.

View the LEARN CE/CME Platform Webinar Successful Healthcare Simulation Leadership: Tools to Make a Difference to learn more!

This article has explored a relatively new phenomenon gaining traction in all workplaces: empathetic leadership. Elements of empathetic leadership have been explored and then related to Crisis Resource Management which has been popular for many years for healthcare simulation for participants to learn interpersonal and teamwork based skills. There has been discussion around how Crisis Resource Management courses’ depth of learning could be emphasized with more focus on the soft skills of empathetic leadership and the power behind those.

Learn More About TeamSTEPPS and Crew Resource Management!

Sponsored Content: