While the discovery emerged from our crisis research, the findings equally apply to other, more routine work and interactions. Conduct your own assessment. Have you worked in groups in which these principles of swarm leadership characterized the experience? People were focused on a shared mission: They were available to assist one another; accomplished their work in ways that were respectful and supportive of their different responsibilities; did not claim undue credit or swipe at each another; and knew one another well enough to trust the others’ actions and motives.
The flip side of this continuum of collaboration and competition we term “suspicion leadership.” This is characterized by selfish ambitions; narcissistic actions; grabs for authority and resources; credit taking for the good and accusations for the bad; and an environment of mistrust and back stabbing.
Leaders influence the tone and tenor of their own group’s interactions as well as interactions among different working groups. As role models, if they articulate and demonstrate a mission that others can rally around, they forge that critical unity of mission. By contrast, suspicion leaders make it clear that “it is all about me and my priorities.” There is much work to be done, and swarm leaders ensure that people have the resources, autonomy, and support necessary to get the job done. On the other end, the work environment is burdened by the uncertainties about who does what and who is responsible. Swarm leaders are focused on “we” and suspicion leaders are caught up on “me.” There is no trust when people are suspicious of one another. Much can be accomplished when people believe in themselves, their colleagues, and the reasons that bring them together.
As a hospitalist leader, you influence where on this continuum your group will lie. It is your choice to be a role model for the principles of swarm, encouraging the same among others. When those principles become the beacons by which you work and relate, you will find an environment that inspires people to be and to do their best.
In the next column, how to build trust within your teams.
is director, Program on Health Care Negotiation and Conflict Resolution, at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, in Boston.