Blog Post
Blog Post

We Need More Connection, Community, and Vulnerability

August 3, 2018
Intend Health Strategies Blog
We Need More Connection, Community, and Vulnerability

Our message about the importance of Relational Leadership™ seems to be gaining more traction. This week, PCP was honored to have our work featured prominently in two places: a NEJM Catalyst piece I co-wrote with colleagues about the importance of community-building within our clinic walls as a piece of the overall strategy to address clinician burnout, and an opportunity I had to present at the American Board of Internal Medicine Foundation (ABIMF) Forum about our promising Relational Leadership Institute at OHSU and the key role of psychological safety in team-building efforts. The response to both has been great. People seem genuinely excited to be discussing the relational aspects of their work, feeling that an exclusive focus on technical aspects of change (policies, structures, and workflows) has been missing something.

What most struck me at the ABIM Foundation conference was how hungry many of these various industry leaders are for this relational work and support themselves. To be sure, they’re looking for ideas and strategies for managing complex change at their hospitals and organizations, bright spots of innovation and the necessary policy, process, and structural changes. But I also saw - and felt - their deep yearning for relational work: to feel able, and frankly safe, to be vulnerable and real in their own professional circles to talk about their true challenges and questions and ask for help. I saw relief on their faces when group facilitators modeled vulnerability and practiced Relational Leadership™ by inviting others to be real and air what’s really going on. They left the conference not only understanding the importance of psychological safety in their heads, but having felt it in their bones. We need both right now.

Increasingly, we're seeing more and more evidence suggesting that psychological safety, trust, teamwork, and effective collaboration are directly tied to team performance and retention of staff. The connection seems to be that these are essential behaviors and conditions for effective group learning, and therefore, are prerequisites for being able to draw on the full repertoire of skills, passion, ideas, and insights of all members of a team to quickly respond to and adapt in complex systems. They’re also essential for team members to feel understood, respected, valued, and leveraged - critical for their engagement and retention. These are basic evolutionary drives that we all have, regardless of rank or title. Simply put, when we receive the message that we belong, we show up more. When we don’t, we disengage and our commitment lags.

Our article in NEJM Catalyst and the ABIM Foundation Forum are two ways we continue to move the conversation forward about the power of connection and how vulnerability builds teams. More and more leaders are starting to understand this intellectually. They’re seeing the connection between burnout surveys and turnover rates. They’re also recognizing the way that performance and innovation tracks with group cohesiveness, and how this all comes back to their bottom line. We need to keep making that case, in a way healthcare’s leaders can hear and understand, with the hard data that will get their attention. And, where possible, we need to find opportunities for those who are willing among them to experience what collaboration, vulnerability, and psychologically safe environments actually feel like. That way, they know where true north lies and can better foster the relational dynamics necessary for engagement and collaboration. Despite what so many in the trenches have come to cynically believe, we can pursue innovation and improvement in a way that energizes and connects everyone in healthcare, instead of demoralizing and isolating them.

Connection and vulnerability builds teams. We need to keep making the case in a way healthcare’s leaders can understand, with the hard data to get their attention.

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"Thank you for inspiring a generation of future docs to become primary care physicians. I definitely felt like I had a community during medical school."

Shani Truong

Family Medicine Resident, UC Davis San Joaquin General Hospital

"I have employed and used so much of my Relational Leadership experience and training from Intend Health to work."

Krisda Chaiyachati, MD, MPH, MSHP

Assistant Professor of Medicine, Perelman School of Medicine, University of Pennsylvania

“Over 100 members of the UNC community have participated in our Relational Leadership Institutes… one word stands out for me in our evaluations — regardless of whether cohorts met in person or via Zoom — and that word is transformative."

Josh Hinson, MSW, LCSW

Assistant Professor University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Social Work

"This year, there's been so much change with COVID, with work, with everything. But I feel like the PCP Student Action Network has been that constant that I could always just count on. And my favorite part is that no matter how stressful work was, no matter how stressful the year was, whenever it came time for a PCP call or any PCP anything, it's always something that I look forward to."

Student Action Network Coach

“I participated in RLI [the Relational Leadership Institute]... and my world has not been the same since. The community that I’ve gained at RLI has been extraordinary. Being part of RLI means being connected to a diverse, interdisciplinary community that breaks down the walls that are typical in academic medicine.”

Katie Gradick, MD, MHS

University of Utah

"The leadership skills, relationships, and perspective I have gained through my involvement in Intend Health have shaped the clinician, educator, and leader I am today."

Kyle Turner, PharmD

University of Utah

“A big impact that Intend Health has on me is it makes me more humble, kinder, more intuitive, a better listener, and I’ve been able to teach the skills I’ve learned to others. All of this makes me a better team member, and I think that that's integral to what Intend Health teaches — we need high functioning teams to provide the best care.”

Student Action Network Participant

"I think the collaborative work that Intend Health does to recruit bright, energized, resilient, diverse, and compassionate primary care physicians all over the country will be even more impactful. Intend Health's efforts will be a big part of the solution to mend our ailing primary care infrastructure in the coming years."

Peter Meyers, MD, MPH

Family Physician, Minnesota Community Care

“So far, my experience in this Relational Leadership course has been THE highlight of my leadership journey. This program exceeded my expectations. I have been sharing the content with my colleagues who are also inspired by it. Thank you for making the world a better place one Relational Leadership course at a time.”

Relational Leadership for Clinician Leadership Program Participant


“Relational Leadership is what keeps me going. When I feel overwhelmed, stressed, down, I turn to members of the Relational Leadership community for support and resilience. We genuinely care about each other. We put ‘people first,’ truly, in our work together.”

Sarah Smithson, MD, MPH

Assistant Dean for Clinical Education University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Medicine

“Relational skills are particularly important right now because they’re rooted in people, with the fundamental assumption that we are good and have common values. If I can approach with unconditional positive regard and build in psychological safety, who knows what we can accomplish, despite the chaos around us.”

Lexy Kliewer, LCSW

Oregon Health and Science University

"In a healthcare system fraught with silos and computer screens, we need the human voice — a personal connection — now more than ever. That's the work of Intend Health."

Matt Lewis, PhD

Strategic Consultant

Intend Health People