14 hospital execs on their top leadership 'must dos' 

To succeed at any endeavor, it's important to know the rules. While the business of healthcare is anything but a game, hospital executives lead with their own imposed guidelines — namely always fostering an environment where transparent communication, integrity and a "people first" — employees and patients — attitude are alive and well.

Becker's spoke with several leaders who said getting out from behind their desks and "walking the hospital" is the first step to being a leader who makes decisions with their team and customers in mind. 

Also, set goals and don't lose sight of them. "Put a process in place that assures everyone knows the goals of the organization," Donna Moravick, executive director of Northwell's South South Shore University Hospital in Bay Shore, N.Y., told Becker's. "If a hockey player didn’t know where the goal was, he would never score. Keep the goals in view at all times. The business of healthcare is tough. If we take our eye off that puck, we will fail." 

Editor's note: The following responses have been edited for clarity and brevity.

Question: What are some of your "must do" calls to action?

Rhonda Abbott. Senior Vice President and Chief Executive Officer at TIRR Memorial Hermann (Houston): The most important priority for all hospital leaders is providing safe, high quality patient care. I work with our teams and physicians to ensure that we put our patients at the center of all our decisions. 

As a learning organization, we are focused on continued process improvement toward clinical excellence, following the highest standards of care, creating and adopting best practices for treatment protocols and outcome measurement. 

Fostering a psychologically safe environment where team members are encouraged to speak up and share safety and quality feedback is critical. In our pursuit of quality, we also prioritize compassionate, inclusive care for our patients and their families, ensuring that they understand that their health, safety and wellbeing are our highest priorities. 

Derek Anderson. Executive Director of Northwell Health's Northern Westchester Hospital (Mt. Kisco, N.Y.): Be consistently present. Be with your teams around the clock as often as possible, not once a year, but routinely. Hospitals are 24/7 operations. Your teams that are working at night and on weekends are just as critical as the teams who work 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. People can't align with the organization if they don't know who you are and understand the culture. Culture will accelerate your metrics and outcomes — or bring them to a halt. 

When rounding, it takes about 15 minutes of standing there and taking an interest in the team's work. We need to ask empathetic questions and remember their names and family members to get them to open up. Truly seek to understand their concerns and apply good rigor to resolve those concerns. I don’t believe healthcare quality, true innovation, engagement or retention can improve unless trust is established with all levels of leadership.

Teresa Artz, MSN, RN. Director of Patient Safety and Quality at Hackensack Meridian Health's Old Bridge (N.J.) Medical Center and Raritan Bay Medical Center (Perth Amboy, N.J.): Hospital leaders must engage the front line while always keeping patient safety at the top of mind. The front line team members are the backbone of all hospitals and the key to all success. They must be appreciated and listened to. When you engage the front line, the impact is tremendous.

Chanda Chacón. President and Chief Executive Officer of Children’s Hospital & Medical Center (Omaha, Neb.): Chase progress, not perfection — for yourself and your team. As soon as you want to be perfect, you will always miss the goal. Excellence is a journey not a destination and allows you to be better tomorrow than you are today.

Brian Donley, MD. Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer at New York-Presbyterian (New York City): Empathy is what differentiates a great leader from a good one. Passion, humility, curiosity and integrity go a long way, but a leader can never achieve maximum impact without treating others with compassion. This is true whether it involves deep listening to better understand or offering encouraging feedback. Bringing this empathy to our patient population and to our workforce are equal and connected priorities for me. 

A supportive, inclusive work community increases our staff's resiliency so they can pour their energy into taking the best possible care of our patients.

Eileen Egan, RN. Executive Director of Northwell Health's Phelps Hospital (Sleepy Hollow, N.Y.): Be unwavering. What I mean is that a leader must be consistent and steadfast. Hospital leaders must be unwavering when it comes to the goal to improve care and, at the same time, be open and able to bring staff together to realize that goal.

Also, don't forget to evaluate yourself. Hospital leaders should never forget to reflect on their own abilities and recognize areas of weakness and need for improvement while building on their strengths. Never forget to seek opportunities for professional development as well as feedback from the team and others. The key is to grow individually and as an organization.

