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Good leadership for good health

By Karyl Estrella MIML

We’ve all heard the advice about laughter being the best medicine and how apples can repel doctors. But physiotherapist Dianna Howell CMgr MIML will let you in on a secret: good leadership helps employees heal. The New Zealand native and director of physiotherapy and workplace rehabilitation practice, Active Recovery, advocates using our understanding of neuroscience to influence leadership behaviour.

For Howell, good leadership skills must function hand in glove with an effective recovery strategy. “Skills like listening, empathy, self-reflection and even coaching are all vital for people who struggle with illness and injury.”, she says.

With 10.5 million Australians aged between 25 and 64, and around 1.5 million people in New Zealand having chronic diseases ranging from asthma, arthritis or even depression, Howell knows that good management will be a crucial ingredient for those who remain or enter the workforce.

People with a chronic health condition may wish to continue working for various reasons. Some do so to stay connected with a community, others use work and a sense of purpose to keep them motivated, and others still may need to work for financial reasons.

Managers must be ready to lead and support employees who live with a chronic illness. Howell shares four ways you can help your chronically ill staff member to recover:

Be a coach

Howell’s experience as a clinician means she can adapt conversations she would have with a patient into one with a staff member who needs help. However, you don’t need to be a qualified health professional to carry out a coaching conversation. As Howell explains, “You want to find out what they know about the condition and what they are dealing with, and then you think about what that person needs and find ways to fill those gaps. So really, it’s a coaching conversation.”

Dianna Howell CMgr MIML

Give them a clear purpose

Confirming Howell’s belief that neuroscience, good leadership and successful recovery are all connected, she has observed the mind’s power when it comes to overcoming chronic illnesses. “People may suffer persistent pain for a lot of reasons, but a lot of times those who don’t respond well to treatment are usually people who struggle with their purpose,” she says. Managers should keep in mind the importance of clarifying each individual’s purpose in achieving organisational goals.

Remember your role as a manager

Howell emphasises that as managers, your main task is to provide your teams with the skills, knowledge, guidance and opportunities so that they can make important contributions to the company. This doesn’t change when it comes to helping employees with chronic illnesses – if anything, this battle cry becomes even more essential.

Show that you care

Your employees matter. That’s why Howell is convinced that you must never lose sight of this fact no matter what your staff member may be going through. “Everybody who walks into my practice, whether they are a patient or a staff member, has the potential to get better,” she says. This is the mindset that every caring leader should adopt – never forget that you are instrumental in helping others achieve their full potential.

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