Mae Velasco

Mae Velasco

Mae Velasco is medical doctor by profession with training in clinical epidemiology. For the past 4 years, she has been working within the public health sector both in the areas…read more...

Participatory Leadership: do we need it in health?

Surprisingly, my initial impression was that leadership would be, among other things, participatory in nature for it to be effective, and so maybe there would be no real need to even coin this as being “participatory.” But, upon further reflection, there is a clear need to distinguish between leadership, as it is traditionally known, and participatory leadership.

The Alliance for Health Policy and Systems Research launched their flagship report: Open Mindsets: Participatory Leadership for Health at the Symposium after 2 years of work led by and with the participation of selected public health leaders from around the world.

Participatory leadership for health

Participatory leadership is not a new idea, with non-health sectors more easily adopting it as new way of practicing leadership to perhaps improve services and increase profits. Nevertheless, the idea is certainly applicable within the health sector, and all the more within the public health sector.

Previously, actions within health systems were less scrutinized and the public made less demands of those within the health sector. But times have changed rather drastically in recent years. Not only are people more critical and demanding of the health sector, but they want to be involved. Greater and easier connectivity through the Internet and especially social media make these criticisms and demands known to all.

Moving away from ‘traditional’ leadership

Therefore, and in spite of the reluctance of those working in government, one can say that it is almost absolutely necessary to take a participatory approach to not just leadership but to how government generally goes about its ‘business.’ And though there may be misgivings about how participatory leadership in health is defined, it is inadvisable that we remain absolutely faithful to traditional styles of leadership.

If the kind of leadership in a health system can spell the difference between its success and failure, then Paul Batalden’s famous quotation “every system is perfectly designed to get the results it gets” can easily and rightfully be adapted for health to read as – “Every health system is perfectly designed and led to get the results it gets.” So, in conclusion, if we want a transparent and workable health system, then yes, we need to incorporate participatory leadership.