Tampa General Hospital CEO: People before strategy

I have spent the past week engaging with leaders from across the world in various industries at the GE Crotonville campus — an exceptional time that allowed my peers and I to come together to discuss innovative ideas, approaches to leadership, and challenges we face in our day-to-day operations as well as the impact of bigger-picture issues.

As the president and CEO of the academic health system, Florida Health Sciences Center (also known as Tampa General Hospital), I am grateful to GE for the opportunity to participate and to hear and learn from others, as well as the time it has afforded me to reflect on the capacity and capabilities of my organization. 

After interacting with my colleagues this week, it had me thinking about approaches to strategy and especially those in the health care vertical. I began to ask myself — are the strategies we deploy really novel? Or are they essentially variations of the same strategy that most health systems deploy? What I am realizing is that while we all might take different paths to get there, the end goal for all of us in my industry typically remains the same. We are all striving to provide high-quality, world-class, accessible care at the lowest price possible — offering tremendous value to our patients, employers, and payors.

At Florida Health Sciences Center, we have made great strides and have been quite successful over the past several years in beginning to break apart the “Iron Triangle” — the belief that in health care, you cannot improve quality, access, and cost at the same time and that one area will decline as a result in the improvement in another. In the work we have done, we are proud to say we have moved closer toward our goal of providing the best possible care that is accessible, convenient, and reasonably priced.

So, what is the key to success in delivering on this goal? From a surface-level perspective and for many in my sector, the answer is immediately innovation — harnessing technology to drive change and efficiency in the system or implementing a complex, new program or initiative — as to what drives success today. And yes, innovation is critically important, and I would certainly not discount all the incredible innovation that has taken place in our industry, including what has happened inside our doors over the past several years. But sometimes, innovation can operate like a shiny object in the room. It catches everyone’s attention in the moment but can be fleeting. I believe that what drives success is the people constantly, consistently, and cohesively working together to make things happen behind the scenes and with much less fanfare.  

With this in mind, I would position that any organization's true drivers of success are its people, its organizational culture, and its team’s ability to execute. Without the right team, folks who can execute, and a system to provide them the support and psychological safety they need to get the job done, the organization's goals will not be obtainable.


As leaders, the most critical investment of our time and resources should be in our people. We must surround ourselves with individuals who are not only smart and skilled but also driven and passionate. Most importantly, our team members must constantly, consistently, and strategically focus on how they can work individually and collaboratively to move the organization's goals forward. They also must be willing to sign on wholeheartedly to the collective vision of the team. 


Cultivating and attracting these team members lies within the organizational culture you create and build. As the leader of Florida Health Sciences Center, my number one priority is supporting my team. I believe that giving them the tools and support they need — both professionally and personally — to be successful will drive their success and provide a positive experience and the best possible care for our patients. Through this behavior, I aim to foster a culture that is predicated on building team members up to elicit the best of them, as opposed to tearing them down.

At Florida Health Sciences Center, I have evolved our culture by practicing an active leadership model rooted in four fundamental values: transparency, being straightforward and communicative; kindness, treating everyone in the organization with the utmost respect and understanding; authenticity, being yourself 100 percent of the time; and vulnerability, being willing to show who you truly are and articulating your thoughts and feelings to others. As a result of this leadership practice by not only myself but other leaders across our organization, our team members feel safe to express themselves, propose solutions to problems, make mistakes and fall forward and offer valuable contributions to the organization. I witness this behavior daily, hear it from team members consistently, and even see its results across the organization. 


Finally, the third and critical driver to success is execution. You have nurtured and onboarded team members who are exceptional at their jobs, and you have provided them with an environment to succeed. It is now the team that then executes the organization's vision, and you empower them to do so.

Often, the planning and development phase of projects and initiatives are the most exciting, but it is the execution of the plan that really matters. As a leader, this can sometimes be challenging as it leans on your belief in your team, requires coaching, and takes patience and discipline on your part — being willing to step back and let folks have at it. But there is nothing better and nothing more inspiring than seeing your team execute and nail the goals we set out to accomplish. And I should know. While I recognize my own bias, I truly believe there is not any team that can execute as well, as comprehensively, and under as much pressure as my team at Florida Health Sciences Center. Day in and day out, they make extraordinary things happen at all levels of the organization and on all fronts. I remain continuously grateful and incredibly proud of their work.

And so, I walk away from GE this week refreshed with a recalibrated perspective, recognizing shifts in thinking over time are critical to leadership and to remaining forward-thinking and nimble. For me, it all comes back to the people with whom we work and collaborate with. At the end of the day, I believe that people eat strategy for breakfast every day of the week — by that, I mean innovative ideas remain no more than just interesting possibilities without the right team in place to execute them. If we are to propel our industry forward and drive substantive long-term change, we all must consider putting people before strategy. Wouldn’t you agree?


John Couris is president and CEO of Florida Health Sciences Center. You can follow him and hear more on LinkedIn.

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