90 execs share their most important career lessons

Becker's asked C-suite executives from hospitals and health systems across the U.S. to share the most important lesson they've learned throughout their career.

The 90 executives featured in this article are all speaking at the Becker's Healthcare 12th Annual CEO+CFO Roundtable on Nov. 11-14, 2024, at the Hyatt Regency in Chicago.

To learn more about this event, click here.

If you would like to join as a speaker or a reviewer, contact Mariah Muhammad at mmuhammad@beckershealthcare.com or agendateam@beckershealthcare.com. 

For more information on sponsorship opportunities, contact Jessica Cole at jcole@beckershealthcare.com.

As part of an ongoing series, Becker's is talking to healthcare leaders who will speak at our conference. The following are answers from our speakers at the event.

Question: What is the most important lesson you've learned throughout your career?

Prathibha Varkey, MBBS. Professor of Medicine and Preventive Medicine at Mayo Clinic College of Medicine and Science; President of Mayo Clinic Health System (Rochester, Minn.): Think big and be persistent when leading transformation. Follow your north star and keep values centric in the midst of complex challenges. Flexibility, optimism and kindness go a long way in empowering team members to create sustainable change. Pay it forward; inspire, develop and support other leaders to create more good.

David Lubarsky, MD. CEO and Vice Chancellor of Human Health Sciences at UC Davis Health (Sacramento, Calif.): The key to success in healthcare initiatives is not found in careful planning, generous funding, or the wizardry of underlying technology. Those are all necessary, but success is not possible without first having built up trusting relationships before embarking on a change management initiative. As noted in Stephen Covey's The Speed of Trust, trust is built on the team believing in the integrity- and purpose-driven leadership of the organization, the capabilities and credentials of the leadership team, and prior results. All of that requires consistent messaging and communications underscoring those characteristics.

K. Craig Kent, MD. CEO of UVA Health (Charlottesville, Va.); Executive Vice President of Health Affairs at the University of Virginia: One of my greatest realizations is the importance of fostering a culture where every individual genuinely feels valued and supported. Tough decisions are inevitable, and there are bound to be those who disagree or for whom these decisions produce an unfavorable outcome. But if a foundation of trust, transparency, and caring exists, these individuals will understand these decisions are being made in the best interests of their organization, the same organization that cares about their well-being and success. 

Remaining true to these principles cultivates belonging, encourages open communication, and sends a powerful message that the livelihood and views of team members are valued. Consistent practice of this philosophy increases the likelihood of team member acceptance of difficult institutional decisions when challenging scenarios arise and builds higher employee and organizational satisfaction over time. If the overarching sentiment of empathy and concern resonates throughout the organization, team members will remain committed to the organization's mission.

Damond W. Boatwright. President and CEO of Hospital Sisters Health System (Springfield, Ill.): Serving as a leader in health care is incredibly rewarding. The commitment we bring to improve the health of those we serve is humbling and a serious responsibility. During my career, I've learned it is difficult, if not impossible, to be a leader in a healing industry if you are not healed yourself. Emotional, physical, and psychological health are not abstract concepts, but necessary tools to build healthier communities. I've also come to understand more fully that we are stronger together and can achieve more than when we are separated or isolated as human beings. Serving in community gives me peace and I hope provides peace to others.

K. Ranga Rama Krishnan, MB, ChB. Senior Advisor to President and Chief Executive Officer at Rush University System for Health (Chicago): Change is inevitable and should be embraced.

All systems that we live and work in are interconnected and change all the time. Some changes are gradual and can be anticipated, others abrupt and disruptive.

 Instead of passively waiting for change and then complaining, resisting or reacting to change it is best to anticipate, prepare and act preemptively and have plans for abrupt disruptive dislocations.

Change management is best done early in complete transparency and with active participation of all parties.

Peter Banko. President and CEO of Baystate Health (Springfield, Mass.): The most important life lesson I have learned is best described in Lou Holtz's (the iconic Notre Dame football coach) three rules, "Do the right thing, do the best you can, and always show people you care." Lead with kindness, compassion, curiosity, and simplicity. Listen hard, talk straight, and trumpet your deepest values. Disagreements and tension make us better. Execute with courage, authenticity, and assertiveness. Finally, a healthy balance of ego and humility is absolutely essential in always getting it right versus needing to be right.

Greg Rosencrance. President and CEO of WVU Medicine Thomas Hospitals (South Charleston, W.V.): Listening is the Key.

Listening attentively is not merely hearing words but understanding the underlying concerns, needs, and perspectives of patients, staff, and stakeholders. Effective leaders recognize that listening fosters trust, encourages open dialogue, and cultivates a culture of inclusion and respect within healthcare organizations. By actively listening to feedback, insights, and suggestions, leaders can identify areas for improvement, address challenges proactively, and make informed decisions that prioritize the well-being of both patients and employees. Ultimately, prioritizing listening as a leadership skill creates a foundation for collaboration, innovation, and excellence in healthcare delivery.

Elizabeth Wako, MD. President and CEO of Swedish Health Services (Seattle): I've learned the importance of patience. Patience can bring great peace and clarity in times of uncertainty. It is a reminder that things have a way of working themselves out, even when we may not see it immediately. The mantra "time heals all wounds" serves as a powerful reminder that with time, resolution will come. By practicing patience, we allow the natural course of events to unfold and trust that things will eventually fall into place. In moments of doubt or distress, remembering this mantra can provide comfort and hope that the passage of time will bring understanding and growth. We don't need to immediately respond or react to every "fire alarm" that rings in life – professionally and personally; things will work out. It will resolve over time.

Muhammad Siddiqui. CIO of Reid Health (Richmond, Ind.): The most pivotal lesson I've learned throughout my career is the paramount importance of harmonizing technology strategy with overarching business objectives. In my early days, I was guilty of chasing cutting-edge solutions without fully considering how they aligned with our organization's goals. This approach not only wasted resources but also led to lackluster adoption rates. However, I soon came to realize that technology is a means to an end, not an end in itself. Its true value lies in its ability to enhance patient care, simplify operations, and drive business growth.

