Dr. Anthony Tersigni: Focused leadership development a critical component in transforming healthcare delivery

As our nation strives to provide high-quality, affordable care in our evolving healthcare landscape, Ascension has found that focused leadership development must be a critical component of our strategy. We are working to transform healthcare in the United States, and it is imperative that we make an even greater commitment to growing and shaping the healthcare leaders of tomorrow.

At Ascension, improving the health and well-being of those we are privileged to serve is central to our mission of providing compassionate, personalized care for all, with special attention to those living in poverty and most vulnerable. Just as our vision calls us to ensure service that responds to the needs of individuals throughout their lives, we recognize that we must also attend to the changing needs of our associates as they grow and develop in their professional and personal lives.

Ascension is evolving into a truly integrated national health system in order to bring the knowledge, skills and strengths of our more than 150,000 associates to benefit the care we provide to each individual. As part of this transformation, we have brought together experts from across our system to develop a more consistent, integrated and effective program of professional development that includes support for the physical well-being and spiritual formation of our associates. This emerging framework will serve the whole person — body, mind and spirit. Through our Ascension Leader Institute, we are creating a platform of integrated programs and resources that combine formative development with practical and experiential learning. While classroom and online instruction are foundational in any learning platform, we believe that meaningful immersion experiences that build community, test assumptions, reinforce applied theories and encourage self-discovery are critical in the formation of leaders.

This approach has been modeled in our Leadership Academy, a two-and-a-half-year program for our most promising senior executives. The program is designed to inspire a community of virtuous servant leaders and to accelerate their readiness for roles of greater responsibility. As part of the Leadership Academy curriculum, members visit "lean" startup organizations in Silicon Valley, which inform the design, testing and implementation of members' innovative pilot projects. They visit Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., and form valuable relationships with legislators from their own communities as they advocate for policy change. And they spend time in solidarity with the poor and most vulnerable in our communities, engaging them on a personal level to better understand the unique challenges of those we are called to serve each and every day.

In the Ascension Leadership Academy, members also learn personal energy management techniques to strengthen their ability to function optimally in their demanding and often stressful daily lives. Through proper nutrition, rest, recovery, movement, exercise and spiritual reflection, members learn how to improve their endurance to sustain them in the most trying times. A dedicated sponsorship network provided to each member includes an executive coach, a career sponsor and the member’s leader. In understanding their unique gifts and career aspirations, the network serves to help members gain visibility and exposure, and explore stretch assignments and unique growth opportunities while building lifelong relationships. As these leaders complete the formal aspects of this program, they emerge not only ready to lead transformational change, but to pay it forward in their sponsorship of others.

As our strategic priorities evolve and additional learning needs are identified for specific populations of associates, new programs will be developed through the Ascension Leader Institute and our existing programs will be refined. In seeking diversity in the workplace, we know that it’s also critical for healthcare organizations to have leaders who understand the needs of and who reflect the diverse populations that we serve.

The intentional development of leaders requires an investment of time and resources, but when aligned with an organization’s strategic priorities and values, the return can significantly enrich an organization’s culture, capabilities and outcomes. Ten years ago I made the commitment to personally prioritize the development and succession planning of the next generation of leaders. I now spend a significant portion of my time – 30 percent – dedicated to the spiritual formation, leadership development, personal energy management and talent stewardship of our 150,000 associates.

I encourage my colleagues across the healthcare landscape to join me in committing to identify and develop the future leaders of our amazing industry. It’s certainly an exciting time in healthcare. As I think about the legacy of the ministry that I envision others carrying forward, it’s crucial to empower the leaders of tomorrow to grow a vibrant healthcare industry and transform care delivery, for the benefit of U.S. healthcare both today and for generations to come.

Anthony R. Tersigni, EdD, FACHE, is president and CEO of St. Louis-based Ascension, the nation’s largest non-profit health system.

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