What are the best CEO qualities? 4 hospital CFOs weigh in

A healthy CEO and CFO relationship is crucial to maintaining the stability of a health system's finances and leadership.

As many healthcare organizations face a financial crunch due to macroeconomic concerns, a tight rapport between CEO and CFO can help a hospital weather tough times. CFOs are looking for a leader who can maintain focus on the health system's objectives and not get distracted. 

"Keep the company focused on the main thing: the big blocks," Brian Maude, CFO of Sanford Health Plan and vice president of finance at Sioux Falls, S.D.-based Sanford Health, told Becker's. "If 85 percent of my revenue is from item A — focus there. Don't let item B suck up 50 percent of the company's time, unless it has the growth potential to exceed item A."

According to an Oracle Netsuite Survey of CEOs, 63 percent believe the CFO role will take on greater importance in the next few years.

An additional 30 percent of CEOs said that their CFOs did not assist with organizational challenges.

Many CFOs are looking to work with a CEO who takes on a public-facing role and assumes responsibility when things don't go as planned.

"The CEO is the face of the organization to providers, employees and the public. The CEO should provide a buffer between the board and organization," said Liberty (Mo.) Hospital CFO Michael Leone. "The CEO should accept responsibility when outcomes fall short, and manage up other organizational leaders when outcomes exceed expectations."

Along with taking responsibility for failure, a CEO cannot be afraid to innovate. In the hospital business, complacency can be devastating.

Benjamin Barylske, CFO of Jonesboro, Ark.-based St. Bernards Healthcare, said he looks for a CEO who "takes ownership in opportunities and doesn't pass on a chance to improve."

For rural and critical access hospitals in a more precarious financial situation, the relationship between CFO and CEO is even more important.

After CFO Larry Vincent unexpectedly resigned, rural Delta County (Colo.) Memorial Hospital discovered that nearly all of its cash on hand was being used to pay back debts. The hospital required an infusion of cash from the state to stay afloat.

"The qualities I look for in a critical access hospital CEO are someone who has a vision to improve community healthcare and is able to effectively communicate and forward that vision," said Jennifer Van Matre, CFO of Weaverville, Calif.-based Mountain Communities Healthcare District.

Ms. Van Matre continued: "They are respected and well-liked and are active within the community. They provide change management through harmonious means and are effective collaborators with community leaders. They lead by example, display impeccable morals, are empathetic, a constant learner, empowers others, accept responsibility for failures — does not finger point, would not even think about micromanaging department processes or hiring choices. They trust in their leadership and have developed strong, respectful relationships with their leadership team."

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