5 of the Most Valuable Hospital CEO Traits for 2011

Deedra Hartung, executive vice president and managing principal of Cejka Executive Search, discusses five traits of successful hospital CEOs in 2011.

1. Desire to partner with physicians.
Most hospital industry leaders agree that physician alignment and participation will be essential to the development of integrated delivery systems and accountable care organizations over the next 5-10 years. Because of this, Ms. Hartung says the ability — and desire — to partner with physicians on strategic goals will be one of the most important traits of a successful hospital CEO. "Rather than just keeping physicians happy, as many previous CEOs used to do, it's about aligning with physicians so that physicians and non-physicians are moving toward the same goals," she says. "It certainly means placing more physicians in leadership goals in the organization."

CEOs who can demonstrate a history of actively seeking out physician leaders may be more attractive to hospital boards, Ms. Hartung says. This could mean placing physicians in non-traditional leadership roles. "[Great CEOs] will place physicians in COO roles, not just chief medical officer or vice president of medical affairs," she says. According to Ms. Hartung, a Cejka Executive Search and ACPE survey showed that more than 80 percent of ACPE member respondents believed moving a physician into a leadership role was critical, very critical or extremely critical to the success of an organization.

2. Ability to develop a culture of accountability. Traditionally, hospitals have emphasized financial management and success. While financial health is still important to the success of a facility, Ms. Hartung says successful CEOs will also encourage accountability around patient satisfaction, quality of care and efficiency. She says CEOs can promote accountability in two ways: through policy and through example. For example, the CEO also implement a written policy that makes department heads responsible for decreasing turnaround times or improving clinical quality outcomes and present those results at monthly meetings.

In terms of example, a CEO should communicate with the organization about accountability on a regular basis, Ms. Hartung says. "They can't just do that once a year at an annual meeting. It has to be every week or every month," she says. "It shouldn't just be [a conversation] with the leadership team. The CEO has to be visible and communicate with all employees in the organization to encourage visibility."

3. Transparency.
Similar to accountability, transparency is necessary to keep the hospital staff and the public apprised of the CEO's actions. Ms. Hartung points out that the much-coveted Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award values transparency in healthcare organizations. While CEOs cannot necessarily divulge every hospital leadership decision to the staff and the public, financial or administrative changes should not come as a great surprise to a staff and physicians. Transparency on hospital data — such as financial data, patient satisfaction and clinical outcomes — is also necessary for hospitals who wish to lead their peers. For example, CEOs might lead the hospital in publishing patient satisfaction scores on the facility's website.

Some hospital CEOs accomplish transparency through informal means, such as a CEO blog or newsletter, while others hold regular meetings with hospital staff to inform them of strategic decisions, financial changes and hospital-wide projects.

4. Diverse background. The image of the traditional hospital CEO is changing, Ms. Hartung says. More and more, organizations are seeking out individuals with diverse backgrounds, whether that means experience working with disadvantaged populations, personal demographic diversity or non-traditional work experience. "Many organizations are looking for individuals who have a rich background either with diverse populations or who are perhaps diverse themselves," she says. "We still see too few women moving up and two few racially diverse individuals moving up." She says she recently worked with an organization that wanted to make sure women and racial minorities were included in the candidate group.

Even if a CEO is a white male, Ms. Hartung says leaders are increasingly expected to have worked with diverse populations. She adds that many large healthcare organizations are looking outside the United States and forming relationships with physicians and staff from other countries. "Our world is international these days," she says.

This desire for diversity also applies to non-traditional work backgrounds. In the past, hospital and healthcare CEO positions have generally required CEO experience. "Now we have cases of CEOs moving into healthcare organizations who have never been a CEO, but they've been a consultant to healthcare systems," she says. "They have had an inside view from working with different organizations, and they're very, very savvy about business development and management of large organizations."

5. Entrepreneurial spirit.
Valuable CEOs in 2011 will be entrepreneurial and opportunistic, Ms. Hartung says. As hospitals attempt to move away from the effects of financial downturn, the most successful CEOs will not only cut costs but find creative ways to increase revenue. "It's absolutely important for CEOs to not be afraid to take some level of risk at the forefront of new development and new thought," she says. Ms. Hartung says part of that ability comes from success in prior entrepreneurial ventures, and part comes from a natural instinct to sense a good opportunity.

"This world is moving very quickly, and we're seeing mergers and acquisitions take place, as well as community hospitals moving into areas that were traditionally academic," she says. "Those who can position themselves in that way are going to be the ones who succeed."

Learn more about Cejka Executive Search.

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