Notes from ACHE: 13 skills every healthcare leader should possess

Certain leadership skills are timeless.

However, in healthcare, recent, complex changes resulting from reform and other external factors necessitate the refining of certain skills to be effective.

 At the American College of Healthcare Executives' 2015 Congress of Healthcare Leadership in Chicago, Jack R. Schlosser, managing director of Spencer Stuart executive search and consulting firm, Thomas F. Zenty III, CEO of Cleveland-based University Hospitals Health System, and Nicholas R. Tejeda, CEO of Doctor's Hospital of Manteca (Calif.), discussed their perspectives of skills and behaviors necessary for an executive to effectively lead a healthcare organization in a post-reform environment.

According to Mr. Schlosser, a CEO holds a key role in the organization, but in today's world, healthcare leadership is becoming more and more team-based. This fact requires strong leadership, talent and workflow throughout the organization. Hospitals and health systems' top priorities include improving quality, efficiency of delivery, top-line growth and cultural evolution — and a single man or woman acting as CEO cannot embody all of these capabilities on his or her own.

Mr. Zenty, a baby boomer, and Mr. Tejeda, from Generation X, shared their perspectives on the leadership skills they have found to be the most effective in their careers so far, and the behaviors imperative to leading team-based organizations. The following seven tips represent essential behaviors and skill sets for leaders in healthcare today, according to Mr. Zenty.

1. Set your professional course and adhere to it — be the architect of your own destiny.

2. Stretch yourself everyday.

3. Never get ahead of your boss or board. No one acts alone, and you create false expectations of your ability to perform and lessen the probability for success. "There is a big difference between getting run out of town and leading a parade," Mr. Zenty said.

4. Use two-eye listening. Looking at someone in the eyes and being an active listener is an essential skill not many people possess.

5. Effectively communicate, and always be open, honest and consistent.

6. Find a mentor and be a mentor. At any stage in life, leaders can benefit from a relationship with someone in a similar position. Find someone you admire who you would like to emulate and brings value to you, Mr. Zenty said.

7. Lead from the front. "There is nothing worse than taking second guesses at people when they make a decision. Stand tall and carry the flag. You either lead, follow or get out of the way," according to Mr. Zenty.

Based on his own experiences, Mr. Tejeda suggested the following six tips could help new leaders successfully lead their organizations.

1. Never stop being curious. "If we had all of the answers, we wouldn't need this [ACHE] Congress. Status quo has never been as unacceptable as it is now," he said.

2. Integrity begins today and lasts forever. Everything you do matters and will be remembered, not just with coworkers but with external stakeholders, payers and others.

3. Allow yourself to be dynamic. You're going to be working with senior leaders who are tenured and who know more about the organizational environment than you. Listen to them — they may have ideas that can be combined with your energy.

4. Remain calm in the storm. Everyone is watching to see how you will react in key moments.

5. Publicly learn from mistakes. "A person who never makes a mistake is a person who never tried anything new," Mr. Tejeda said, quoting Albert Einstein. Mistakes happen, but it is important to show humility and own up to your errors.

6. Learn how to run a good meeting. Make sure you are asking the right questions, including, what are you going to talk about? Who will be talking? How long will the meeting last? And should we even have the meeting at all?

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