This epiphany prompted a seismic shift in my approach. I began to work closely with clinical stakeholders to ensure that our technology investments were squarely focused on delivering measurable outcomes that resonated with physicians, nurses, and patients. By adopting a holistic, stakeholder-centric approach that balanced innovation with fiscal responsibility, I was able to spearhead transformative digital initiatives that propelled healthcare organizations into new realms of innovation and care delivery excellence.

Today, I firmly believe that technology leaders must be strategic partners who can distill complex technical capabilities into tangible business value. By doing so, we can unlock the full potential of technology to drive meaningful change and improve lives.

Jason Carter. COO of Duke Regional Hospital (Durham, N.C.): You can be the smartest person in the world, but if no one wants to have lunch with you, you aren't going to make it. In other words, relationships are important. Our ability to lead in humble, and authentic ways creates trust, aligns organizations, and sustains results. While we have to know our jobs, our ability to make our teams feel known is the real differentiator that leads to success.

Tom Vasko. CEO of Newman Memorial Hospital (Shattuck, Okla.): You don't always have to be the smartest person in the room. The most impactful act is learning how to attract talented people and hold them together. Exceptional leadership produces extraordinary results that are difficult to quantitatively measure, however it's the foundation of every successful organization and will be the determining factor when the task is unimaginable. Exceptional leadership is very tangible.

Cliff Deveny, MD. President and CEO of Summa Health (Akron, Ohio): Get all the information on a critical issue from all parties involved and make that decision based on facts and what is best for the mission of the organization.

Aiesha Ahmed, MD. Vice President of Population Health, Vice President and Chief of Neuroscience at Corewell Health West (Grand Rapids and Southfield, Mich.): Identify and appreciate nuance. Pattern recognition helps us think concretely but doesn't influence our ability for abstract thinking which is a critical skill to have for a leader. Nuance leadership allows us to appreciate a broad spectrum of perspectives. Leveraging nuances helps us get to the depth of a problem and be open to atypical solutions while acknowledging complexity and improving understanding of the context.

David Gonzales, MD. Chief Medical Officer of Christus St. Vincent (Santa Fe, N.M.): The most important lesson I have learned in my career came as advice from a mentor: "Learn how to adapt to change. Change in healthcare happens on a daily basis and if you're not able to adapt, you are going to be very frustrated with your career in medicine."

Ebrahim Barkoudah, MD. System Chief and Regional Chief Medical Officer of Baystate Health (Springfield, Mass.): During my journey as a healthcare executive, I have learned the crucial importance of the 3 Ps model (Patient, Provider, Place) in improving healthcare services. This model highlights the need for a patient-centered approach, prioritizing personalized care that focuses on the patient's needs and experiences at the core of healthcare strategies. It also sheds light on the importance of creating a supportive environment for providers, acknowledging their essential role in the healthcare system and how their well-being affects patient care. Moreover, the model underlines the importance of optimizing the healthcare setting to promote healing and facilitate efficient care. Through adopting this comprehensive approach, I have come to understand the value of humility, teamwork, and the constant drive for excellence in enhancing patient care, thus contributing to the development of a more effective and compassionate healthcare system.

Anuj Vohra, DO. Chair and Medical Director of Emergency Medicine at Charlotte Hungerford Hospital (Torrington, Conn.): After practicing nearly 20 years I have learned that you may love your career and your job but they will not love you back. I now ensure that my children are my number one focus while maintaining the best balance I can between both family and career. I also have learned that I/we are capable of great things and there is no limit to what we can achieve. 

Ian Jasenof, MD. Chief Medical Officer of Mile Square Health Center - UI Health (Chicago): A core element for leadership success is understanding one's emotional intelligence level.

The journey from a provider to a provider leader can be a challenge given the dynamics of each role and oversight.

A successful leader has an inherent desire to motivate and inspire others and help one's organization meet its goals and directives.

Creating a collegial and collaborative environment by understanding the emotions of the team will have a great impact on success.

Bracken Babula, MD. Associate CMIO of Jefferson Health (Philadelphia): The most important lesson I learned early in my career is the need to say "yes" to any opportunity that comes my way — whether that's a small project, a conference presentation, collaboration on a peer-reviewed paper, or a part-time role in something I had not considered part of my career trajectory. Later, I realized it's equally important to know when to say "no." In medicine, being open to new opportunities and learning is crucial. However, balancing the willingness to take on challenges with an awareness of one's limits is also necessary. This approach can lead to a fulfilling career by allowing the exploration of diverse experiences while also setting boundaries that maintain a sustainable work-life balance.

Jim Heilsberg. CFO of Tri-State Memorial Hospital and Medical Campus (Clarkston, Wash.): Never underestimate culture. It will eat strategy every day and twice on Sunday.

Organizations need to consider who is ready for a trip for growth and who is ready for a trip to economize. Many want to grow, few want to be thrifty. If you try to take an organization that is used to growing you may not have many that willingly make adjustments to economize as a way of life. For organizations to survive you need to be able to do both. For organizations to thrive you need people that can grow at a steady rate.

James G. Terwilliger. Senior Vice President and COO of Virginia Mason Franciscan Health Commonspirit Health (Tacoma, Wash.): The most important lessons I have found in my career are: stay immensely curious; be focused forward, not backward; and surround yourself with the absolute best people you can find. 

Jennifer Wilkerson. Senior Vice President and Chief Strategy Officer of Sheppard Pratt (Baltimore): As I think of lessons learned throughout my career (and life in general!), the one that rises to the top is the parable of the big rocks. Think of a bunch of rocks where the size of the rocks represent relative importance and you have to fit all of them into a jar. When faced with the challenge of getting things done and prioritizing, focus on the important things (big rocks) first. Put the big rocks in and then fit the rest in the remaining space.

Rod W. Neill. COO of Bon Secours Mercy Health Medical Group (Cincinnati): Humility is a valuable lesson I learned early on and carry with me to this day. Being part of an organization in which an order of the foundresses are named the Sisters of Humility of Mary has made it all the easier to stay humble. It is important to take pride in your work and colleagues but it can become a fault if it turns to pridefulness. Proverbs 13:10 states 'By pride comes nothing but strife.' Staying grounded and remembering you are a small piece in a larger body meant to serve and better your community has provided me clarity as a servant leader and I have enjoyed contributing into the greater team.

