Home / ACCCBuzz Blog / Full Story

Strengthening Your Oncology Workforce: How to Approach Leadership and Team Building

By Barbara Schmidtman, PhD, and Josh Hendricks, BSN, OCN

April 18, 2023
People Working Together_ACCCBuzz_Square

In her monthly leadership series, Dr. Barbara Schmidtman—vice president of cancer health operations at Corewell Health West—offers her perspective on addressing workforce-related issues through effective leadership practices. Find all her posts in this blog series on the ACCC website.

I hope you all are finding joy this spring as the weather gets sunnier and warmer and the trees begin to blossom, the flowers bloom, and the spirit of new beginnings fills the air. For this month’s blog, I want to introduce ACCC members to an amazing leader whom I have the pleasure of working with every day. Josh Hendricks, BSN, OCN, is an operations manager within our cancer care team at Corewell Health West. He also writes a weekly blog called Monday Matters for the health system, which inspires not only me, but the cancer care team. Josh’s message starts below.

Addressing Workforce Shortages in Healthcare

Thank you, Barbara, and it’s a pleasure to join ACCCBuzz as a guest blogger this month. In my reflection, I want to discuss something from Barbara’s January blog on belonging and purpose—namely, calling and applying it to talent acquisition and retention.

In an environment of constant staffing shortages, such as healthcare, attracting talent is a priority for every organization. As a manager, I often describe my job as getting the right people on the team and providing them scope for challenge and growth. However, the reason we attract talent is because organizations are not just looking for people, we are looking for the best people. In my opinion, the best people are those who have a powerful “why” and a deep sense of calling to their work. 

In a recent recruiting situation, I was part of a panel interview for a role that is in shortage in Michigan. When asked what questions the candidate had, they responded with a single but very revealing question: “Can you help me serve these patients?” This was the question of someone who knew their purpose and needed an organization that would give them contact with and the opportunity to serve the patient population they have been called to serve.

Team Building: Do You Take the Lego® or Plant Approach?

When I was a kid, I played a lot with Lego. My favorites were the pirate ship sets, and I remember spending hours simulating the Pirates of the Caribbean before it ever became a movie. On the other hand, my wife Rachel loves plants. She can spend hours planting, tending, and de-slugging all the plants around our home. These two pastimes can stand in for two ways in which we can choose to lead people. 

Lego are plastic bricks with uniform shapes and connections; you can put them together, and when you’re bored or want to change the game, you can pull them apart again and build something new. In “corporate speak,” we use terms like “moving cheese,” “agility,” “nimble,” and other words or phrases to try to manage change and soften the impact of reshuffling within an organization. But for our high performers, who know their calling, a casual reshuffling in their workplace may pull them away from their mission. And when people start to feel like pieces in someone else’s Lego set, they start to dream of other things and may look for new opportunities.

Contrast this with the gardening approach. Plants are surprisingly resilient and adaptable. They can be replanted elsewhere successfully as long as the light, soil, and timing are right. Plants also grow and are productive and fruitful in ways that Lego never are. If you want a bigger Lego set, you must go buy more. If you want a bigger rose bush, just get the environment right and it will do the rest itself. Leaders who are gardeners know their environment and their soil. They know the kinds of plants that will flourish there and will select them for that purpose. This does justice to the garden and each plant individually. Lego may be easier to manage and require lower maintenance. Nevertheless, people are more like plants than they are like Lego. People need nourishment, and they don’t thrive when left in a box. If you give them some space to grow, they’ll surprise you with what they can accomplish.

I would like to conclude by asking a question: Are you leading a Lego team or a garden team? Most people outgrow Lego, but I have yet to meet anyone who has outgrown gardening. I encourage you to consider what it would take to trade in your Lego for some starter plants and give your team a place to thrive in their work—rather than merely a place to fill in a structure.

Barbara Schmidtman, PhD, has worked in healthcare for more than 20 years in a variety of professional and clinical roles. Currently, she is the vice president of cancer health operations at Corewell Health West in Grand Rapids, Mich. Dr. Schmidtman is the Chair of the ACCC Governmental Affairs Committee and the Workforce Subcommittee Chair, a subgroup of the association's Governmental Affairs Committee. Dr. Schmidtman earned her Doctor of Philosophy in business administration from Northcentral University, where she specialized in industrial organizational psychology. Her doctoral studies focused on physician behaviors and how demonstrated physician leadership affects individuals and teams—either positively or negatively. Dr. Schmidtman has a passion for speaking locally and nationally on leadership styles and approaches.

Josh Hendricks, BSN, OCN, is an operations manager at Corewell Health West in Grand Rapids, Mich. He has worked in healthcare for more than 15 years in many roles like environmental services, sterile processing, nursing, and leadership. People and culture remain professional fascinations of Hendrick’s that healthcare provides scope to explore. Hendricks has a passion for writing, especially when it clarifies and inspires people to bear their burdens and accomplish their life’s mission. He also earned a Bachelor of Science in intercultural studies from Kuyper College before discovering his calling as a nurse.

We welcome you to share our blog content. We want to connect people with the information they need. We just ask that you link back to the original post and refrain from editing the text. Any questions? Email Chidi Ike, Content Manager.

To receive a weekly digest of ACCCBuzz blog posts each Friday, please sign up in the box to the left.


More Blog Posts