Michael Dowling: 10 questions CEOs should ask themselves each year

Hospital and health system CEOs deal with a myriad of responsibilities every day of their long work weeks. It's critically important not to get bogged down in the daily distractions. Instead, we must keep our eye on high-level objectives, such as ensuring the organization is on track financially and supporting our clinicians as they provide high-quality care. At the same time, we strive to promote a positive and engaging culture for the workforce.

Despite our busy schedules, it is imperative to carve out time for deliberate reflection — to assess the organization's performance under our leadership, as well as our own attitude and behavior.

Here are 10 guiding questions I ask myself at least once a year.

1. How would I rate the past year? At the end of each year, it's important to look back and assess whether we've met or surpassed our expectationsMichael Dowling and goals. Every organization has goals on clinical advancement, education and financial reputation, but you also need metrics by which these goals can be evaluated.

2. Are we continuing to transform, or are we beginning to get a little complacent? No organization is 100 percent perfect, which means every entity is continuously striving to improve quality of care, the patient experience and staff morale. As CEO, it is critical to assess how the organization is changing — and ensure it is changing for the better. Reflecting on this forces you to think about staying on the cutting edge. Otherwise it is easy to relax and continue doing more of the same. Constant creativity is imperative.

3. Am I still highly passionate about the job? Are you still excited to come to work each day? Despite the high stress and long hours associated with being CEO, every day should be positive and upbeat. If you are dreading coming to work in the morning, it is probably time to reassess your commitment. Each person in the organization should ask themself this — not just the leader. But although everyone goes through periods of ups and downs, if you are CEO, a negative attitude is not something you should be comfortable with for yourself; people will observe how you feel and how you look, and if you look disengaged or dissatisfied, so will they. 

4. Is my management team still a team? Leadership is about building a highly coordinated team. Your management team must work together, not in silos. If one person's ego begins taking precedent over the good of the whole, it is time to address the problem. Take a closer look to see if there have been negative  changes in someone's attitude, energy level or productivity. Sometimes changes can be subtle and difficult to observe if you aren't necessarily focusing on them.

5. Am I clear about goals and strategies for the short and long term? If you haven't clearly defined your goals and the means to achieve them, then how can you expect others to execute?

6. Am I connecting with frontline staff? Some CEOs like to hide in their offices, or they feel they must always be on their computers, but it's important to be as visible as possible. Ask yourself occasionally whether you're spending enough time talking to the frontline employees and mid-level managers. Abraham Lincoln advocated for "managing by wandering around." That’s what healthcare CEOs should be doing: wandering around and talking to people face-to-face as much as possible, despite how busy you may be.

7. Am I communicating well? Communication is key, especially in a world of technology in which we are inundated with digital communication. A lot of people believe email is a particularly effective and adequate mode of communication, but email is for sending information. Important conversations should be done face to face. That's why it's important to get out of the office and walk around, and meet with people at various levels throughout the organization. Leaders should use digital devices, but not rely on them exclusively.

8. Am I helping others around you grow? A primary leadership goal and strategy is to promote talent within the organization and help others develop their leadership competencies. You do this by identifying high-potential people and providing them training, education, mentoring and opportunities to flex new leadership muscles. You want to create a culture of leadership that can keep moving the organization forward when you're no longer around.

9. Am I keeping my ego in check? Humility is an important part of leadership — you must understand you're not the most important person in the organization. Unfortunately, I often see leaders looking down on others when really they should be recognizing, encouraging and empowering them. Many good ideas come from the bottom, so give everyone in the organization the attention and respect they deserve.

10. Am I ensuring the organization will be relevant to future generations? Most CEOs — myself included — are part of the baby boomer generation. We have certain tendencies when it comes to learning and leading. Younger generations look at things differently; they communicate differently, they are more focused on technology, they will go through multiple jobs and they expect different things. Is the organization relevant to the people who will be the key drivers of your business 10 years from now? In healthcare these days, we must question how these services should be delivered and how accessible they should be. Thinking about these questions prevents you from feeling complacent — moving forward and changing for the future is exciting.

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