Overcoming Leadership Challenges in Behavioral Healthcare

What is the most significant leadership and ethical challenge facing behavioral health? How do you prevent burnout? What do you do to reduce turnover? How can you achieve a healthy culture?

In a recent webinar for Harmony Foundation, Maeve O’Neill, MEd, LPC-S, CHC, CDTLF,  looked at questions concerning ethics, compliance, and leadership in behavioral health, using the research-based work of Brené Brown, who has extensively studied the topics of courage, vulnerability, shame, empathy, and leadership. Brown’s presentation on the power of vulnerability is one of the most-viewed TED talks, with over 60 million views. 

O’Neill has worked in behavioral health for 35 years. Her first ten years were in direct clinical service with all populations, ten years in program management with all settings, and the last 15 years in executive leadership with national organizations specializing in Ethics and Compliance. She is currently the Director of National Compliance at Circa Behavioral Healthcare Solutions.

The webinar explored strategies to engage staff proactively and mitigate burnout risks. O’Neill looked at tools and insights needed to foster a positive organizational culture, emphasizing the importance of ethical practices and compliance within the workplace. 

O’Neill presented a roadmap using the work of Brené Brown’s “Dare to Lead” program to engage staff, empower teams, and enhance organizational culture. 

O’Neill began by talking about healthcare worker burnout, explaining that “burnout is the result of chronic workplace stress due to an imbalance between job demands and resources.” It is characterized by “feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion, increased mental distance from one’s job, feelings of negativism or cynicism, and reduced professional efficacy.”

Actions leaders can take today to support team members’ well-being and retention may include adjusting expectations, shoring up staffing, and getting rid of stupid stuff. A 2020 paper on practices for improving the well-being of clinicians recommended periodic assessments of the following:

  1. Clinician well-being, using one of several validated instruments
  2. Departmental or business unit-level leadership qualities
  3. The efficiency of the practice environment
  4. Culture and trust in the organization
  5. Organizational cost of clinician burnout
  6. Workforce recruitment and retention

Part of creating a culture of trust could be establishing a chief wellness officer position. The role of such a well-being manager should involve “creating a workplace environment where all individuals thrive,” said O’Neill. “Workplace well-being must be a whole-person approach encompassing mental, emotional, physical, social, and financial elements. Leaders need to show up with an open mind and find innovative ways to nurture the well-being and growth of their employees.”

A work culture of “blame and shame, burn and churn, or command and control” is to be overcome. O’Neill introduced Brené Brown’s books Atlas of the Heart, which describes human emotions and experiences and the language used to understand them, and Dare to Lead: “When we dare to lead, we don’t pretend to have the right answers; we stay curious and ask the right questions.”

William White’s 1987 classic The Incestuous Workplace also analyzed workplace dilemmas such as corroding trust, lack of innovation, a shame and blame culture, and other “barriers to courage.” 

The Brené Brown approach includes skill sets such as “Rumbling with Vulnerability” and “Living into our Values.” Leadership should take risks and inspire, explained O’Neill. Feedback should be understood as a function of respect. “When you don’t have honest conversations with us about our strengths and our opportunities, we question our contributions and your commitment. Above else, we ask you to show up and dare greatly with us.”

A leader is anyone who takes responsibility for finding the potential in people and processes and who has the courage to develop that potential. Brown teaches that “daring leaders who live into their values are never silent about hard things.”

Harmony Foundation is one of the longest-running and most successful addiction treatment centers in the world. If you or a loved one are struggling with alcohol or drug addiction, or you have questions about our programs, call us today at (970) 432-8075 to get the help needed as soon as possible. Our experienced staff is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.