7 thoughts from Dr. Stephen Mansfield of Methodist Health System: The 4 things he seeks in leaders and why he calls healthcare 'amazingly interesting work'

The president and CEO of Methodist Health System in Dallas took some time to discuss strategic transformation, the pace of change in Texas and the four attributes he seeks in fellow leaders.

Stephen Mansfield, PhD, has led Dallas-based Methodist Health System as president and CEO since 2006.

Before taking on his current role with Methodist, Dr. Mansfield spent seven years as president and CEO of the five-hospital St. Vincent Health System, based in Little Rock, Ark. Before then, he held a range of administrative positions with Memphis, Tenn.-based Baptist Memorial Health Care System for 23 years.

As a seasoned leader well-versed in both healthcare administration and organizational leadership, Dr. Mansfield brings a unique perspective to the table. Here he took some time to discuss Methodist's strategic transformation, the pace of change in Texas and the four attributes he seeks in fellow leaders.

Question: What is the most interesting issue you see in your work today?

Dr. Stephen Mansfield: I've always been fascinated by people, by medicine and by the challenge healthcare leaders have in trying to optimize the talent of their organization's people and the quality of their organization's product. I just find that amazingly interesting work.

Q: What is the most interesting challenge your system is facing?

SM: Apart from the comment I just expressed, I think the most interesting challenge is trying to optimize Methodist's strategic transformation to value-based reimbursement and a "health optimization" versus "illness treatment organizational mindset." I can't imagine an industry undergoing a more tectonic shift.

Q: What are you most excited about today?

SM: I'm just excited to still be in the game. As difficult and as frustrating as it is some days, I feel so blessed to have a small part in transitioning the American healthcare system from the broken and patched system we have today to what I believe can be the most value-added health system in the world.

Q: How quickly is change occurring in Texas as to healthcare delivery?

SM: The pace of change in Texas varies by part of the state. Some urban markets are narrowing networks and repricing hospital services pretty aggressively, but much of Texas is rural and those [rural] markets may be moving a bit more slowly. All of the Texas healthcare market is severely impacted by the combination of having the highest percentage of uninsured [patients] in America and having a legislature that has been unwilling to expand Medicaid eligibility as part of healthcare reform.

Q: How is your physician community reacting to change?

SM: Physician commercial reimbursement rates in Texas have generally held up pretty well comparatively, which has shielded them, somewhat, from some of the pressure to consolidate that we see in many parts of the country. A preponderance of Texas physicians continue to practice independently and do so quite successfully for now.

Q: What is your best piece of advice in developing leaders today? 

SM: As a life-long student of leadership effectiveness, there are a myriad of potential answers to this question, but as a huge fan of [James] Kouzes and [Barry] Posner, I don't think you can go wrong with citing the four elements they have identified over 30 years of multicultural longitudinal study about what tens of thousands of workers say are the most preeminent attributes contributing to their eagerness to willingly follow a leader. The four attributes most frequently cited in there study were: honesty, forward-looking, inspiring and competent. I think those form a good basis for development of stellar leaders today.

Q: How do you develop an exceptional team and system?

SM: I think those concepts are inseparable, i.e., you don't have an exceptional system without exceptional talent. Building a team around the concepts of honesty/integrity, forward-looking or strategic-thinking, interacting with all customers, employees, partners, etc., inspirationally, and continually honing your own skill set or competence may not guarantee success, but it certainly augments it.

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