The future of healthcare leadership. Will you become obsolete or indispensable?

It is no secret that the health care industry and hospitals are experiencing traumatic levels of change. Between the political rhetoric on both sides of Obamacare and the industry's consolidation trend, leaders have never had more challenges to make tough decisions.

Many in the field were trained to run an organization or a single entity, and now are being asked to have "boundary-spanning skills", to be able to work across a community to change the very behaviors of a population.

First, let's think about the pace of change. The prominent international consulting entity, McKinsey & Co., recently predicted that the 2nd industrial revolution is 10 times faster and over 300 times as powerful as the 1st industrial revolution. According to McKinsey, this equates to over 3,000 times the impact of this industrial revolution versus the last one. Not just one but a series of mile-high tsunami waves of change are coming – whether we become obsolete or indispensable depends on critical decisions we make today.

Feel like the decisions you're making are harder than ever? The good news is there are a number of ways you can sharpen your decision making skills. In the best-selling book Decisive, by Chip Heath and Dan Heath, four villains that disrupt our decision-making are revealed – Narrow Framing, Confirmation Bias, Short-Term Emotion and Overconfidence.

  • Narrow framing refers to focusing on the obvious while ignoring outlying options. When you're considering shrinking hospital square footage and changing your service models from reactive care to preventative medicine, its easy to miss good options like the opportunity to focus on different delivery models. How many have complained about the entry of retail giants into healthcare, without stopping to focus on why consumers would find that attractive? Step back...take a larger view. How can we create win-win partnerships out of the demand for consumer driven models?
  • Confirmation bias means searching for information that confirms our established opinions. This villain of decision making has plagued many entrenched industries, so it's no surprise that hospitals have found it hard to consider radically different futures. We have spent decades responding to the needs in a "sickness" system. Now we are being asked to be seek out people before they become patients. That requires entirely different information. Simply tracking the old markers of "success", such as surgeries, ED visits or admissions may not provide the information needed to be successful as we change our incentives. The new information may be more like the size of the population managed, or the actual inverse of the very markers of success measured in today's fee for service model!
  • Short-term emotion is defined as allowing emotion to cloud our decisions. Emotions are running high throughout the health care industry. Many doctors and surgeons are thinking about exiting the profession as paperwork piles up and income goes down. Yet when physicians really buy into and get excited about an organization's mission, they'll put the full force of their passion and intelligence behind that organization. Many system leaders are trying to weather this week's or month's crisis. We certainly need to deal with the current "crisis", but we need to also plan for the longer term viability of our delivery and prevention systems.
  • And overconfidence... we all know people who think they know more than they actually do. Overconfidence will be a killer decision flaw for hospital leaders as the massive change of the 2nd industrial revolution plays out. Again, to use the retail medicine example...we think we know how to deliver health care - the taxi industry felt the same way about Uber!!

Understanding these decision flaws, then proactively preparing for your future, will ensure that you will be an indispensable leader. Those who actively participate in some (if not all) of the tactics below will rise to the top.

Be REALLY Good at What You Do – Studies show that more than 70 percent of people don't take the time to learn and develop high-level skills for their current job. Being good may not be enough in tomorrow's world. Become a master at what you do. What this means for:

  • Hospital leaders: Seek out opportunities to learn what cutting edge organizations in the field are doing. Learn from leaders in other industries that have undergone a similar change. Prepare your leadership team and your boards for the coming changes. Stay on top of your game!
  • Physicians: Bring your unique skills and influence into the middle of the planning and execution in your practice, your organization. Be part of the leadership of the coming changes, not a victim of those changes.

Sharpen EQ Skills - Emotional Intelligence (EQ) has been shown to be one of the best predictors of whether someone rises to the top in his or her organization or gets booted out the door. EQ denotes a high ability to shift gears in different social and business settings, saying the right thing at the right time and knowing when to listen and when to talk.

  • Hospital leaders: Perform an honest assessment of your current perceptions...through tools such as a 360 evaluation. Seek out the opinions of those outside your organization, such as a professional coach, in order to avoid the shallow feedback that you might receive from your subordinates.
  • Physicians: Most leading organizations offer some sort of physician leadership training, including professional coaching. Take advantage of these programs, which have improved dramatically in recent years.

If you think you may have an EQ deficit, hiring a coach could mean the difference between a great future career and a mediocre one.

Continually Explore Better Processes – Perfecting and evolving the work process is critical for a business' long-term success Being the one who brings bigger and better techniques into the company's fold sheds light on that person's value and sets him or her up for continued success.

  • Hospital leaders: How versed are you in continuous quality improvement tools such as Six Sigma or Lean? Is your organization trying to achieve top performance such as Baldridge recognition or Joint Commission's "High Reliability Organization" designation?
  • Physicians: Are you benchmarking your clinical performance against the best in your specialty, though professional associations, local ACOs or other mechanisms? Are you looking for performance improvement or waiting for it to be imposed upon you?

Sharpen Practical Creativity –Surround yourself with creative mentors and teammates. Hire innovation entities who come up with both core and breakthrough innovation ideas, along with a roadmap for implementation.

  • Hospital leaders: Challenge the status quo...not to accept that today's performance is adequate. Surround yourself with a team or a board that is prepared to continually challenge. This is not as comfortable, but certainly is the mark of a better leader!
  • Physicians: Step away from just your circle of specialty colleagues to get the feedback from either your referral network or from those to whom you refer. This can either be done informally or through mechanisms such as PPOs or ACOs.

Network Smarter –Good networking includes going to workshops and conferences in and outside your industry. Great networking means seeking out several people every week to have coffee with who are kep players throughout your organization and listening intently, even if there isn't an obvious benefit to you short term.

  • Hospital leaders: With all that is on your plate, you may need to prioritize where you network. It may be more important to network outside of health care to gain insights. Or, within different portions of healthcare. For instance, establish meaningful relationships with leaders of local payor organizations.
  • Physicians: Seek opportunities outside of your practice or specialty. Strengthen your relationship with someone in the local hospital leadership team.

Solid decision-making and preparing for the future are mandatory for an industry in the early innings of dramatic change. Are you ready to surf the tsunami wave of change that is coming, or be crushed by it?

Tim Rice is the CEO Emeritus, Cone Health, and the President of the National Center for Healthcare Leadership. Tim can be reached at

Dennis Stearns is an author, financial advisor, TEDx speaker on the Changing Future of Jobs, scenario futurist, community leader and former Pan-American chess team member. He is President of Stearns Financial Group (, an award winning fee-only financial planning and investment management firm with offices in Chapel Hill and Greensboro, NC.

The views, opinions and positions expressed within these guest posts are those of the author alone and do not represent those of Becker's Hospital Review/Becker's Healthcare. The accuracy, completeness and validity of any statements made within this article are not guaranteed. We accept no liability for any errors, omissions or representations. The copyright of this content belongs to the author and any liability with regards to infringement of intellectual property rights remains with them.​


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