Tracy Feiertag. Executive Director at Northwell Health's Lenox Health Greenwich Village (New York City): Walk your building. This entails meeting with your people, learning their children's names and listening to their concerns. There are even benefits to understanding the mechanics of the building which could entail asking engineers for a lesson on heat and power. From our offices, we only know what is happening on paper which is far from the realities of the front line. The only way to improve is to understand the reality of the building, and you can only do that by being present with your team.

I recently led a three-hour meeting with 20 team leaders about a major system initiative. As a thank you, I gave them small mementos representing the goal of the meeting. I try to share similar tokens of gratitude with all the hospital's employees — which are usually welcomed with big smiles. These acts help people feel my appreciation for their hard work. I want them to feel motivated and look forward to making a positive impact on our patients' lives.

Ismelda Garza, CIO, Cuero Regional Health System (Cuero, Texas): Get to know your team, they will be the ones to help you accomplish the organizational goals. Knowing their strengths and weaknesses will help you when strategizing your projects.

Warren Geller. President and CEO of Englewood (N.J.) Health: Effective leaders must have unwavering trust in the team of professionals surrounding them. I firmly believe in the value of listening and a continuous willingness to embrace new ideas and perspectives. Embracing innovation is essential for propelling a vision forward, while maintaining steadfast dedication to upholding the highest levels of quality and excellence.

William Haugh. President of the Central Division of Lifepoint Health (Brentwood, Tenn.): Care. It sounds simple, but I abide by the principle that no one cares how much you know until they know how much you care. Hospital leaders must care about the patients they are serving, the people that they work with and the various other stakeholders they serve. 

Creating a culture of caring is a top-down strategy. Leaders must be able to navigate different personalities and ultimately trust the people around them to do their jobs so that the organization can be successful and fulfill its mission. 

As leaders, we can't always be right but we can always strive to do the right thing. Not only is this an important step in showing you care about your team, but it also allows you to protect your organization while also providing value and care for the community. 

Elan Levy, MD. Medical Director of Northwell Lenox Hill Hospital (New York City): Lead with integrity. Be honest, act consistently, admit mistakes and respect others. A big component of this is to seek feedback. Your employees and patients will have insights into opportunities for improvement. You should listen often and actively and do so through both formal and informal channels. Along the same lines you should communicate the feedback received irrespective of the timing of the proposed intervention. And, always make sure you say "thank you." People want to feel acknowledged and heard. 

Donna Moravick. Executor Director of Northwell Health's South South Shore University Hospital (Bay Shore, N.Y.): Communicating well internally and externally are key. When running a hospital, it's important to assume that no one knows what the plans are, services you provide or awards that have been received.

What's most important is that you get out of your office. I am a nurse practitioner and, I've found, when you are in the trenches caring for patients, you feel like no one cares that you are investing your heart and soul to care for that patient. It also reminds me why we are all here and that all employees impact a patient's well-being.

Often, I go to the back of the kitchen, environmental or medical lounge to just say "Hi." I think walking around telling the staff what’s going on in the hospital and saying "thank you" is pivotal. I meet potential leaders at all levels of the organization. This allows the culture to continue to be positive and flourish.

Jon Sendach. Executive Director at Northwell Health's North Shore University Hospital (Manhasset, N.Y.) and Deputy Regional Executive Director at Northwell Health's Central Region: Adapt a learning mindset. As an industry we are in the throes of leading away from a crisis. Our team members have different expectations from their employer. Some licensed staff have changed the venue in which they prefer to work while others have left the industry entirely. Our medical staff in some markets are presented with new employment and alignment options. Payers expect value. 

Hospital leaders must stay abreast of these dynamics and take the time to study and learn something new about the market in which they operate. Failing to ride the wave of change through a learning mindset can leave one beneath it.

Matt Timmons. Senior Vice President and Chief Operating Officer at Children’s Hospital New Orleans, LCMC Health: Focus on your team. Always support, empower and advocate for your employees and team members so that they can continue to deliver safe, quality patient care while providing an excellent experience. Burnout, turnover and low team morale can have long-lasting impacts on your patients, team members and the hospital as a whole. Staying focused is key. 



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