For hospital leaders, cultivating strong relationships is an 'investment in the future'

Hospital executives are always focused on managing looming issues at hand and often their presentation at the next meeting on their calendars. Success, in all areas of leadership, is tied not only to tangible actions but to soft skills, as well.

For example, making decisions that ultimately affect positive business and patient outcomes is crucially important. But making decisions in a vacuum — without input from others — could be seen as short-sighted. 

Instead, the ability to cultivate strong self-awareness about how you are seen by others, while also actively looking to form trusted-adviser relationships, allows for well-rounded  decision-making. Further, this allows for easier, more transparent communication to the entire hospital team. 

As part of an initiative to give hospital leaders a platform to share opinions and advice on a variety of topics, Becker's spoke with six hospital leaders to find out about some life lessons hospital C-suite executives might want to consider taking to heart. 

(If you would like to be featured in this Q&A series, please send an email to

Editor's note: Responses have been lightly edited for brevity and clarity.

Question: What is a lesson you wished you learned sooner?

Janel Allen. Executive Vice President and Chief People Officer at Children’s Hospital & Medical Center. (Omaha, Neb.): Self-awareness of your presence is valuable to leadership success. How well you understand yourself and how others view you is crucial to know who you are, what you want and feeling interconnectedness with others. You can cultivate your self-awareness by considering your strengths and presence, how you show up, what you convey emotionally and energetically, and your ability to connect.

Robert Garrett. CEO of Hackensack Meridian Health. (Edison, N.J.): Being a good listener is essential to being a strong leader. There's a great quote I often share with my teams: "Leaders who don't listen will eventually be surrounded by people who have nothing to say." This quote from Andy Stanley has always been part of my leadership philosophy because it helps build a culture where ideas and innovation can thrive.

William Jennings. President of Hartford HealthCare Fairfield (Conn.) Region and President of Hartford HealthCare St. Vincent's Medical Center (Bridgeport, Conn.): Show up and say "yes!" Remember the last time you bought a raffle ticket at a fundraiser? There was a disclaimer which read: "You must be present to win." This same principle applies to healthcare leadership and especially to hospitals. 

We are in the hospitality business. Half of all our operating expenses are our colleagues — our people. So we have to show up. Be present, be in the moment and actually talk with and listen to our colleagues. This cannot be done virtually or by remote control.

Say "yes" to whatever the organization asks you to take on as your next or an additional assignment. If you don't know how to do it, you'll learn how. Saying "yes" helps your boss, your board and your colleagues because they would not be asking you to do something additional if you were not already a success. There's a traditional business adage: "If you want to get something done, give it to a busy person to do."

Roderick King, MD. Senior Vice President, Chief Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Officer at the University of Maryland Medical System (Baltimore):  Leadership is all about getting people to embrace and do the adaptive work. It was the best advice because I've learned that in order for things to change and get better, it is the leader's job to identify and galvanize their team around the adaptive work in order to create organizational and cultural transformation. Things are always changing —  geopolitical, economic, demographic, scientific/clinical — and, as such, organizations must change and adapt.

Mitchell Schwartz, MD. President of Luminis Health Clinical Enterprise at Luminis Health. (Annapolis, Md.): I wish I had been a better listener sooner. As a cardiac physician for nearly 20 years, when I made the transition to a physician executive, I quickly realized there was a significant learning curve. There are competencies required to make the leap from the doctor's office to the C-suite. 

As the chief physician executive, one of the most important competencies is being an active listener. It is vital that you listen to the people in the trenches; you need to step back and hear their input and ideas.

Bryan Sisk, DNP. Senior Vice President and Chief Nursing Executive at Memorial Hermann Health System (Houston): The importance of investing in relationships cannot be underestimated. No matter the profession, role or job we have today — at some point, the time comes where circumstances change, we get promoted, move locations or ultimately retire. What we come out with on the other end of those incredible journeys is our relationships with friends and families. In addition, developing those around you is a true investment in the future.  

Internally, I am driven to the vision of creating healthier communities and delivering high-quality care. I have found the more energy you spend on developing relationships with those around you and creating alignment with a shared vision ultimately delivers on that mission and produces the outcomes where patients are the main beneficiary. 

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