August 7, 2023


Thought Leadership

John Couris is president and CEO of Tampa General Hospital.

“Practicing empathy lies at the heart of leading with love. It is the ability to walk in someone else’s shoes, trying to understand the burdens of their path and genuinely caring about their well-being.”

A little love goes a long way 
in effective leadership

Hospitals across the country have been grappling with employee and leader burnout, with a significant number of clinicians rethinking their careers and CEOs exiting. Workplace pressures have been amplified by incivility and societal violence. When so many caregivers find themselves becoming desensitized to negative behavior, it’s time to double down on leading with love and respect. 

Many people will argue that leadership is about influence and about guiding others toward a shared vision. But true leadership goes beyond power and authority. At the heart of leadership lies the simple act of love.

This approach means seeing beyond titles and metrics and understanding that each person brings their own experiences, struggles and aspirations to the workplace. Leaders must tap into the profound power of empathy and compassion, fostering an environment where people feel seen and heard.

Choosing a career in healthcare is profoundly rewarding but challenging. Everyone enters the field knowing there will be long hours and irregular shifts. Caregivers know they will bear witness to human suffering and death. But they need more than a leader who is fixated on the bottom line—they need to be reminded that their mission is a sacred one, that they are valued and that they will be supported as they carry out the often-taxing role of caring for others. 

At the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, 93% of health workers reported being stretched too thin and 82% said they were emotionally exhausted, according to a 2020 survey by Mental Health America, cited by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. Fast forward, and the number of hospital CEOs stepping down between January and May of this year increased 70% compared with the same period in 2022, executive coaching firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas reported. Staffing concerns and rising costs have collided with declining reimbursements and increased pressure in the C-suites. 


As leaders strive to re-establish equilibrium in their organizations, plenty of hard work lies ahead—an important part of which is acknowledging the real, human impact that the past three years have had on society, the healthcare industry and healthcare workers, including senior leaders.

Practicing empathy lies at the heart of leading with love. It is the ability to walk in someone else’s shoes, trying to understand the burdens of their path and genuinely caring about their well-being. 

At my organization, Tampa General Hospital, this manifests through both small, personalized acts and big organizational initiatives. Combined, they have served to enhance team member engagement and foster a culture of transparency, trust and collaboration. Some key lessons learned: 

Invest in the “whole” employee.
Team members have jumped at the opportunity to take part in our People Development Institute. Created in 2021 in partnership with the University of South Florida, it provides free courses to support professional growth, including teaching employees how to lead through authenticity, kindness, transparency and vulnerability. Along with career support, we also ensure team members have access to no-cost health and wellness programs, including a mental health platform through which they can receive professional counseling free of charge. 


Find creative ways to lighten the load for  your team.
Everyone has their own challenges. While we can’t solve every problem, we have periodically tapped an internal fund to thank team members or support them in difficult times, such as providing gas cards when fuel prices skyrocketed; school supplies and computers to support distance learning; and assistance with rent and utilities during the pandemic. 

Show your team you care about more than work.
As much as possible, get to know your team members and their lives outside of work. Tampa General emphasizes leader rounding and meaningful conversations to foster in-person connections. We celebrate life’s milestones, whether it be a wedding, graduation, new baby, or even a personal success like running a marathon. We also create in-person and virtual opportunities for team members to directly share their perspectives with leadership. Every connection is a building block in creating a culture that team members can feel proud of. 

When people feel appreciated, they’re more willing to go the extra mile, not out of obligation but out of a deep-rooted commitment to a shared purpose. Leading with empathy can unlock the immense potential that lies within each employee, unleashing the power of collaboration and propelling the team’s ability to perform at the highest level. 

Reprinted with permission from Modern Healthcare. © 2023 Crain Communications Inc. All rights reserved.
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