David Swenson, Ph.D., is the Director of the MBA in Rural Healthcare at the College of St. Scholastica, the only US college to focus exclusively on rural health leadership.
Dr. Swenson has been in the healthcare field for nearly 50 years as a psychologist, healthcare educator and mental health administrator in Missouri, Wisconsin and Minnesota.
Dr. Swenson defines leadership as the process of getting things done through people. He thinks this definition is important to the understanding leadership because it emphasizes the aspects of working with and inspiring others to create change.
“In physiology, for example, we certainly understand if we affect one physiological system, it often will have a ripple effect through other parts of the system in human behavior. Sometimes cognition and emotion. Things are really connected and we understand that in physiology. What we need to do is also understand that in our organizations and our communities in rural health, so that when we tweak something in one area, it can have a beneficial or it can sometimes have adverse effects elsewhere.”
According to Dr. Swenson, systems thinking is one of the most valuable leadership strengths a rural health leader needs to develop. Systems thinking allows for the consideration of the “ripple effects” of the decisions we make, the consideration of the “downstream” effects of our decision. A solution needs to be considered in one context at a time; what impact will it have on the problem trying to be solved, what impact will it have on some other part of the organization, what impact will it have on the community, and what impact will it have in some other area or place.