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Healing and Leading Are Really the Same Thing

3 min read

The interpersonal communication skills of listening, empathy, and storytelling are what inspire and motivate growth and improvement, in a healthcare or business setting.

During his time as CEO of  a global communication training firm, Sean Kavanagh discovered the power of communication skills through his lengthy recovery from a serious bike accident.

Chaos and recovery

In August 2016 I spent most of a year in medical care after being hit by a truck while riding my bike to work. I suffered multiple broken bones, blood clots, and a traumatic brain injury. In the hospital they worked quickly on my comatose body and I regained consciousness two weeks later. What followed was months of rehab and learning how to speak, write, walk, and take care of myself. A few years later, despite some ringing in my ears and fatigue, I’m leading a normal life again. I’m even back riding my bike.

Recognizing parallels with leadership

One of the most significant lessons I learned during this experience is this:

Yes, the technical skills of the ER doctors undoubtedly saved my life that August morning (and I thank them for it every day). But it was the interpersonal skills of the medical professionals during my rehabilitation who healed me.

The doctor who truly listened to me, the occupational therapists who empathized with my frustration and encouraged me to push harder, the psychiatrist who used stories to explain my plight and encouraged me to tell my own—they all understood me as a person rather than just a patient, and it made all the difference in my recovery.

Ironically, I’ve been teaching leadership skills for decades. But I never quite realized until my accident that leadership               development and healing are basically the same.

In both cases, you are helping someone progress from one state (inexperienced or struggling leader/poor health) to an improved state (successful leader/good health). While both leaders and medical professionals certainly need technical skills, the interpersonal communication skills of listening, empathy, and storytelling are what inspire and motivate growth and improvement, and ultimately lead to success.

The National Institute for Health Journal of Medicine and Life puts it this way:

“Communication is a fundamental clinical skill that, if performed competently and efficiently, facilitates the establishment of a relationship of trust between the medical staff and the patient-customer, a truly therapeutic alliance.”

“Communication in the medical act is an active process of transmission and reception of information, and, at least one of the partners of communication must have active listening skills, understanding of the message, and answering some questions for interpretation of non-verbal language, motivating the speaker to support the conversation.”

Hospitals across the country are now increasingly supplementing their technical training with teaching more soft skills in the professional development curriculum for both clinicians and managers—and seeing results.

Effective communication skills are key in all work environments

This is the essence of what Ariel does through its Leadership Presence, Relationship-Building and Storytelling programs to help leaders better connect with their audiences, to be authentic, to have empathy, and to actively listen  and tailor their words and actions in an appropriate way to diverse audiences.

After participating in a two-day leadership presence program, Dr. David Feinbloom of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center said, “self-awareness of physical, emotional, and verbal presences is invaluable in all areas.”

Thonda Barnes, Leadership Development Consultant at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, agrees. “This is the heart of who we are at St. Jude’s. Lead with compassion is one of our core values, and you can’t do that without the skills of empathy and connection that builds trust with our patients.”

A medical practitioner’s relationship with their patients is, by nature, physically therapeutic. But clearly, recent research is showing that patients are not satisfied by just being physically “fixed”—they want a relationship, an alliance—and communication skills like listening, empathy, and storytelling are the missing pieces that lead to increased trust and improved health.

If you want to read more about Sean’s experience, download his eBook, Fall Risk or contact us to talk more about how Ariel can help.


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