Brian Peters. CEO of Michigan Health Hospital Association (Okemos): Life is not a sprint…and it's not a marathon either. In reality, life – and business – is a series of sprints. In business, you cannot "sprint" 100 percent of the time, as you'll burn out, and possibly burn out those around you. But you also cannot maintain a constant, steady pace (like a marathoner) either – because some issues, some days, some meetings, demand you to step up your game in a big way. Understanding when and where to "sprint" is one of the attributes that separates effective leaders from their less successful counterparts.

Olusegun A. Ishmael, MD. COO and President of the Hospital Division at MetroHealth (Cleveland): The most important lesson I've learned throughout my career is the crucial importance of having a team. Very few accomplishments can be achieved alone, so it's essential to build a "crew." Recognize the strengths and weaknesses of each team member. Understand their motivations and connect with them on a personal level. Cultivate mutual respect and trust. These individuals will be instrumental in completing tasks, rescuing you from tight spots, and also support you in challenging times.

Adrian Moran, MD. Chief Medical Officer of Aurora St Luke's Medical Center (Milwaukee): Healthcare is an ever changing field with the only constant being the patient at the center and the importance of the human connection with the patient and team mates. Technology and therapies will change and evolve but the need to connect with, listen to and care for the patient and their family will always remain.

Quanna Batiste, DNP, RN. CNO of Ambulatory Care at UCLA Health (Los Angeles): The most pivotal lesson gleaned from my career journey is the paramount importance of holistic self-care. Prioritizing physical, mental, and emotional well-being lays the groundwork for enduring professional resilience and success. Additionally, nurturing a robust network of connections and fostering positive relationships within serve as a foundational principle, amplifying opportunities for growth and collaboration. These three principles — self-care, networking, and relationship-building — are not just incidental lessons but have been the very essence for sustaining longevity and fulfillment in my career.

Erik Summers, MD. Chief Medical Officer of Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center (Winston-Salem, N.C.): People are much more than their disease, and it is so important to acknowledge the whole person. Patients want you to see them as a human being, and not a disease process.

How you communicate with patients matters. People will tell you their diagnosis a majority of the time. You just have to listen.

The majority of patients I have cared for look for empathy and validation of their feelings. They know if you truly care, and if you are fighting for them.

While it is a privilege to have the opportunity to practice my passion, I recently learned that it is just as important to support our staff and keep them safe. I used to always say that the needs of the patient come first. Now, I say that the needs of the staff also come first.

You learn something new almost every day in medicine. Keep your eyes open and never stop learning.

It is the small things that define who you are to your peers and patients. And where your strength lies.

Some of the greatest people I have met in my medical career were transporters, unit secretaries, environmental services workers, and cashiers, among others. Find the great people in your hospital and tell them how wonderful they are. When you surround yourself with great people, it makes you a better physician.

Rachel Sossoman. President and CEO of Mercy Urgent Care (Asheville, N.C.): Keep learning new things, then apply that learning in practice. Healthcare leaders exist in a continuously evolving industry. We must be continuously evolving ourselves to remain effective. Core qualities of effective leadership have evolved even within the past decade. Those who are willing to stay abreast of evolving needs, then learn and apply new skills to meet those needs, increase the likelihood of sustained positive impact. In healthcare, that means better sustaining the institutions we've committed to serve, as well as improving public health. 

Mac Marlow. CIO of UT Southwestern Medical Center (Dallas): The most important lesson that I have learned throughout my career is tom treat people as I would like to be treated. Consistently leveraging this tenet has yielded the fastest path to developing lifelong relationships and time-tested trust. I agree with Maya Angelou, who said in short "… people will never forget how you made them feel!"

Sachin K. Gupta, MD. Chief Medical Officer of UNC Physicians Network (Durham, N.C.): No single person can do this by themselves. Don't be afraid to ask for help. Surround yourself with those who are committed to a shared mission and vision but not necessarily your style. Being challenged is healthy for a team and there are many ways to get to a desired result. Be open to new methods and approaches and your team will go further than you can ever take it as a single person.

Catriona McDonald Harrop, MD. Senior Vice President at Jefferson Medical Group; Clinical Associate Professor of Medicine at Sidney Kimmel Medical College, Thomas Jefferson University (Philadelphia): I believe the most important lesson I have learned in my career – and my life - is that avoidance of discomfort has an evolutionary benefit, but in the end does not serve us well, either as leaders or as human beings. Avoiding difficult conversations or challenging circumstances doesn't lead to resolution, instead it often prolongs the conflict. Learning how to navigate challenges is an essential life skill, and I would go one step further and add that learning to thrive in those circumstances is a key element to success as a leader. 

Laurin Cathey. Senior Vice President and CHRO of Children's Minnesota (Minneapolis): I've come to understand that the ability to adapt is critical. Early in my career focus was put on qualities like decisiveness and the ability to plan and execute on that plan. Adapting takes courage, both to say the original plan wasn't just right and to make the needed adjustments. 

Our efforts around continuous improvement are building this capability in leaders at Children's Minnesota today. Healthcare is experiencing rapid change. Understanding the changing landscape and adapting to it is vital so that we can continue to pursue our vision to be every family's essential partner in raising healthy children.

J.R. Greene. CEO of Psychiatric Medical Care (Brentwood, Tenn.): Invest in your people and provide them with opportunities to lead and take on additional challenges. Throughout my career I was fortunate to have several influential mentors and managers who were as hungry to see me succeed as they were themselves. I learned that people who focused entirely on themselves ultimately ran into ongoing hurdles to strengthen their careers. But the leaders who made others feel that they too could become accomplished leaders saw ongoing success, even across different industries. I believe Mark Twain said it best, "Great people are those who make others feel that they, too, can become great."

Aundrea Styles. CEO of Gateway Regional Medical Center (Granite City, Ill.): It is so difficult to look back and find the one most important lesson in a person's career, but there is one defining moment in mine that has served me well. When you think you are at the top of your game, it is important to remain humble. There is someone who is always bigger, stronger, faster, or has more power than you do. I had a defining moment in 2018, that will always make me remember where I have come from and where I want to be. Keep your eyes on the goal, and stay true to yourself.

