Effective Leadership Means Partnering

By Bonnie Horrigan




When conceptualizing the Leadership Program for Integrative Healthcare at Duke, a group of us were brainstorming what might make a leader in an integrative clinic different from a leader in a conventional healthcare setting.  We looked at the principles involved in integrative care and asked ourselves: Could what promotes health in patients also foster health in organizations?


We soon decided that the very same principles applied.


As we all know, one of the basic tenets of integrative healthcare is that healthcare professionals should partner with their patients in the healing journey.  Within this model, patients are educated and empowered to fully participate in the decision making about as well as the execution of their care plan.  Healthcare is not something that is done to them; it is something they do in partnership with their providers.


But to create a partnership, one first has to have a relationship with the person in question.  If there is no relationship between the patient and provider, vital information can be lost in the sea of silence.  It is through carefully cultivated relationships that important information and knowledge is shared, which provides for better decision-making.


Care that is built on developing relationships and the creation of partnerships creates a safe, healing environment in which patients can more readily achieve their health goals.


Integrative leadership recognizes that these same values — the essential role of relationships and the importance of partnerships — are fundamental to creating a strong and vital organizational cultural in which a vision can be realized.



Integrative leadership embraces the idea that every person in the organization, no matter what the job title or salary level, plays an important part in accomplishing the mission and making the vision an experienced reality.  As a leader, you don't want pawns that you move, you want people who move themselves in the right direction.  In order to effectively communicate to the people on your team, you need to have a real relationship with them.


Here are some tips for establishing good relationships with the people with whom you work:


• Be present in all your interactions

If you are talking to someone, then be there for that conversation.  Don't think about or do other things.  Pay full attention to the person in front of you and to what is being said, such that you make the other person feel seen and heard.  This means letting go of your normal inner chatter, suspending all your judgments, and forgoing your usual assumptions about the way things are or should or should not be.  Listen without preconceptions.


• Use appreciative inquiry to discover other people’s strengths

In its broadest sense, appreciative inquiry involves “discovering what gives ‘life’ to a living system when it is most alive, most effective, and most constructively capable.”  It is the art of asking questions that uncover and strengthen another person’s highest potential.  People who feel good about themselves and know they are recognized and appreciated, will bring their best effort to the game.


• Build Trust

Trust is built by being honest, unwaveringly reliable and strong.  The level of trust people place in you influences how and how much they will work with you.  As a leader, if you expect to have fellow co-workers willing to go in the direction you are pointing, those participants need to have confidence in you and your vision and in your ability to stay on course and be true to your word.


• Be a Multiplier not a Diminisher

Leaders who have to be the smartest and most important person in the room (you know the type) actually drain intelligence, energy and capacity from their employees.  We call these people Diminishers.  But when leaders ask for other people’s best thinking, offer opportunities that cause them to stretch and give people a sense ownership about the results, they amplify the intelligence and energy of their employees.  These leaders are Multipliers.  A Multiplier builds relationships that are both strong and real.



Integrative leadership values the benefits of partnerships.  Leaders understand that the more partners one has working toward the same goals, the more quickly those goals will be achieved.  One person alone can never do it all.  Here are some tips for turning those people with whom you have good relationships into full-fledged partners:

• Build consensus around the vision

If you want people to work toward a common vision of what can be then they must understand and embrace that vision.  A vision statement should be short — it is one sentence that describes the desired change that will result from the organization’s work.   In promoting the vision, it is important to explain the benefits that will be derived when the vision in realized.  Failure to understand what the vision is or why it is important can lead to lack of enthusiasm and poor decision making whereas agreement and engagement with the vision will inspire people to do their best.


• Create opportunities for others to experience the vision

Your partners need first-hand experience with the vision.  If part of your vision is to help patients reduce stress, then make sure your co-workers, no matter what their job, have the opportunity to engage in stress reducing techniques.  You can tell people about the value of the vision or you can show them, first hand, why the vision is so important.  When people experience the vision, they can own it.  It becomes theirs.


• Encourage new ideas about old things and promote innovation

Make it known that while people should perform within the scope of their job descriptions, all ideas to improve any part of the organization or its processes are welcome.  But don’t confine creative thinking to what already exists.  Ask the question: In pursuit of the vision, what doesn't exist now but could exist?  What do we need that we don't now have that will help up reach our goals?


• Extend people the space and authority to do their jobs

Human beings are intrinsically motivated by the need for (1) competence or mastery; (2) autonomy; and (3) relatedness or close relationships.  Helping people achieve mastery through education, coaching and encouragement; extending them enough autonomy to make decisions in their jobs; and understanding how their personal goals relate to the vision and mission of the organization will result in the creation of active “partners” rather than passive “employees.”


• Celebrate accomplishments

Use the law of attraction to your advantage.  Celebrate accomplishments and communicate broadly about the good things that are happening within the organization.  Thank people for jobs well done.  Acknowledging the small wins is just as important as celebrating the big wins because you will never achieve your big, hairy, humongous goal without completing all the little steps along the way.


In summary, successful leaders nurture relationships with their co-workers and work to create a culture of partnership throughout the organization.


More details about the concepts in this essay are available in the white paper, The Pebble in the Pond: How Integrative Leadership Can Bring About Transformation.