A Relationship Checklist for Hospital CEOs: 7 Behaviors to Ace

As executives rise through the ranks, relationships grow in number and importance. Lengthy to-do lists and time-pressed schedules cannot obscure a hospital CEO's focus on his or her professional relationships, particularly with their senior management team, since they are crucial to the well-being of an organization. The following checklist should help CEOs quickly identify any characteristics that may be lacking from their relationships with mangers or employees.

Joseph Folkman, PhD, is the president and co-founder of Zenger Folkman, a firm that specializes in strength-based leadership development. Through extensive research, he has identified some of the common traits and strategies that set great leaders apart. Here, he shares some of the behaviors that help build and maintain valuable relationships.

1. Do you communicate honestly, even when the conversation may be uncomfortable? It seems redundant to frame honesty and integrity as a best practice when they should be inherent to a leader, but CEOs need to make extra effort to speak directly with people. Bosses should not merely tell managers or employees what they want to hear.

"Everybody wants you to be honest with them. Nobody wants to be fed a pile of garbage," says Dr. Folkman. "People want the truth in a considerate way, along with a chance to respond and some empathy." The message may be difficult or cause tension, but senior managers will appreciate the truth and know they can rely on a CEO's straightforward nature in the future.

2. Do you encourage your senior leadership team to be straightforward with you? There is a degree of loneliness associated with the CEO position. People are much less likely to speak off-the-cuff to the chief, and they may water down or reframe their thoughts to be more eloquent and innocuous. Furthermore, CEOs are likely to face a shortage of feedback from their management team, and they may feel out-of-the-loop on their own professional performance.

"The key here is to really, really push people to be absolutely honest and straightforward with you," says Dr. Folkman. This may be challenging, but CEOs will face even greater challenges if they can't get a straight message from the people they rely upon most.  

3. Are you too removed from your team? Some CEOs may opt to be distant and objective with their management team because they think it fosters respect and will ease tension if the CEO has to lay somebody off. This can have serious repercussions and break down trust, causing more damage than good. The most sought-after characteristic of managers is the ability to inspire and motivate others. This is nearly impossible without emotional connection.

"If you are friends with somebody, it's going to be more difficult to fire them and have blunt conversations. That's because you care about them. But, what you lose in the process [of being distant] is that emotional connection, which creates engagement in people. It creates more ownership and a more positive work environment," says Dr. Folkman. In short, don't throw relationships away for an easier layoff discussion.  

4. Have you provided mentorship? "Think about the people that have been mentors to you in the past. How do you feel about them?" asks Dr. Folkman.

Odds are, you have the utmost respect — possibly even a soft spot in your heart — for them. Despite their busy schedules, CEOs should not overlook the importance of mentorship. Leaders who help other managers develop their own skill sets share a unique and strong relationship with those individuals that is likely to be carried on as that mentee moves forward.  

5. Are you talking more than you're listening? Along with listening, the skill of asking thought-provoking questions also helps build rapport with managers. "One of the most fundamental skills in relationship-building is to ask great questions that really get people to think," says Mr. Folkman. Asking thought-provoking questions not only shows the CEO was listening, but also helps managers learn more about themselves and how they feel about various topics.  

6. Do you reward, recognize and thank people enough? "When I'm with leaders, I'll ask them, 'If I went to your direct reports, your kids, your family and asked them if you reward them too often, would any of them say yes? Would anyone say you go overboard, and it's sickening? How many people would say yes?'"

Probably very few people, if any, would complain of being recognized too much. While Dr. Folkman says about 2 percent of leaders do go overboard with praise and rewards, the other 98 percent do not recognize or reward their team enough. Leaders can schedule time in their day to thank people, and begin to make it a habit. The people who recognize the talents, contributions and accomplishments of others tend to have great professional relationships.

7. Have you prioritized results over relationships? Dr. Folkman focuses on two things when it comes to extraordinary leadership, and he calls the pairing the "powerful combination." Leaders who drive results and build relationships can accomplish remarkable things, and Dr. Folkman recommends CEOs focus on both of these tasks and not prioritizing one over the other. More than 70 percent of top-tier leaders have mastered the push for results and valuable relationships with their staff.

"When we looked at why people are satisfied or committed employees, the top [response] were things like, 'My boss inspires me. He/she sets goals that are challenging to achieve," says Dr. Folkman. "If you're debating between push and pull — save the debate. Do both," says Dr. Folkman. CEOs should build positive relationships while also pushing their organization to accomplish goals, make significant contributions and work hard.


Related Articles on Hospital Leadership:

10 Traits of Top Healthcare Leaders
Avoiding "Stupid" in Healthcare Leadership: Q&A With Glenn Fosdick, CEO of The Nebraska Medical Center
"Nut Island Effect": The Challenges of Hospital Leadership

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