Madeline Bell. President and CEO of Children's Hospital of Philadelphia: The most important lesson is to take your time to hire the right people and build your team. Everyone that reports to you is a reflection of you and the organization's ability to meet its mission and goals so you must invest the time and effort to hire "A" players. Once you have the team in place, delegate and empower them to make decisions.

Charles Emerman, MD. Chair of Emergency Medicine and Medical Director, Service Line at MetroHealth Medical Center (Cleveland): What I have learned over the years is that in any organization there are people with the ability and the motivation to do a great job. Find them, treasure them, and engage them. They are the key to accomplishing your goals.

Ashwani Bhatia, MD. CEO of BayCare Clinic (Green Bay, Wis.): One of the most important lessons I have learned as a leader is the importance of balancing clinical expertise with strategic leadership. Transitioning from chief medical officer to CEO required a shift in focus from clinical decision-making to broader organizational management, including financial stewardship, strategic planning, and team leadership. I have learned the value of leveraging my clinical background to make informed strategic decisions while also recognizing the need to rely on a diverse team of experts in various areas of healthcare management.

Lisa Carter. Southern Regional President of Ballad Health (Johnson City, Tenn.): Candid, succinct, and timely feedback is golden. Often leaders shy away from providing necessary information to colleagues or team members. Messages often become diluted and or jumbled while having difficult conversations. While this can be uncomfortable, carrying needed messages is vital to leading.

Kathryn J. Martinez, MSN, RN. Executive Vice President, COO and CNO of FHN (Freeport, Ill.): The most important thing I have learned throughout my career is the importance of resilience. The daily work of a leader encompasses new stressors and new challenges while requiring agility and adaptability. Without resilience, a leader becomes immobile and is not able to progress and meet the needs of the communities we serve. 

Rhonda Murray. Vice President of Payer Contracting and Alignment, Managed Government Programs at HCA Healthcare (Nashville, Tenn.): The most important lesson I've learned throughout my career is don't be afraid of the things that challenge you. Those are the things that help you grow.

Adam Breslow. MD. President and CEO of Children's Primary Care Medical Group (San Diego): The most important lesson learned is "Take care of those who take care of you, and you'll be well taken care of." If you have the backs of your people, they will do everything in their power to ensure success in whatever is asked of them. Teams want their CEO to be supportive, not autocratic.

Kathy Parrinello. Executive Vice President and COO of University of Rochester (N.Y.) Medical Center, Strong Memorial Hospital: One of the most important lessons I have learned as a healthcare leader is to LISTEN to others – your medical staff, employees, community members and board members. It is not critical to act on everything you are told, but it is important to understand these perspectives as that is where the best ideas for innovation come as well as the best solutions to address problems. Healthcare involves so much specialty content knowledge that no leader can possibly master it all. Listening to the experts on your team and in your community is key to success.

Mark Gridley. President and CEO of FHN Memorial Hospital (Freeport, Ill.): The most valuable lesson I've learned throughout my career is to never compromise your integrity under any circumstance. At times it may be costly in a number of ways, however that cost is only temporary. Long term you will never regret honoring your team, your family, and yourself by maintaining your true north. You may not always be popular…but you will be trusted which is much more valuable in my opinion.

Steven Carson, MHA, BSN, RN. Senior Vice President of Population Health at Temple University Health System (Philadelphia): Honesty and integrity are the two most important values that you can maintain as a leader. The individuals who you work with need to know that you are trustworthy, and that you will always have their and the organization's best interest in the heart of the work that you do each day. Understanding how you as a leader impact others is an essential element of a leader's work. Focusing on mission and core competencies, strengthening your position and leading with mission is essential to success.

Marie Langley. CEO of Desert Valley Hospital & Medical Group (Victorville, Calif.): The most important lesson I've learned throughout my career is the value of people. Companies rise and fall on the backs of individuals committed to the organization's success. Although we are all replaceable, our value is not. A great team can move mountains, and a bad apple will always spoil the bunch.

Swannie Jett, DrPH. CEO of Park DuValle Community Health Center Inc. (Louisville, Ky.): The most important lesson I've learned in my career is to learn how to make decisions faster and trust your intuition. Never make haste decisions. It's important to have the facts, but never take a long time to decide once you have the appropriate information.

Jeffrey Gold, MD. Chancellor of University of Nebraska Medical Center (Omaha): People ARE everything! Recruiting and retaining the very best is the most important investment that we can make, always yielding the highest academic, clinical and financial outcomes. They add true joy to otherwise very difficult jobs.

David Berger, MD. CEO of University Hospital at Downstate (Brooklyn, N.Y.): The most important thing I have learned is how to listen in a positive manner. As a surgeon I was trained to diagnose a problem and provide the clinical solution. That is very different from leading in a complex organization. The key is to listen attentively and completely. Once the individual has finished speaking it is important to provide feedback as to what you think they have said. After listening to understand it is important to allow people to develop solutions to the issues they bring forth. 

Rebecca Napier. Vice President of Finance and Administration at The University of New Mexico Health Sciences Center (Albuquerque, N.M.): The most important lesson I've learned and likewise think is foundational to achieving success—keep showing up. This requires resiliency and commitment, especially in today's workplace where we may continually face adversity, disappointment, or dissatisfaction. The act of doing hard things is the cornerstone of personal and professional growth.

 As perfectly stated by Jeffrey Fry, "The formula for success is 2% talent, 8% luck, and 90% of showing up every day." 

 Growing up, I learned a variation of this from my grandfather. He was an incredibly successful entrepreneur, despite dropping out of school in the seventh grade to take care of his family. He instilled in me the belief that others may be smarter than you, better connected or luckier… but that doesn't matter if you don't do the work. He certainly lived his truth. By the time he was 18, he owned his first business and continued on that remarkable trajectory of success his entire career—in large part because he showed up every day and did the hard work. 

My grandfather's story is not unique. Life is full of unexpected challenges. Yet, it is how we respond to these obstacles that defines our path. Resilience isn't about avoiding difficulties; it's about bouncing back stronger and wiser. By embracing the challenge and continuing to be present, we develop the fortitude to endure tough times, learn equally from success or failure, and emerge more resilient.

Loudrige Jean-Philippe. COO of Palm Beach Health Network Physician Group at Tenet Healthcare Corporation (Dallas): The most important lesson I've learned throughout my career is to add value. Do everything from a place of valuing people, including valuing self. 

