Career impatience: The No. 1 worry hospital CEOs have about the next generation of healthcare leaders

There's good reason to feel optimistic about the next generation of healthcare leadership. But if they have to pinpoint one concern, two chiefs of health systems in California and New York agree: young professionals' unrealistic expectations for promotion and career advancement. 

This is the stance shared by Johnese Spisso, president of UCLA Health, CEO of UCLA Hospital System and associate vice chancellor of UCLA Health Sciences in Los Angeles, and Steve Goldstein, president and CEO of Strong Memorial Hospital in Rochester, N.Y. Ms. Spisso and Mr. Goldstein shared the following remarks during the Becker’s Healthcare CEO + CFO Virtual Forum Aug. 8.

Their observation is backed by at least one poll. More than 75 percent of workers in Gen Z believe they should be promoted within their first year on the job, according to a survey of 1,000 participants by InsideOut Development, a company specializing in workplace coaching. This has left many employers outside of healthcare creating more opportunities for lateral moves and creating new job titles so young workers with promise aren't climbing the ranks prematurely, but also aren't growing impatient enough to put in two weeks' notice. 

Urgency around promotions can be challenging in any industry, but it really raises a red flag in healthcare. Mr. Goldstein pointed out that the most crucial trait for any up-and-coming leader in healthcare is a commitment to the mission — in other words, a very clear understanding that this job is not necessarily all about you. 

Sustained jockeying for a new title, raise or promotion  will garner attention, sure. But not necessarily in a good way. 

"We don't make widgets, we take care of our community," Mr. Goldstein said. "I just can't say enough when you have chosen to be in these kinds of environments that are 24 hours a day, seven days a week, you're always committed to your community. It really takes a commitment for you personally and professionally to make that work for everyone, including yourself. And as soon as you start just thinking about your next move, you're frankly leaving everybody else behind. That doesn't work for organizations over the long-term."

Ms. Spisso encourages managers and early- to mid-career professionals to hold their horses. Exercise patience. Give your expectations for advancement a reality check. Rather than fixate on the title you hold, focus on the experiences you are gaining in that current position. 

"They place an extraordinary expectation on themselves to get to the top very quickly. I love mentoring young leaders and do so much of that," Ms. Spisso said. "But many times the conversation is, 'In two years, I want to get to the top of the organization.' That isn't really realistic given what leaders in healthcare today need." 

What leaders need is longitudinal experience, and there are no shortcuts to it. So much of senior leaders' decision-making capabilities come down to their gut reading of every decision's political landscape and how it will affect internal and external stakeholders. 

"The degrees are important, and educational preparation opens doors, but I really think we're looking for seasoned leaders. A lot of learnings come from experience — those successes and failures, knowing what works and what doesn't work," Ms. Spisso said. 

While all fulfilling careers are built upon ambition and motivation, Ms. Spisso said good leaders are talent spotters and will notice these traits in up-and-comers with little to no fanfare or grandstanding. "I tend to look at who's getting the work done. Who's communicating and collaborating well with others, regardless of what position they're in? You will get spotted if you are doing the work. It doesn't have to be someone who's coming in every day asking when is that next promotion." 

That's a question that Mr. Goldstein hears quite often. 

"I hear all the time from managers, from our CEOs of different organizations, what's next? And the question I always ask them is, 'Have you accomplished everything that you set out to do or can do for your organization? That has to come first.'" 

Promotions do not come with calendar reminders. Career advancement is not about chronology, Mr. Goldstein said, but about what you have accomplished. He would like to see more up-and-comers seize opportunities and take on challenges as they arise — events that aren't always part of a 5-year plan, but surely inform the next career step. 

"It's been interesting to me to see the number of people who don't volunteer for the most difficult opportunities that come up within an organization. I always say to our folks, 'You only get a chance to hit a home run once or twice during the year. And if you don't go up to the plate, you can't hit it.'"


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