Notes on Leadership: 15 Insights from Hospital & Health System CEOs

Here are quotes on leadership from 15 hospital and health system presidents and CEOs  throughout the country.

1. "A core characteristic for strong leaders is having a very positive and optimistic attitude — believing things can be accomplished. Eliminate 'can't' from your vocabulary. Also, promote change. You need leaders at all levels to promote change that is transformational. Leadership is about managing the present, selectively forgetting the past and creating the future." — Michael Dowling, president and CEO of North Shore-Long Island Jewish Health System in Great Neck, N.Y.

2. "Sometimes you see a patient and you think you know what's going on, and then you change your mind. As a healthcare CEO, I think it's useful to change your mind. Multiple heads make better decisions. That's a skill I learned early on — don't be afraid to ask for help. I try to hire the absolute best people I can and let them do their jobs. If you do that, you have a group of people with tremendously varied skill sets bringing different approaches to problems." — Melinda Estes, MD, president and CEO of Saint Luke's Health System in Kansas City, Mo.

3. "You can't hire leaders who have everything you need for tomorrow because you don't know what tomorrow looks like. You can hire people who are both talented and incredibly compassionate — and who will come to work every day with integrity, humility and passion. People with those traits are people I want interacting with my staff and with my patients." — David Feinberg, MD, President of UCLA Health System and CEO for UCLA Hospital System, at Huron Healthcare's CEO Forum.

4. "Surround yourself with people who are smarter than you are, then enable them and give them the tools to do what they do best. And that's always the hardest thing. As you move higher and higher up, you cannot do everything and fix everything. You have to trust others, enable them and allow them to take risks." — Sandra Fenwick, president and CEO of Boston Children's Hospital.

5. "To recognize everyday that you are a CEO is a privilege. When you forget that, when you feel unappreciated or overworked, that's when you are in trouble. It is a unique opportunity and CEOs need to recognize that. The goal of the CEO is a very simple one, you need to know where the organization is going to go, and you have to help it get there. I have tried to live by that standard and I have never regretted a single day what I did for a living." — Glenn Fosdick, former president and CEO of Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha (retired in December 2013).

6. "The best advice I ever got is that senior leaders really only make about five real decisions a year, and if you make three of those decisions right, you are going to be successful. But the challenge is recognizing those decisions from all the other decisions you are required to make." — Edward Howell, president and CEO of University of Virginia Medical Center (Charlottesville).

7. "As we consider new kinds of partnerships, and different kinds of funding, we need leaders who can think like entrepreneurs, who can help us excel in the new business environment." — Catherine Jacobson, Presidnet and CEO of Froedtert Health in Milwaukee, at Huron Healthcare's CEO Forum.

8. "You don't need every 'i' dotted and 't' crossed to function — not everything is black and white. It's especially hard for physicians and others who are trained to be perfectionists to operate effectively in ambiguity, but they can learn to do it." — Gary Kaplan, MD, Chairman and CEO of Virginia Mason in Seattle, at Huron Healthcare's CEO Forum.

9. "Focus on the mission. It's easy to get lost in important issues that relate to finances. The basic fact, though, is that the public values health systems for the work our colleagues do in taking care of them. If we stay true to [the hospital's mission], it not only simplifies decision making, but also acts as a robust strategy to continue to have support that the public currently has for hospitals and health systems." — Robert J. Laskowski, MD, MBA, president and CEO of Christiana Care Health System in Wilmington, Del.

10. "I set the goals in advance and make sure everyone knows what we are all being held accountable for. Then, I just let the leaders do their work. I'm not about micro-managing; if we're all clear about the end results, they could get there a different way than I would have, but as long as we get there, it's okay. It is all about the end result." — Julie Manas. President and CEO of Sacred Heart Hospital (Eau Claire, Wis.).

11. "I think the number one most important skill set anyone can have is people skills — the ability to lead people, to present a situation and get a group of people to work toward a common goal. Even though I was in the banking industry for 40 years, the last 20 I was in a leadership role. People would say, 'Oh, you're in the banking business?' and I'd say I was in the people business. In any industry, what's most important is the ability to identify the main issues and drive a team toward that common vision." — Carlos Migoya, president and CEO of Jackson Health System in Miami.

12. "Success is built around that and around the culture you set, as opposed to the technical knowledge you might have. I'm a strong believer that you lead people by example, by modeling the behavior you expect in terms of commitment, values and ethics. You don't ever forget that everybody who works in your organization has a job that is just as important to them and their family as the people who happen to be in the C-suite." — Tony Spezia, president and CEO of Knoxville, Tenn.-based Covenant Health.

13. "One of the things I am working extremely hard on is to create an environment of transparency and the freedom of speech. I tell people: 'You can say whatever you want to say in this office to me. Just understand that I also have the freedom not to agree, but I want to know what you're thinking. I want to know what's on your mind, because I want to make the best decision that’s going to make this organization thrive.'" — Bernard Tyson, CEO of Oakland, Calif.-based Kaiser Permanente, to the

14. "Management is all about people. All police do is work with people. I learned important skills very early on, like how to read body language and how to make quick decisions. As a policeman, you have to make decisions in split seconds. You don't have the luxury of having a day, week or month to decide. I always told my trainees not to be afraid of making a decision. If you make a mistake, be upfront about it. Taking action without the proper knowledge or information can be dangerous but one can also overanalyze, be indecisive and still kill a company." — Chris Van Gorder, CEO of San Diego-based Scripps Health and former police officer. 

15. "The number one skill set I need in a leader is how to be a proactive change manager. What does it take to really lead change — to get physicians and employees on board and create the compelling case of why change is needed? It requires a high level of communication skills." — Dan Wolterman, president and CEO of Memorial Hermann Health System in Houston, at Huron Healthcare's CEO Forum.

More Articles on Leadership:
Connecting with Hearts and Minds: A Set of Qualities and Skills Every Leader Needs
12 Insights Into Great Leadership
Dr. Don Berwick to Healthcare Leaders: Don't Flunk the Moral Test


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