Whether we are supporting or providing care to someone, recruiting an employee, actively engaging with strategic partners or mentors, forming a collaboration in the community, or making a tough decision, value each individual. Focus on the person and value others. 

In leadership, it is imperative that leadership styles add value. It is vital to the organization, stakeholders, and the communities being served. Value brings success.

Bill Munley. Administrator of Shriners Children's Greenville (S.C.): The most important lesson I've learned in my 43 years of healthcare management is that I don't know every detail of running a hospital. As an administrator, I realize that I learn new things every day, and that learning is a life-long process. Therefore, it's been important for me to listen to and depend on the employees and managers who are boots on the ground, so that I can remove barriers that prevent them from doing their jobs effectively. A good leader does not micromanage, but instead surrounds himself/herself with experts in their fields and allows them to flourish.

Natassia Allen. COO of Beaufort Jasper Hampton Comprehensive Health Services (Ridgeland, S.C.): The most important lesson I have learned throughout my career is that good leaders make time to invest in their staff's growth and development. In every role that I have held, staff development has been a priority. Taking time to invest in staff can lead to employee satisfaction, skill enhancement, increased productivity, and can foster innovation.

Melisa Adkins. CEO of UofL Health - Mary & Elizabeth Hospital (Louisville, Ky.): The most important lesson I have learned throughout my career is: There is a lesson to learn from everyone you encounter, even if it is a lesson in what not to do. I have encountered good leaders in my career and ones that were questionable but have learned from them all, even if it was what not to do. Learning comes in many forms, and I have learned to embrace it regardless of circumstance. 

Michael Backus. President and CEO of Oswego Health (N.Y.): I think the most important lesson I've learned professionally is that tomorrow will come and as a leader, I have to always keep my focus further down the road than the immediate challenge being presented. That's tough for me as I enjoy solving problems in real-time. That though isn't always what is required nor the best use of my time. 

Keeping a perspective that whatever today presents, tomorrow will bring another or perhaps a solution to yesterday's issue even. That perspective is important for C-suite leaders who can often get caught up in the day-to-day grind of troubleshooting. Knowing the pulse of the organization is critical, however, keeping perspective and moving strategic projects forward has to be the vision of leadership focused on tomorrow to ensure growth.

Kevin Andryc, DO. Chief Medical Officer of UH Geneva and Conneaut Medical Centers (Conneaut, Ohio): It's difficult to identify a single lesson that I've learned over the years, but I have come to realize that providing transparent and straightforward feedback is crucial. Employees value honesty and empathy over sugar-coated responses. Furthermore, it's essential to maintain professionalism and always put your best foot forward. When making decisions, it's critical to keep the organization's mission in mind and ensure that our choices align with it. This alignment not only guarantees the success of our decisions but also instills confidence in the company's direction. For example, in healthcare, every meeting should conclude with the question of whether we're doing what's best for our patients, and that should guide our decision-making.

Amy Mansue. President and CEO of Inspira Health Network (Mullica Hill, N.J.): What are the facts vs. what is the story you may be telling yourself? Humans tend to create stories when we may not have all the information. We often let our emotions create a tale that might not be true because we personalize things and jump to conclusions, seldom giving people the benefit of the doubt. That's why crucial conversations training is essential; it forces you to separate the facts from our stories. The way to test if you are creating a story is if you keep having the same conversation and are getting nowhere; if that is the case, you are having the wrong conversation. Stop telling stories that change the narrative, and focus on the known facts to move toward what you're looking to achieve. 

David Krajewski. Executive Vice President and CFO of LifeBridge Health (Baltimore): As a CFO, you may have the expertise, knowledge and strategic vision to move your organization forward, but none of us gets very far alone. You can't succeed, either as a person or as an organization, if you don't take into account different perspectives and ensure you have others on board, whether that's your own team or a potential partner or client. Over my career, I have learned that I need to tailor my approach to meet people where they are. All the knowledge in the world doesn't make a difference if you can't build consensus and move a project or deal to completion.

Michele Moran. Vice President of Emergency Services at Tampa (Fla.) General Hospital: Throughout my career, I've learned that what is most important is to remain true to your core values, to be your authentic self and to lead with integrity and kindness. I've also learned that relationships, centered around mutual trust and respect, are your most valuable asset. Your relationships are critical and what will drive your success as a leader. At the end of the day, a happy and supported staff leads to happy patients who experience better outcomes. To achieve this, you should focus your efforts on your team, providing them with the support and tools they need to do their job and they will take care of the rest. 

Sylvia Radziszewski. COO of University Hospitals Samaritan Medical Center (Ashland, Ohio): My career clinically and as a leader has been a journey and one of always learning! 

When I reflect back through my career, the intangible skills that I feel were crucial to my continued success and love of leadership have been: flexibility, agility, resilience, change management, relationships, grace and patience, honest reflection when "I got it wrong" – in essence, owning my mistakes.

These are also built on the foundation of "listening." Listening with an open heart and intentionality to truly HEAR the person speaking, not just responding.

We as clinicians and leaders tend to jump to "how can I fix this," "what can I do," how, what, when, etc. But a leader's success is measured by the amount of effort they pour into their team. And, with listening we learn the real needs and skills of our team, generating the awareness to drive results and lead the team.

As a leader you are able to learn more, develop, strategize, impact – if you truly listen. 

My tips to better listening are as follows:

  • Be intentional in sharing your time – make the time to listen; be present
  • Limit distractions of emails, phone, texts and mind wander
  • Talk less – but ask clarifying questions
  • DO NOT judge – be aware if unconscious bias
  • Lean into your heat – be compassionate, show empathy and
  • Practice, practice and practice – apologize if you stumble!

This also pours over to practice as clinician with patients and families and personal life too.

Jean Ann Larson, EdD. Chief Leadership Development Officer and Senior Associate Dean of Leadership Development at University of Alabama at Birmingham Heersink School of Medicine, UAB Health System: The biggest lesson I have learned throughout my career is that it is always about the people and relationships that we build. People are the ones who make things happen, not org charts or policies. Also, anytime I've faced a seemingly impossible challenge, I've found that if I could reach out to others, either they had already solved a similar problem or they were willing to partner with me to address the challenge. In addition, it has been a delight to stay connected to people I've worked with over the years even as we moved to different organizations and even parts of the world.

