Doctors need a leader with emotional intelligence—they do exist

Doctors appreciate their supervisor’s support and hope their supervisors will confront grievances. Supervisors are expected to be empathetic and approachable. Satisfaction with the management’s support was also a positive surprise.

Medikumppani conducted a survey called “Miten koet johtajuuden työelämässä” (how do you perceive leadership in your work) at the Helsingin Lääkäripäivät (Helsinki medical congress) in January 2020. A total of 631 congress visitors responded to the survey; 53% were doctors and 43% were medical students. Dr. Pauliina Airaksinen-Aminoff,an experienced and respected coach of emotional skills, commented on the results of the survey. 

A good leader treats subordinates as individuals 

More than half of the respondents felt that a supervisor’s most important quality is the ability to provide help and support. Twelve per cent of the respondents stated that empathy is one of a supervisor’s most important qualities.

“This means that supervisors need, above all, the ability to create rapport with and listen to their subordinates and to truly hear where their subordinates need help. To be able to create rapport and be sensitive to subordinates’ needs during the busy workday, supervisors must have a great deal of emotional intelligence, that is, they have to be empathetic and able to control their own feelings as well. They should not look upon subordinates’ challenges or personal problems disparagingly or tell them not to bring their problems to work. Each one of us represents a whole; we cannot leave part of ourselves at home,” explains Airaksinen-Aminoff.

According to the answers to the open-ended questions, a good supervisor provides adequate resources, inspires, sets an example and is fair.

“These qualities refer to a transformational leader who creates rapport with his/her subordinates as individuals, inspires and encourages them to transcend themselves. This style of leadership involves striving to support and help subordinates, to set an example and to be honest, fair and just. What’s more, a transformational leader strives to develop and learn personally as well. Hence, the term,” says Airaksinen-Aminoff.

Addressing grievances is important, but little support available

More than a third of the respondents would like supervisors to address grievances and create clear practices.

“A transformational leader who has a strong sense of self-knowledge has the courage to address grievances related to both work processes and disputes between people. Unfortunately, supervisors are left alone all too often, meaning they don’t have the training or tools to resolve disagreements related to personal chemistry and other conflicts, or to demand a change to unfeasible practices. And it was precisely these types of situations that the respondents in this survey hoped their supervisors would address,” Airaksinen-Aminoff says.

The respondents also reported that supervisors should be easily approachable. Again, more than a third of the respondents had chosen this alternative.

“Supervisors who are easy to approach do not cause fear in subordinates or give the impression they are busy. When a subordinate needs to discuss something, they turn away from their computer towards the subordinate to show they are ready to listen to this particular person, here and now,” says Airaksinen-Aminoff.

Purposeful job orientation management’s most important form of support

By far, the most important type of support management can give is job orientation when a new employee starts working, as 75% of the respondents reported. Only 2% of the respondents felt they did not need any support at all in their work. Responses to the open-ended questions revealed that support could be in the form of being easily approachable, support in practical work, being available and advancing things.

“In my experience, employees place great value on the first months of induction programmes, regardless of industry. It helps them to quickly learn about the new organization and in that way do their best and feel that their input matters. We all have the need to show what we know and that it paid to recruit us,” says Airaksinen-Aminoff.
The survey revealed that 14% of the respondents needed support in interacting with patients.

“Having been a coach in the health care sector for ten years now, I feel that the greatest need of doctors and nursing staff who have participated in my training is to learn to interact with their patients better. They feel their education is inadequate in terms of studies in psychology and have needed tangible training in situations where they interact with patients. As a coach, I hope that all of us will always feel the need for some kind of support in interacting with patients, as this is the only way to guarantee continuous development, learning and the best service for the patients, as well as for the doctors themselves,” says Airaksinen-Aminoff.

Doctors satisfied with amount of support

Perhaps the most positive result of the survey was that the majority of the respondents (almost 80%) felt that their supervisors had given them enough support always or rather often. Only 2% of the respondents felt they had never received enough support from their supervisor.

This is an excellent result with regard to the situation in health care, since the media often highlights how hectic the work is in the sector. Therefore, it is wonderful that doctors still feel that they are getting enough support in their work.

“Fortunately, it seems supervisors are striving to implement a people-oriented, emotionally intelligent leadership style,” Airaksinen-Aminoff says.

The respondents also clearly felt that peer support in the workplace and consultation over the telephone were important. More than two-thirds had chosen either or both of these alternatives. In addition, job counselling during employment (51%) and support for professional development (37%) were considered important issues.

“Successful leadership is always a two-way street, meaning supervisors cannot support their subordinates if the subordinates are not interested. When talking about good leadership, the atmosphere in the organization also encourages employees to support each other. Leadership can be learned; it’s wrong to think that one is born a leader. Positive, compassionate leadership can be learned. What’s more, one of the most important qualities of a leader is curiosity, a desire to learn and develop,” Airaksinen-Aminoff says.

Supervisors in health care also expected to have emotional skills and the ability to be present

Studies show that, more and more, leaders of the future are required to have competence in emotional skills. According to a survey commissioned by Medikumppani Oy, the same applies to the health care sector. 

“From the perspectives of management research and being a subordinate, it’s empowering to notice that transformational leadership, where the supervisor cares and wants his/her subordinates to succeed, is clearly prevalent and increasing,” says Airaksinen-Aminoff.

It can be said that, regardless of the sector, the subordinates’ needs regarding their supervisor and his/her methods of management are very similar. Supervisors must have the ability to support, listen, and be empathetic. 

“This means being able to relate to people and having the ability to communicate in very different situations. In addition, supervisors are expected to have a clear understanding of their identity to be able to identify their own emotional reactions and needs. They must be willing to work with people, want the best for their subordinates, be happy about the success of others, and support not only their subordinates’ development but also their own. No one can do it alone. Training requires specialized actors because development always takes place in a reciprocal relationship and is supported by other professionals. That’s the secret of successful management,” sums up Airaksinen-Aminoff.

About the survey

The survey had multiple-choice items and the respondents were able to choose several alternatives they felt were important. In addition to the given alternatives, the respondents also had the option of adding their own alternative(s) in an open-ended response field. A total of 631 people took part in the survey.

Of the physicians who took part in the survey, 75% were employed in the public sector and 25% in the private sector.

The majority of the respondents (60%) were doctors with 0–5 years of work experience. One third of the respondents had more than 10 years of work experience, some had more than 30 years.

Pauliina Airaksinen-Aminoff works as a management coach and expert, lecturer and inspirator when it comes to a supervisor’s desire to develop further and analyse his or her own identity. The importance of identity was also a key theme in Pauliina’s PhD dissertation. She studied supervisors’ ability to resolve conflicts through coaching.

Pauliina’s book Äiti meidän (Tammi 2019) tells about the ability to choreograph one’s own identity.

Medikumppani is a nationwide health care staffing services company which provides the private and public sectors with physicians and offers interesting jobs to physicians. Medikumppani has been operating in the field for almost 20 years and has employed almost 1,000 doctors all over Finland.

We provide the right doctors in the right place and take care of them—we let good care go round.