6 Ways Hospital CFOs Can Improve Their Leadership Skills

To be a great hospital or health system CFO today requires several different personal components. Honesty, integrity, accountability, transparency, conviction, flexibility and a willingness to understand the clinical side are but a few leadership traits every CFO should have and embrace.

But how can a hospital CFO push him or herself to do more? How can CFOs ensure they are getting the best work out of their teams — and preparing high-potential employees for future leadership roles?

At the Healthcare Financial Management Association's Annual Institute in Orlando, Fla., this past June, Fred Savelsbergh sat down to discuss some of these issues. Mr. Savelsbergh is CFO of Dallas-based Baylor Health Care System, an organization he has been with since he graduated from college in 1982. He explains how he has been able to develop his CFO leadership skills over the past few decades and how his peers can find personal satisfaction while improving the lives of others along the way.

1. Build relationships with strong mentors. Many hospital and health system CEOs cite strong mentors as major contributors to developing successful organizational leadership. The same thing should apply to CFOs, Mr. Savelsbergh says.

He explains that Baylor invests heavily in succession planning — finding high-achieving individuals who will inevitably fill leadership roles. When Mr. Savelsbergh was hired at Baylor, Kitty Mann, former vice president of corporate finance, became a huge influence on how he developed professionally. Mr. Savelsbergh says Joel Allison, Baylor's president and CEO, and Jack Hess, Baylor's CFO when Mr. Savelsbergh started, have also been highly influential mentors in his career.

"It's important to find those who enjoy mentoring people and who can show you what works well and what doesn't," Mr. Savelsbergh says.

2. Consider an executive coach. Mentors lay the foundation for future success for CFOs, and executive coach helps with the leadership framework, Mr. Savelsbergh says.

Bob Smith, Mr. Savelsbergh's executive coach, helps with ways to improve team building and initiate sensible, holistic leadership strategies. CFOs may get caught up in their tasks, but an executive coach can help refocus them to the mission of the organization.

"[Mr. Smith is] really good at helping me improve my individual plan and helping with any blind spots," Mr. Savelsbergh says.

3. Find the best people for your financial department, and empower them. Baylor is a massive organization with more than 21,300 employees. As CFO, Mr. Savelsbergh leads roughly 1,300 of those employees, including financial reporters, accounting officers, business analysts, treasury department employees, revenue cycle specialists, supply chain managers, real estate executives, tax officers and government reimbursement specialists.

He can't control every function of Baylor's finances, but he says he can surround himself with the best people possible. CFOs need a cohesive financial department, and CFOs must empower and motivate these employees to do their best and show them how valuable they are to the organization, he says.

4. Establish an ethical culture with clearly defined behaviors. Finances today are often synonymous with a "Wall Street" culture that encourages short-term gains. Mr. Savelsbergh says at Baylor, ethics, accountability and transparency take precedence, as they should at any healthcare organization.

Baylor actually has a rating system that rates employees' "clearly defined behaviors." Behaviors are based on individual goals as well as Baylor's goals and mission. This setup, he says, ensures Baylor has employees who are the right fit.

"We want people to reach their goals but not scorch the Earth in the process," Mr. Savelsbergh says. "At Baylor Health Care System, we want everyone to know it's a relationship-oriented business."

5. Engage and understand your financial team members on a personal level. According to employee engagement consulting firm Michael C. Fina, there are 11 main drivers of employee engagement. The top driver is recognition, while others include career development, senior management's relationships with employees, open and effective communication and co-worker cooperation. Mr. Savelsbergh says at Baylor, he and others make it a priority to engage employees because they are the lifeblood of the organization.

"You have to understand what your peers and employees are dealing with on a personal level," Mr. Savelsbergh says. "Know individuals by name, take an interest in their families and take the five to 10 minutes before or after a meeting to catch up."

6. Set goals for yourself. Hospital CFOs may want to enhance their management and leadership skills, but it's hard to do without setting individual goals along the way, Mr. Savelsbergh says. Make a list of items to accomplish every day — even something as simple as reading about Medicare and Medicaid news — and put in the effort to complete them on time.

"We have the opportunity to shape our own destiny," says Mr. Savelsbergh, who labels himself as a "glass half full" type of person. "If you do your job to the best of your abilities, at the end of the day, you'll be satisfied."

More Articles on Hospital CFO Leadership:
Finding Common Ground: 3 Tips to Improve Relationships Between Hospital CFOs and Physicians
6 Traits That Define a Great Hospital CFO
125 Hospital and Health System CFOs to Know

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