From public housing to C-suite: Atrium Health Navicent's CEO on how leaders' roles don't stop at hospital doors

Delvecchio Finley grew up in public housing in Atlanta's Southside and saw healthcare as a pathway to help others and promote health equity. Now, Mr. Finley is returning to Georgia as the CEO of Macon, Ga.-based Atrium Health Navicent to use his position to improve health access for his local community.

In his newest role, which he started in February, Mr. Finley leads Atrium Health Navicent, which includes more than 1,000 beds and more than 50 facilities in central and south Georgia.

Here, Mr. Finley answers Becker's Hospital Review's six questions on his leadership style and where he plans to lead Navicent.

Editor's Note: The interview has been edited lightly for length and clarity.

Question: You have been a healthcare CEO at three organizations now. What influences your leadership style?

Delvecchio Finley: I find that leadership is an awesome responsibility, and an incredible opportunity to have an impact on the lives of the people who work for you, who work in your organization and the people we collectively serve. 

One of my biggest mantras is the notion of "followership." There's leadership and there's something called followership. A guy named Tom Atchison coined this, and the way he describes it is that there's leadership as a title, but there's leadership as a vocation. And he said, leadership is the ability to get individuals to subjugate their right for their own self-determination to follow your lead because they believe that you will get them somewhere farther and faster than they can on their own. 

As a leader, there's another adage that says: If you want to know whether or not you're a leader, turn around, and if there's anybody behind you, then you are. If there is not, you're not. Irrespective of whatever the title is that you happen to hold. It's a responsibility to solve problems and to create value for those who entrust that you have the ability and right to guide them or to chart a path for them.

Q: What is one piece of advice that someone shared with you, that you would share with other hospital leaders?

DF: I have two pieces of advice: Don't be afraid to make mistakes and to always remember that the two biggest phrases that are important as a person, let alone as a leader are "thank you" and "I'm sorry." When you're in leadership capacities, people often feel the need to always be right, lest they look ineffective as a leader or ill-equipped or undeserving of the opportunity to lead individuals. 

I think that leadership involves growth, and anything that involves growth in a truly meaningful way ... often involves situations where you may do something that you didn't intend to do. I think saying "thank you" and saying "I'm sorry," and not being afraid of it.

Q: If you could eliminate one of the healthcare industry's biggest problems, which one would you pick?

DF: I think that the biggest one is equity. Equitable access to great care. At the end of the day, in a country, as fortunate as ours is in terms of resources, the disproportionate distribution of those resources, the structural sort of things that we've done over time have led to furthering inequitable access to people being able to lead healthy lives. If healthcare could be a further driver and contributor to equity, then I think we would be in a much better place overall.

Q: I read your op-ed that you co-authored on gun violence and health equity with Gregory Victorino, MD, the chief of trauma at Oakland, Calif.-based Highland Hospital, in 2018. What role do you think hospital CEOs should take in activism and how is the role evolving?

DF: I think that as executives, we've always appreciated our obligation to the organizations or companies we lead. We have a corporate responsibility to be a good kind of member of the community as a business, and so we lead that way. 

I think increasingly so, organizations really are influenced by the perspectives, the values, the kind of leanings and the mindsets of executives. People want to know, boards and organizations want to know and want to see you as people who are speaking up in the community using your voice, your station, your agency to actually drive those causes that are more important to you. 

I think you have to be very careful about that. It has its trade-offs. You can't go out and kind of spill that capital everywhere.  But I think [you have to be] thoughtful about it and still do it with a mindset for the role that you play, the people you serve ... while being very careful about when you say, "I'm speaking as the executive in this organization," or, "I'm speaking as myself," and realizing you don't always have the luxury of separating those two.

Q: How much do you work with Charlotte, N.C.-based Atrium Health CEO Eugene Woods, and does he influence your leadership style at all?

DF: To find an organization, it was more what I knew about Gene and why I came to this organization. One of the reasons why I came to this organization is knowing that I have the opportunity to bring my whole self as an executive, my business acumen and abilities, as well as those things that I care about, from my own lived experience, and what I care most about in terms of this country. 

Gene is an amazing and very genuine leader in this regard, and I think drives this organization and the communities we serve in a very compelling way and certainly why I feel we're fortunate to be a part of an organization under his leadership, that is doing all these things to be a high-quality healthcare provider, but also understanding that our responsibility to communities doesn't just stop at delivering healthcare services, but to advance equity in our communities. 

Q: What is going to be your top priority as CEO after the pandemic?

DF: We just completed our community health needs assessment. Some of the biggest things that we see in our community are access to primary care services, access to treatments for behavioral health — so mental health services and substance abuse services. There are certain chronic conditions that our community continues to face across the strata, and certainly in our urban areas, but also in rural areas related to diabetes and other lifestyle and genetic-based disorders. Cancer, unfortunately, is also something that propels our community, so it's all of those things are really things that will certainly see his priorities for us, outside of the pandemic.

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