Susmita Pati, MD. Chief of Primary Care Pediatrics and Chief Medical Program Advisor, The Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science at Stony Brook University (N.Y.): The most important lesson that I've learned throughout my career is the tremendous value of clear and empathetic communication. Communication is fundamental to success in building strong healthcare delivery teams that, in turn, lead to joy and fulfillment at work.

Alan Fisher, MBA, FACHE. CEO of Woodlawn Hospital (Rochester, Ind.): More than one lesson has kept me going over these 40 years in healthcare. These lessons range from the mundane, to the complicated, to the abstract and our lessons allow one to evolve to be a better leader. For me, these lessons include everything is fluid and sometimes change is needed; being tactical and strategic rather than impulsive; humility over verboseness; often perception is reality.

Kevin Davidson. Vice President of Ambulatory Services and Network Development at Cottage Health (Santa Barbara, Calif.): Patients come first. Shortly after COVID-19 arrived in full force, I recall being on a command center call with my executive colleagues. Everyone knew there was a lot to do, but there was definite apprehension, as we debated the decisions before us, especially in light of budget challenges we were already facing. Our CFO put us at ease with one simple sentence: "Do the right thing for the patients, I'll worry about the money later." Patients first. Always. This is a guiding principle that I have been reminded of throughout my career. Regardless of our roles or the complexity of a particular challenge we might be facing, ultimately, centering patients in our decision-making brings clarity and focus. It's a grounding concept that I reinforce to my team and our colleagues, whether in a global pandemic or simply the latest daily operational challenge. 

Sunny Eappen. President and CEO of The University of Vermont Health Network (Burlington): I was greatly influenced by a phenomenal leader who was brilliant and humble. He told me that his goal was to have his leaders/team make as many of the decisions as possible and for him to only make very few and largely be the tie-breaker. So his job was to create the environment to allow members of his team to speak freely, disagree openly and regularly, and reach consensus as a group. He really believed in the group wisdom being greater than any one individual. Throughout my career, and today as we work to find innovative ways to improve access to high-quality care for the people of our rural region, I have worked very hard to create this safety for all team members to bring their whole selves and contribute.

Gian Varbaro, MD. Chief Medical Officer and Vice President of Ambulatory Services at Bergen New Bridge Medical Center (Paramus, N.J.): The most important lesson I have learned is to try to understand things from other people's perspectives. I do not mean just to know what their opinion is, but to try to empathize with them to understand why they have that opinion. If you understand what is important to other people, you can find ways to accomplish things that seem impossible. A second part to this is to not be "married" to any one plan; getting the result you want is what is important, not getting things done exactly your way or the way that was initially planned.

Steve Davis, MD. President and CEO of Cincinnati Children's (Ohio): The most valuable leadership lesson I have learned emerged during my tenure as the interim CEO at Cincinnati Children's. Uncertain of my duration in this role, I initially hesitated to implement changes. However, the CFO at the time offered transformative advice: 'Don't try to be like Michael; you'll only be the second-best version of him. Just be the best version of yourself.' 

This guidance proved crucial to my future success. When stepping into leadership, embracing one's unique qualities is essential. Each leader possesses distinct strengths and perspectives that are instrumental in their leadership journey. Mimicking a predecessor can diminish a leader to a mere shadow of another. Instead, leveraging personal talents and insights — not only fosters respect and trust among team members but also bolsters the leader's capacity to innovate and adapt, ultimately benefiting the entire organization.

Scott Polenz. Former Vice President of Physician and Advanced Practice Clinician Relations at Marshfield (Wis.) Clinic Health System: My best leadership lesson is that trust is the cornerstone of any meaningful relationship. There are many definitions of trust but you know it when it happens and trust with your teams, physicians, and co-workers will move mountains for your organization and the communities we all have the honor to serve.

Sophia G. Holder. Executive Vice President and CFO of Children's Hospital of Philadelphia: I have learned to call upon my "cabinet" courageously and often. I have learned that asking for help is a noble attribute of leadership. Absent their sage counsel, I might have made decisions that would have changed the course of my career journey, my career trajectory. Candidly, I might have been stymied by my own fears and insecurities. At this moment, I am reminded of a quote I read some time ago: "Don't be shy about asking for help. It doesn't mean you're weak, it only means you're wise."

Richard J. Gray, MD. CEO of Mayo Clinic Arizona; Vice President of Mayo Clinic (Rochester, Minn.): There is no one lesson I've learned that is most important — it's a combination of many lessons that, when combined, have served as guideposts throughout my career. Consistently keeping Mayo Clinic's primary value on my mind and our leaders' minds is paramount: The needs of the patient come first. Also important, leaders need to consistently and simultaneously live out characteristics that are seemingly a paradox. Leaders should be characterized by both humility and courage — showing humility to learn from others and draw out the best ideas while also showing courage to take risks and make big moves.

They also should be characterized by both gratitude and aspiration — thankful for the great work done by our people while also recognizing the endless opportunities to do better. Lastly, leaders should be characterized by both caring and candor — deeply caring about our people while creating a space to be honest with each other even when it may be difficult. 

Kapua Conley. Regional President and Administrator of Sentara CarePlex Hospital (Hampton, Va.): Not to sound cliché but …..Humility.

Learning to lead with humility has been a valuable lesson. I believe it is a quality that differentiates truly impactful executives from the rest. When leaders exhibit humility, it opens the door to authentic interactions, fosters an environment of trust, encourages open communication, and facilitates learning and growth within the organization. 

Humble leaders are more approachable and better listeners, which enables them to understand the needs and concerns of their teams and adapt strategies accordingly. This approach not only enhances team collaboration and morale but also drives innovation, as team members feel valued and empowered to share their ideas. 

Furthermore, humility in leadership helps in acknowledging mistakes and viewing them as learning opportunities rather than failures, promoting a culture of continuous improvement. This mindset has also been crucial for my personal growth as a son, brother, husband, and father.

