The most important thing a CEO does

Leading healthcare CEOs on the most important thing they do

Healthcare CEOs have incredibly demanding roles, with responsibility for a large, complex organization with tight margins and a diverse workforce in a strict regulatory environment. As these top leaders work to drive their organizations toward success, what is the most important aspect of their jobs? That is, what is the most important thing a CEO does?

Becker's Hospital Review recently asked 17 CEOs this question. Here's how some of the top leaders in the industry responded.

Annette Cantino, CEO of QualCare, a New Jersey commercial insurer (Piscataway Township, N.J.): "Early on, it was clear to me that if I was going to build a successful business, it was going to be about building relationships. I figured out that relationships were built in business on the golf course, and that's when golf started becoming such an important part of my culture, even though I had never golfed before."

Jessica Cole, President and CEO, Becker's Healthcare: "Developing people and making sure their and the company goals are clear."

Gene Diamond, CEO of Franciscan Alliance's Northern Indiana Region: "The CEO clearly communicates a vision of what the organization is becoming, which is reinforced constantly by every means available."

Virginia Feldman, MD, President and CEO of Nexus Health Resources, a care coordination company (Middletown, N.Y): "A CEO's single most important objective is keeping an organization focused on its goals and strategies to achieve the company's mission. In the natural course of business distractions often cause a company to unintentionally drift from their intended vision. To allow for this, a CEO needs to place top performers in the right positions to manage day-to-day operations."

William Ferniany, PhD, CEO, UAB Health System (Birmingham, Ala.): "The single most important thing a CEO does is develop strong leadership and culture in their organization."

Trish Hannon, President and CEO of New England Baptist Hospital (Boston): "The single most important thing a CEO does is create a future destination for your organization, establish a viable set of strategies to reach it and engage a talented team of professionals to make it happen."

Dennis Knox, CEO of Antelope Valley Hospital (Lancaster, Calif.): "For me, the most important thing I do is making sure the culture of the organization supports the mission, vision and values and, accordingly, the strategic initiatives. To go further, to ensure that Antelope Valley Hospital stays focused on what is most important. As an aside, there are overwhelming factors that pull our leadership in many directions, so it is incumbent on me to recognize this and to focus the organization to achieve optimum results."

William Kenley, CEO, Methodist Le Bonheur Germantown (Tenn.) Hospital:
"Leadership is a tremendous responsibility and honor. As a leader, I am responsible for communicating our vision and our strategy and tactics to achieve that vision. I am ultimately responsible for holding our team accountable to deliver on this plan. While this is certainly important, I believe my most important role is fostering  and supporting our team's culture. In my opinion, this is our most vital asset. With a strong, clearly understood and engaged culture, I believe there is no goal our team cannot achieve. Conversely, without this strength, I doubt any team can truly achieve excellence."

Raji Kumar, CEO of Dallas Medical Center: "Have a vision, communicate it and have the right people in the right place to execute it."

Jason Little, President and CEO of Baptist Memorial Health Care (Memphis, Tenn.): "I think the single most important thing I do as a CEO is to engage and empower my colleagues at all levels to take ownership of their work and feel proud of what they are doing to help improve health on all levels."

Kevin Lofton, CEO of Catholic Health Initiatives (Denver): "I think a CEO has two key roles and responsibilities that interconnect so closely that they become inseparable: One is to lead by example — to reinforce the organization's culture and mission through words and actions; the second is to establish the strategic, long-term framework that allows the organization to continue to fulfill its mission, which, in the case of Catholic Health Initiatives, is to create and nurture healthier communities."

Julie Manas, President of the Western Wisconsin Division of Hospital Sisters Health System and President and CEO of Sacred Heart Hospital (Eau Claire, Wis.): "What is the single most important thing a CEO does? Listen. Too often, as CEOs, we're looked to for response. If we speak first in a meeting with our own opinions, it may cause others to hesitate before speaking up. What I've learned is that if we listen, truly listen, we will learn so much more. Our caring, undivided attention will speak volumes about the importance we're placing on others and likely we'll hear-and retain — far more than if we're the one doing the talking. I'm reminded of a famous quote by Epictetus, 55 AD (or so I'm told by Google), 'We were born with two ears and one mouth for a that we can listen twice as much as we speak.' Wise words to live by."

Anne Meisner, President and CEO of Cancer Treatment Centers of America at Southeastern Regional Medical Center (Atlanta): "The single most important thing a CEO does is emotionally engage each and every member of the team so they understand their unique contribution and believe that they are making a difference in people's lives."

Robert Musslewhite, Chairman and CEO of The Advisory Board Company, a technology, research and consulting firm (Washington D.C.): "Assemble an outstanding team — and then get out of their way.  As CEO, my role is to communicate our mission and vision, lay out our strategy, and give my staff the right tools and right motivation. And if I do that, then they can carry out our firm's ambitions, and achieve wild success. I know it's possible because I see it every day at The Advisory Board Company."

Elizabeth G. Nabel, MD,President of Brigham and Women's Hospital and Bringham and Women's Faulkner Hospital (Boston): "As we navigate the ever-changing healthcare landscape, I believe a crucial part of my role is to nurture the innovative environment at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and provide concrete opportunities for our faculty, investigators and staff to try out new ideas. From innovation units piloting new models of care to unique competitions that encourage bold thinking, and hospital-wide events that promote collaboration, I know that the answers to so many of the challenges we face in health care are right here — and my role is to provide an environment where those answers can be found and future innovations can flourish."

Therese Pandl, RN, FACHE, President & CEO of Hospital Sisters Health System Eastern Wisconsin: "In my opinion, the most important things a CEO does are lead the culture and values of the organization to assure that the mission, vision and strategies are achieved; determine which businesses and markets the organization will be in for the future; and develop leadership capacity for the future."

Chris Van Gorder, President and CEO of Scripps Health (San Diego): "I believe it is setting the organizational culture. While the CEO cannot change the culture directly, he/she will set the tone for the culture by personal behavior and expectations and can impact the culture significantly over time through others and through the structures developed in the organization. Today, a culture of accountability, responsibility, transparency, support of staff and performance with the patient in the center is critical for success."

Are you a CEO? What do you think is the most important thing you do? Share your answer with Editor in Chief Lindsey Dunn at to appear in this and other Becker's articles.


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