Healthcare Leadership: 7 Adjectives to Describe the Best Hospital Executives

Leaders of hospitals and health systems today face numerous challenges as they struggle to transition their organizations to new care delivery models under increasing reimbursement pressure. To achieve success, leaders must have a deep understanding of the overall healthcare environment and competitive marketplace, develop strategy for the organization's success within that environment and ensure the organization is aligned towards its goals. For leaders, this can be a daunting challenge, and one that takes a great deal of experience and acumen. However, certain skills and characteristic increase the likelihood of a leader's success. Here, Rich Temple, an executive consultant at Beacon Partners and former CIO of Denville, N.J.-based St. Clare's Heath System, discusses seven adjectives to describe cream-of-the-crop healthcare leaders in a post-healthcare reform environment.

1. Visionary. Healthcare leaders must establish a vision for the organization that is "informed by an understanding of the reality of where the organization sits in the competitive landscape," says Mr. Temple. Vision may be communicated through a mission statement or organizational values and is brought to life through the health system's strategic plan. The role of the leader is to gain buy-in for the vision, aligning the organization toward its goals.

"Every [healthcare organization] needs a credible leader to guide it through all the changes going on and get people in on the boat sailing the same direction," he says.  

When working to align the organization, Mr. Temple recommends leaders orient employees and staff toward the underlying mission of the hospital or health system. "It's important for all of us not to forget the positive societal impact our work has every day. Even if you're not on the front lines, the work we do truly saves lives."

2. Nimble. Nimbleness and flexibility are also important. The healthcare industry is currently experiencing perhaps the most rapid change it has ever been dealt. Leaders may need to move the organization in a new direction and should be able to do so quickly. To succeed, leaders will need to understand these rapidly evolving changes and look beyond the traditional hospital business model for new opportunities. In the past, healthcare leaders with a full census would have been content, says Mr. Temple. In the future, it could be a sign of trouble. "A full house may not automatically be seen as a success," he says. "The models of success must be expanded to include earlier interventions."

3. Out-of-the box thinker. Mr. Temple calls the current changes in healthcare "unchartered waters" and says significant opportunities exist for organizations that can identify new ways to excel and align their staffs around innovative ideas.  

4. Technologically savvy. Now, more than ever, healthcare leaders must understand the impact of technology on their strategic and tactical goals, says Mr. Temple. "Technology is a huge driver for both strategic advantage and the bottom line," he says. "In the past, CEOs didn't need to understand technology [as intricately as they do now]. Now, CEOs must understand the nature of technology, how it fits within the organization and should wholeheartedly embrace it." Specifically, CEOs need to be directly involved with selecting and deploying new technologies and evaluating which technologies help move the organization towards its end goals.

5. Business-minded. The move away from fee-for-service payments will mark a severe disruption in the hospital revenue cycle, fundamentally altering the processes currently used by hospitals to ensure payment. Payments will increasingly depend on value and the quality of care provided, meaning leaders must constantly track quality indicators and other measures in real-time and address any issues immediately that might lower payments, says Mr. Temple. "Poor quality will be known, and you won't be able to hide it," he says.

"Getting the right information at the right time and acting on it is a strategic advantage," he adds. Organizations that review metrics only on a weekly or monthly basis could find themselves at a competitive disadvantage.

5. Relationship-oriented. Collaborative care initiatives mean hospitals must partner with providers beyond their walls, including physicians, post-acute care companies and, increasingly, payors. As such, relationship building will only grow in importance as a means to form these alliances. Hospital leaders need to gain the trust of physicians and other providers as they partner together in new models, says Mr. Temple.
At the same time, hospitals with fewer strategic ties may need to consider partnering or merging with another organization. "Realistically, you're going to be an acquirer or an 'acquiree,'" he says. "Leaders have to understand that [these changes] will have some trauma associated with them, but there may be even bigger trauma associated with not doing it."

6. Brand marketers. Growing consumerism among patients will only increase the competitive advantage of providing high-value care. Hospitals that excel in this area shouldn't rest on their laurels; instead, they should actively promote their achievements, both in terms of quality and value. "You have to market your product," says Mr. Temple. "Identify your distinct competencies and play to them strategically."

7. Life-long learners. Finally, the best healthcare executives love learning and consider themselves life-long learners. "Stay on top of the environment, attend conferences, read industry websites and listen to podcasts, talk to colleagues, join professional associations. Give yourself as many opportunities as possible to get out there," says Mr. Temple. "Give yourself time to think. Shut the door. It may look like downtime to some, but this is the time you can really contemplate how you want to guide the organization."

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