William Morice, MD, PhD. President and CEO of Mayo Clinic Laboratories/Mayo Collaborative Services (Rochester, Minn.): Of course, a career in medicine and leadership is bound to teach you lots of lessons, so picking the most important one is a challenge! With that caveat, I would say the most important lesson is to "Stay humble and focused on getting it right, not being right." Being humble keeps your mind open to new possibilities and working to get to the correct answer or solution rather than "my" answer or solution gets the best results, brings others along with you, and gives you the opportunity to reflect and learn.

Ronda Lehman. President of Mercy Health Lima (Ohio): I'm not sure I can identify just one lesson…there have been many along the way. But the two most important have to be centered around people.

  1. Always keep the patient at the center of your decision making.
  2. Prioritize your people. Period.

Others that come to mind include being grateful for the good times, and also remembering that difficult times don't last. These are lessons that carry me through my personally gratifying and challenging healthcare career.

Ashley Arey. Vice President of Care Access at UNC Health (Chapel Hill, N.C.): The most important career lesson I've learned is to never stop seeking new perspectives, ideas, and ways to solve challenges. Continuous learning is a key secret to success as it fuels inspiration and ingenuity — it gives me energy to tackle the day to day and longer term challenges! It also opens the door to more open and effective collaboration and networking.

Candace Ifabiyi. CEO of VA St. Louis Healthcare System: I was fortunate throughout my career to learn many lessons that helped me professionally. One of the most important lessons I have learned is the importance of communication. As a leader, the ability to communicate effectively with staff, stakeholders, and customers is critical to the success of the organization to meet its goals. Communication goes beyond the leader speaking; it involves the leader actively listening to facilitate trust, address conflicts, and support team relationships. The importance of communication by leadership shouldn't be underestimated. When leaders are effective with their communication, the entire organization benefits and is better able to adapt and pivot to meet priorities.

Mary Frances Southerland. Chief Administrative Officer of UVA Health (Charlottesville, Va.): Aligning around the "why" is critical to the overall success of any well-planned initiative. Anchoring teams in an understanding of why we are executing and the role they play in achieving the vision is incredibly powerful and can be transformational for an organization. While executive sponsorship is important, it is imperative that this understanding saturate the organization for meaningful change to take hold. Our obligation as leaders is to cultivate this understanding and foster the experience of our incredibly valuable team members by creating space and dialogue that leverages their expertise.

Mayank K. Shah, MD. Vice President and Chief Medical Officer of Advocate Condell Medical Center (Libertyville, Ill.), Advocate Health: There are many lessons learned through journey in healthcare. The most important lesson is the value of good communication. Communication is not only important to improve interpersonal relationships in healthcare, but it also allows for creating a culture of respect, collaboration, and shared perspective. I have learned that the priority in implementing any project or change is to focus on communication strategy. The stronger the communication strategy, the more likely it will achieve success. Effective communication means knowing your audience, appealing to common ground with a sense of purpose, and creating a frame of vision. The most important skill as a healthcare leader is effective communication from my viewpoint. 

Mark Klyczek. President and CEO of Virginia Health Services (Newport News): In answer to the question, one of the most important lessons I have learned is that more than one thing can be true at the same time. This was primarily evident during COVID, when we were giving great care, and meeting all regulations (which were changing daily in long term care), however patient outcomes for many individuals were not positive. Having this realization helped me to focus not only on the negatives, but the forward motion we had generated, which led us to exiting the pandemic with clarity and many initiatives underway which improved our overall performance in 2023. 

Not only did we have positive financial performance, we achieved the lowest nursing turnover rates in our region along with the highest quality scores. Nearly every day, whether in a positive or negative direction, the reality of multiple truths is evident in our work.

Elham Yousef, MD. Vice President and Chief Medical Officer of Bayshore Medical Center, Hackensack Meridian Health (Edison, N.J.): Throughout my career I have learned many lessons. The most important are: 

  • Setbacks are inevitable, don't see them as failures but rather as positive lessons to learn from them, building resilience, character, strength and moving forward. 
  • Staying true to who you are and never losing sight of your core values, your values will be tested over and over and over and over. 
  • Mentors and coaches are essential pillars for self awareness, expanding perspectives, creating support networks, improving performance and unlocking potential.
  • Teamwork is a must to leveraging perspectives, fostering collaboration, innovation and achieving common goals.
  • Empathy enables us to understand things from others perspectives, this boosts wellbeing, morale and fosters a supportive environment as it strengthens bonds among people.

Peter Chang, MD. Executive Vice President and Chief Transformation Officer of Tampa (Fla.) General Hospital: The most important lesson I've learned in my career is actually the reminder of how much I don't know about medicine. When I started medical school in 2004, medical knowledge was doubling every five years. As of 2020, medical knowledge now doubles every 73 days. As we continue to push the envelope of technology and innovation in healthcare, we will continue to learn even so much more with every opportunity and initiative. However, at the end of the day, it still doesn't change the fact that a majority of what we know about how to diagnose a patient comes from what a patient tells us. 

Valerie Mattison Brown. Chief Strategy Officer of Veterans Health Administration (Washington, D.C.): The most important lesson I have learned throughout my career is that building relationships is important to career growth and success. People want to connect on a level that is more than surface level and more than about work. I was advised early in my career to keep business business and personal personal. That is hard for me because I am curious about people, who they are and what they do so when I was given that advice it was difficult for me. I was not being my authentic self at work and it did not make for the best environment. 

When I reached a certain level of maturity in my professional career I decided to just be myself and share what makes me tick whether it was something about me personally (I love to read historical fiction), something about my children (my youngest plays club volleyball and we travel quite frequently for tournaments) or something about places I have traveled. Once I decided to open up more and make personal connections it became easy to open up and share professional recommendations, partner with colleagues and accomplish goals together. 

As the saying goes "teamwork makes the dream work," but there is no "I" in team! Break down the barriers, roll your sleeves up, break bread, sip tea and get to know one another and how each other thinks. That goes a long way to foster civility while at the same time accomplishing goals.

Zachary Lenert, MSN, RN. Vice President of Integrated Care Management at Sharp HealthCare (San Diego): My career has spanned from bedside nursing to executive leadership, and throughout, I've come to appreciate the importance of humility, diversity, curiosity, and collaboration to be an effective leader. These qualities not only empower teams but also drive positive outcomes in our ever-evolving healthcare landscape.

