June 12, 2020 Phoenix Leadership: A Strategy for Resilience and Relevance in a Time of Crisis

Being a healthcare leader in today’s world has always been challenging and just when we think we have things under some control, we get thrown another curve. It could be payment changes from the government, changes in regulations but, whoever thought that we would get hit by an unprecedented pandemic demanding that we change many processes in the shortest time possible.

Life as we know it has changed and life in the future of a COVID world is unknown. This will require all leaders to evaluate their current approaches to leadership and to quickly modify them to meet the needs of the new reality. Leadership though, is all about change right? So we should be good at it, right? Probably not to the degree of change that is needed now. We need a new paradigm that creates new ways of thinking. I call this Phoenix Leadership.

People think in images and the more vivid the image, the more powerful it is. Because of the powerful imagery, the word Phoenix is used as both a noun and an adjective. But why choose a Phoenix in connection to leadership? We have a tendency to think of the Phoenix in the context of Greek mythology or perhaps as the flaming bird in Harry Potter. Regardless the story of the Phoenix is fascinating.

The Phoenix, also known as the bird of fire, lays no eggs and has no young or mates. It is majestic and beautiful and its longevity ranges from 500 to 2400 years. When the Phoenix is tired it has the power to ignite itself into flames, burning itself, leaving a pile of silver ashes in the nest. Out of the ashes, the new Phoenix arises beautiful and strong.

So, let’s think of this in the context of a powerful metaphor for successful leaders. The Phoenix is all about change, all about evolution, and all about becoming different. As leaders, we need to have the strength to evaluate our current approaches, abandon those that are not successful and learn new ones that meet the needs of the current situation.

This requires a tremendous ability to introspect and make adjustments which may be hard for some leaders to face the fact that there may be better ways to do things. This ability to change and evolve is resilience. The Phoenix is resilient and we as leaders need to be as well. I have observed successful leaders for many years and in my experiences, I have identified 5 consistent attributes consistent in all of them.

Strong Sense of Self

Introspection requires a strong sense of self because at times that introspection will be painful. If we are effectively introspecting, I would argue that a good deal of it might be painful. If our ego gets in our way, we cannot have a strong sense of self and we will not have the ability to introspect and make course corrections.

Effective Interpersonal Relationships

Effective interpersonal relationships include many competencies including being the master of communication and possessing high degrees of emotional and social intelligence. This will translate into a true dedication and caring for those we are connecting with.

Ability to Build an Empowered Workforce

So much has been said about the transformation potential when the workforce is empowered so I won’t discuss much here. My general comment to all leaders is, the further you get away from the point of service, the less right you have to make changes there since you don’t have the perfect knowledge of what is going on. 


Especially in times like now, leaders need to be innovative thinkers bringing new ideas to the table and accepting innovative ideas from others around them. This has to be coupled with a fearlessness and the ability to take risks.


Change implies that we must let go of one thing in exchange for another. Resilient people have three distinct characteristics including:

  • An unwavering acceptance of reality
  • A strong set of personal values
  • An uncanny ability to improvise

In Psychology Today, Knaus (2016) describes resilience as a quality whereby people can be “knocked down” by life yet come back stronger than before with a stronger resolve to carry on. In other words, they find a way to rise from the ashes, hence the Phoenix.

Definitely times are tough right now. The success of the leader will depend on the solid competencies that bring us back to the basics of leadership. We will get through this and we will get through this together.

Gokenbach, V. (2018). Phoenix Leadership: The Healthcare Executive’s Strategy for Relevance and Resilience. Taylor & Francis Group. Boca Raton, Fl.

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