OpEd, Politics

The journey to effective public health leadership: Embracing self-awareness and emotional competence

By Anna Modong Alex


Today, public health stands at a critical crossroads, requiring leaders with self-awareness and emotional competence to effectively pursue the agenda of preventing diseases, prolonging life, and promoting community health. Studies consistently demonstrate that effective leadership is a cornerstone of successful healthcare systems, improving organizational effectiveness and efficiency. To drive the public health agenda forward, we must equip our leaders with the emotional intelligence and self-awareness needed to effect change at individual and organizational levels.

Emotional intelligence empowers public health professionals to communicate effectively, build strong relationships, and foster empathy within their teams and communities. Leaders who understand and manage their emotions can engage with stakeholders more empathetically, earning trust and encouraging the adoption of evidence-based practices. In the face of complex challenges like technological advancements, disease outbreaks, and limited resources, emotionally intelligent leaders can navigate change with resilience and guide their teams through necessary transitions.

Effective public health leadership requires building and maintaining close relationships while embracing teamwork. Self-awareness and emotional competence enable leaders to balance maintaining their leadership role and being open and honest with their team members. Leaders can inspire and motivate others effectively by appreciating the strength of exercising relative freedom from excessive anxiety and tension. Emotionally intelligent leaders also understand the value of providing constructive feedback and acknowledging the achievements of their team members.

Public health leaders must be aware of their strengths and weaknesses and those of their followers. They must be open to new ideas and willing to induce change when supported by evidence-based facts and current data. Accepting and adopting change is crucial in a field where unpredictability is common. Leaders should focus on achievable solutions to build their leadership capacity and positively impact the health of populations.

Self-awareness and emotional competence enable leaders to manage their emotions constructively and redirect hostile energy into productive outlets. Anger and power-driven behaviors can be detrimental to leadership and hinder progress. Good leaders seek to learn from their followers and value different perspectives to make multidirectional decisions. Public health leaders can enhance their decision-making abilities and foster a positive work environment by practicing emotional intelligence.

Building Self-awareness and Emotional Competence

At a fundamental level, efforts have been made through studies and agendas to integrate leadership training into the international curriculum for public health workers and medical professionals. Continuous capacity building in leadership is also essential for those in service. Shaw’s research identified nine components that define emotional competence, which can play a crucial role in shaping competent leaders in public health. These components include self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation, empathy, and social skills, enabling leaders to achieve population goals despite the complexities of public health challenges.

To begin with, leaders must deal constructively with reality. Acknowledging and mastering the concept of self-regulation, rather than denying biological impulses that drive emotions, can liberate leaders from being confined by their feelings. Instead, they can control and channel their emotional responses in useful ways. Approaching human well-being through the lens of reality, rather than denial, and utilizing data to change public health is crucial. Motivated leaders who comprehend the dynamics of public health and the system are required. External factors such as salary and status should not be the sole motivators; leaders must be driven by the desire to achieve. Additionally, they must invest physical and emotional energy in pursuing goals with persistence and optimism, even in the face of failure.

Another vital quality of ineffective public health leadership is adapting to change. Leaders should be aware of their personal strengths and weaknesses and those of their followers. Embracing the inevitability of change is essential in the context of the unpredictable nature of outbreaks and population health challenges. Leaders should accept and adopt change based on evidence-based facts and current data. Intentionality is crucial in accommodating change and facilitating necessary transitions. It involves being open to new ideas, critically evaluating them, inducing a sense of reality, and being willing to undergo personal change.

Furthermore, possessing relative freedom from excessive anxiety or tension is essential for leaders. While it is normal to experience anxiety, given the complexity of our world, consistently being overwhelmed by stress can hinder a leader’s ability to inspire and guide others effectively. Recognizing one’s strengths and weaknesses through self-awareness and emotional competence can aid in managing stress and anxiety. Building and maintaining close relationships with team members is equally important. By fostering emotional competence and self-awareness, leaders can improve their personal and professional relationships, enabling informed decision-making and effective feedback to followers.

A wise leader can differentiate between the possible and the impossible, accepting what cannot be changed and focusing on achievable solutions. Self-awareness is crucial in understanding the limitations and weaknesses of one’s leadership and seeking realistic goals to build better leadership. Redirecting hostile energy into constructive outlets is also vital, as leaders’ reactions to events can significantly impact their decision-making. Leaders should avoid suppressing anger but instead, find ways to redirect it constructively to make necessary changes.

The Author: BNS, RN, MPH-PRH-(student), public health (Reproductive health) practitioner. She can be contacted via email; modanna.94@gmail.com 


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