One of the most valuable lessons I've learned in my career is the importance of staying closely connected to my team's day-to-day operations. They are often the first to recognize emerging trends, identify barriers, and innovative best practices to address the dynamic needs of our healthcare environment. By adopting a leadership style characterized by curiosity and openness, I've been better equipped to navigate change effectively and guide my team through unprecedented challenges.

Maintaining a close connection to our core operations involves actively listening to all perspectives and recognizing that each team member is an expert in their own right. I've found that this has built a culture of collaboration and innovation, where every voice is valued. Together, we can then make better decisions, empower team members to contribute their ideas and improve care delivery.

Siri Nelson. President and CEO of Marshall Medical Center (Placerville, Calif.): The most important lesson I have learned during my career is that careers, like life, are not linear. During our working lifetime, we all face unexpected challenges and twists, and it is how you adapt to those challenges that matters.You may need to step out of your career and focus on family, or you may not get that promotion you really wanted. But your career isn't about the next two years, your career is a lifetime of work. Focus on what is really important to you and what you really want in the long run, and don't let the immediate distractions distract you from that goal. Life may surprise you.

Pooja Vyas, DO. Vice President and Chief Medical Officer of BJC Christian Hospital (St. Louis): The most important lesson I've learned throughout my career is the importance of people, relationships, and the sense of belonging. 

LeWanza Harris, MD. Vice President of Quality and Regulatory Affairs at Mount Sinai Health System (New York City): 

  • Become comfortable with uncertainty. It is easy to stay in situations of comfort and have a fear of the unknown. Learn to embrace and navigate through the uncertainty. Beyond uncertainty is growth. 
  • Stay curious. Be open to learning new ideas and taking on new opportunities that help you develop into a better colleague and leader. 
  • Treat both successes and failures as an opportunity to grow. There are lessons to be learned from our successes and failures in our careers. Each experience teaches us how to better navigate situations in the future. 
  • Be intentional. Learn to be strategic about your career decisions. Planning your career path does not end after graduation, professional school, or training. If you have no plans for your career, you will be carrying out someone else's career plans. 
  • Share your wisdom with others. Mentorship is the best way to give back and pay it forward to your community. Helping others to be a better version of themselves and become the next generation of the change makers is a great way to stay grounded and connected to your purpose.
  • Learn to see humanity in others. We engage with each other from different cultures, perspectives, and norms. Treating each other with respect and seeing the humanity in each other helps us to serve each other and our communities better. 
  • No one will advocate for you better than you. No one knows what you want or need for your career growth unless you tell them. 
  • The best way to solve a problem is with a team. It is important to promote an environment of innovative thinking and integrative decision-making to understand a problem and develop solutions.
  • Be the master of your time. Learn how to manage your tasks with your time or it will manage you. Prioritize the most important items at your most peak times of productivity and schedule it in your calendar. Delegate when needed. Always make time in your schedule to review information and strategize. 
  • Pay yourself first. We cannot take care of others if we do not first take care of ourselves. Schedule time to do what brings you joy each day. This will help you to maintain the balance in our work-life lives. 

Theresa Dawson, DNP, MSN, RN. Chief Nursing Officer of Oaklawn Hospital (Marshall, Mich.): Over the last 40 years of holding leadership roles, I think the lesson that has always been of greatest importance is being a supportive leader. By this I mean allowing autonomy with guidance, active listening with others, allowing for growth and development and using presence in order to allow for relationship building. Knowing those that you work with or work for you at a level of human kindness develops trust and engagement.

Tina Stamper, MSN, RN. Associate Chief Nursing Informatics Officer of Vandalia Health (Charleston, W.Va.): Patient advocacy is critical to ensuring patient treatments are delivered safely. Nurses advocate for patients by communicating with providers to help verify that patients have the information they need to make independent decisions about their care. Enabling patients to make independent decisions values and safeguards their rights, protects them from incompetency, and safeguards their health and wellness. 

I had just come off orientation back in the mid-1990s when I learned hard lessons of continuing to advocate for patients when I recognized their health was deteriorating. Once I experienced someone having an outcome that was not anticipated, I made every attempt to not let history repeat itself. As I've grown as a nurse leader in nursing informatics, I continue to advocate for our patient population and nursing staff. I try to assist in making certain that our electronic healthcare record, services, and policies focus on meeting patients' needs while keeping them safe. 

I believe that patient and nurse advocacy is one of the most important responsibilities of a nurse leader because our patients tend to rely on us to support their autonomy, keep them safe, and educate them about their condition and the healthcare system while nurses depend on us to be supportive within their workplace.

Geralda Xavier, MD, MPH, MBA, FACEP. Chief Medical Officer of Hackettstown and Newton Medical Centers, Atlantic Health System (Morristown, N.J.): As a physician executive the most important lessons I've learned is the significance of fostering a culture of continuous learning and psychological safety within the healthcare system. Cultivating leadership and mentorship, by providing guidance, support, and opportunities for professional development, we can nurture the next generation of healthcare leaders and foster a culture of excellence within our organizations.

Victor Navarro. Paul J. Johnson, Chair of the Department of Medicine, Einstein Healthcare Network at Jefferson Health System (Philadelphia): Simply stated, the most important lesson that I've learned throughout my career is exercising patience. Patience is required to collect and analyze data surrounding an issue, ascertain opinions, and consider potential outcomes of a chosen path of action. Balancing patience with expediency in decision-making is another lesson worth learning.

Bill Pack. Chief Financial Officer of Conway (Ark.) Regional Health System: One of the most important lessons I've learned is the value of continuous learning and adaptability. In the rapidly changing world of healthcare, the ability to adapt to new information, technologies, and perspectives is crucial. Staying curious, open-minded, and willing to evolve allows for personal and professional growth, ensuring that one remains relevant and effective.

David Brody. Senior Vice President of Ambulatory Service Organization at Northwell Health (New Hyde Park, N.Y.): I’ve learned that being incredibly organized, diligent about following through and effectively communicating can help you meaningfully advance almost anything you’re working on. Success is certainly incremental, and you need to be passionate and persistent both in your career journey as well as about your initiatives, projects and programs. Lastly, prioritizing relationships will not only drive more success and effectiveness in your work, but will make you happier and more fulfilled along the way.

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