Rethinking leadership development utilizing a personalized approach

With the rate of change occurring in healthcare, today’s leaders must be well-versed in all aspects of the practice of leadership. Previous studies undertaken by the Healthcare Center of Excellence (HCOE) have indicated that leadership is the top challenge to many aspects of healthcare transformation. Managing this changing environment will require leaders to elevate their staff and organization to navigate the new maze that is healthcare. The rate of change and expectations will only expose any leadership deficiencies.

For years, leaders and aspiring leaders have been told that the way to become a better leader is to accumulate a certain amount of “leadership skills”. Unfortunately, top academic organizational leadership programs approach leadership study as a journey where aspiring leaders discover themselves as they develop their personal leadership philosophy and are provided ongoing mentoring throughout the program. The HCOE sought to apply a similar approach while incorporating a tool to measure leadership improvement in a program designed to increase leadership awareness, assess leadership potential and encourage leadership practice.

In an ongoing leadership development training program, the HCOE conducted 3 cohorts of our Professional Leadership Training (PLT) Program at Norwegian American Hospital, a 200-bed, acute care facility on the northside of Chicago. The first cohort included most of the organization’s C-Level and other top executives. The second cohort included the next level of leaders who reported directly or indirectly to the leaders in the first cohort. The third cohort consisted of a managers and directors from throughout the organization. It is important for the top executives to be exposed to the same training as the rest of the staff to minimize inconsistencies from the staff learning and following one approach to leadership and the executives not modeling the same. In this case, most of the executive team was involved in the initial training cohort. The second cohort was the largest and the one which yielded the most data to analyze, which is used in this analysis.

Program Overview

The PLT Program is a leadership improvement journey based on the proprietary 5-step, Professional Leadership Process™ described in the book, Prescribing Leadership in Healthcare. It’s called ‘Professional’ because it utilizes the same learn-practice-review process followed for decades by professionals around the world. The 12-month program begins with personality, leadership and situational assessments followed by onsite or online coursework. It continues with scheduled leadership coaching check-ins, as well as scheduled leadership reassessments to chart participants’ leadership improvement progress. It results in the participants creating a personalized, continuously-improving leadership plan that is adaptable to almost any situation.


The PLT onsite course is 2 full days of interactive class work with exercises and discussions. After a brief leadership introduction, the course follows the 5-step leadership process resulting in the participants leaving with a completed workbook that includes their personal leadership plan built through exercises in the class.

Prior to the first session, the participants take personality assessment and leadership assessments followed by a second peer leadership assessment completed during the first day of the course. The use of multiple assessments enables them to have a complete view of who they are as a person and who they are as a leader. These results become the starting point for their individual leadership vision and philosophy. With an articulated vision, the participants can create an execution plan and a plan for regular reflection of how they performed as a leader with areas for improvement. Lastly, they are taught the importance of coaching and mentoring with the PLT acting as a “kick-off” to a long-term coaching and mentoring relationship.

By the end of the course, the participants have:

  • Improved Leadership Awareness by providing participants with a clear understanding of leadership, a personalized leadership plan and a continuously-improving process they can return to regularly.
  • Assessed Leadership Potential utilizing various leadership and personal assessment tools throughout the program.
  • Encouraged Leadership Practice with scheduled ongoing reflection and coaching sessions as well continuous learning.

The course is followed by individual leadership coaching sessions 30 days after course completion with the specific goal of answering any questions they may have about what they learned in the course, how they are implementing the process and any challenges they may be facing. These sessions are confidential between the participant and the coach with no direct information shared with management. Each of the three follow up coaching sessions has a specific goal to be addressed with the participant.

Measuring Leadership Improvement

To quantify and monitor the results of the leadership improvement training, the proprietary Leadership Impact Survey (LIS) is utilized. This tool examines and tracks the participants’ leadership growth through the PLT program. Its 9 dimensions are summarized into two categories: the Potential for leadership and the Practice of leadership.

Leadership Impact Survey Dimensions
Potential Dimensions:

  1. Humility
  2. Empathy
  3. Vision
  4. Risk-Taking

Practice Dimensions:

  1. Assessing
  2. Visioning
  3. Living
  4. Reflecting
  5. Coaching

Individual results are compared to the averages for all participants who have taken the LIS over the last 3 years.

The LIS enables assessment of where participants are before the course and tracks their improvement progress after the conclusion of the course. By documenting the improvement results, it helps also organizations quantify the leadership improvement as well as measure their return on investment.

The pre-course average LIS for the cohort indicated they were below the population average across 7 of the 9 dimensions and only slightly above average for 2 dimensions, assessing and reflecting. The 3-month post-course average LIS (below) indicated improvement in all 9 dimensions. Even though risk-taking was still below the population average, it represents a 3% improvement from the pre-course survey. This dimension is expected to improve slowly over time as the participants become more confident in their practice of leadership.

Hospital Impact

Norwegian has been positively impacted by implementing the professional leadership training program. They engaged the graduates of the program to participate in a variety of initiatives to improve the employee and patient experience. Particularly noteworthy was the use of this team to formulate a new patient experience vision statement for the hospital and identify process changes that would improve patient care.

The training provided new insights to seasoned leaders who participated in the program. It also improved the confidence of those aspiring to become leaders. For the aspiring leader participants, the program enabled them to engage more intentionally throughout the hospital. Instead of bringing a problem to a superior or executive for a solution, participants feel better equipped to make decisions at their level, especially when it pertains to the hospital operating units.

During the follow up confidential coaching sessions, participants expressed how they believed the training worked for them. Some of the representative comments included:

  • It helped them overcome some of the struggles they were facing in their role;
  • They felt more confident in themselves, thus making them more comfortable sharing information with their team;
  • Many have incorporated more of the tools they learned in the course like storytelling and social leadership;
  • Not only have they sought coaches for them personally, but they have begun coaching others and changed how they approached situations with their team members;
  • The training has helped make their daily huddles more effective.


Based on these results, it can be concluded that Professional Leadership Training is an effective program for improving leadership throughout an organization and can provide measurable results for an organization to track leadership development effectiveness.

The training program can also be used as a supplement to ongoing internal organizational leadership training initiatives since the PLT coaching sessions are confidential between the participant and their assigned coach. Participants may be more likely to be responsive to a 3rd party versus an internal resource, which could drive higher leadership improvement.

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