The power of mentors, according to Queen's Health Systems CEO

Jill Hoggard Green, PhD, RN, serves as president and CEO of the Queen's Health Systems in Honolulu.

Dr. Hoggard Green, who has been involved in the healthcare industry for 46 years, took the helm of Queen's Health Systems in September 2019. Under her leadership, the health system has grown in market share, improved care quality and rolled out several innovations to improve care in Hawaii.

Becker's recently caught up with Dr. Hoggard Green to discuss her views on great leadership, including the mentors she has in her life and advice for emerging leaders.

Editor's note: Responses were edited for length and clarity. 

Question: Do you have or did you have a mentor throughout your career that you would say is truly a great leader?

Dr. Jill Hoggard Green: I have had such a gift in my life that I have had multiple mentors that I consider great leaders. I've been in healthcare for 46 years if you include the time I was a nurse aide. I found that as I was developing, whether it was as a nurse, whether it was as a beginning leader, then an executive leader, and then leaders of health systems, I've always found that if I'm paying attention and partnering with those around me, the mentor I needed at that point in my development frequently appeared.

I had an amazing nurse leader who was extraordinary when I was in my early leadership roles. She took me to lunch almost every day. We'd have these deep conversations about things, from what's happening in my family to what's happening at work. She really taught me tremendous ways to partner, to bring people together, to understand vision, and to recognize what your individual strengths are and to recognize what other strengths are and how you bring people together.

I had another mentor who was a genius. He was an artist and a healthcare leader. He was always envisioning a future that looked different. He expanded my ability to look at how you would actually improve health across the state or across the country or across the network that you are responsible for. 

These mentors are people that appeared and I worked with that became my mentors because they could see what I needed and they took the time to teach me. I actually had probably seven throughout my career, where I would say extraordinary leaders at a national level, very quiet in terms of they were not saying, "Hey, I picked you to mentor," or, "You're picking me as a mentor." They were realizing at the moment my talent and had the willingness to teach and did that with "aloha" which really means love and compassion. They did that with such openness and generosity that it helped me truly develop into who I am today. So I am so grateful. 

And, of course, I would put my sweet mom and papa as the two mentors that made the biggest difference in my life because they taught me from the beginning about humility, a dedication to service, the joy of being with people and helping them improve. They taught me that you always give back.

Q: In your view, what characteristics are integral to great leadership? 

JHG: It's really important to have strength, often in the form of moral strength, as well as the courage to move forward when others think it can't be done and the courage to address inequity. Great leaders have tremendous courage, humility and strength. That's the combination that is rare. I see a lot of people that are leaders that have courage and moving agendas, but I wonder, do they have the humility to do that reflection and understanding and get the depth of the work and needs of the people they serve? 

Q: What advice would you give to emerging leaders in healthcare?

JHG: It is such a privilege to be able to lead in healthcare. You're doing a mission that is essential to individuals, their families and our community. You will find tremendous joy and tremendous opportunity, but it will also be challenging and difficult. So, in terms of advice I'd say, take care of yourself, your own health and well-being, and your family's health and well-being. This is very important so you can give strength to your career. Second, it's important that you balance strength, courage and humility. Reflect on questions like, what did I learn today? And what could I do differently? Even if it's hard to say, "Wow, I could have done that differently," or, "I could have done that better," great — you reflected on it and learned something. That is an amazing journey in your life that will open up so many doors that you never imagined. 

I never imagined that I would be a CEO of an amazing health system in the state of Hawaii. That wasn't what I imagined when I started my career. But every day I grew. I continuously learned, and the path kept unfolding in front of me. So seek your path. Seek what is going to be. ... It's not the role. It's not saying, "I want to be the CEO. I want to be X or Y or Z." You want to lead. You want to develop. You want to see something better and more, creating help with the people that you love, your community, the people that you serve. When you do that, it's an endless opportunity to do good things and make a difference.

Q: In your view, what separates a "good" leader from a "great" leader?

JHG: There are leaders that are clinicians at the front lines, there are leaders that are managers and directors, and there are executive leaders. In all cases, a leader needs to have a vision, a picture of where we can be that is greater than where we are today. Vision is important, but that is only a piece of what great leadership is. For me, it is essential that leaders partner with the people they serve. For example, as CEO of a health system, I need to be able to partner with the patients we are serving and the broader community, in addition to working with individuals in government. Additionally, I need to partner with other leaders and the front-line teams that are your privilege to serve and support. We are here, in leadership, to serve and create an environment to allow our teams to be the most effective at achieving our mission. Overall, the thing that separates the good leaders from great is not just having a vision and being able to direct. It is truly being able to serve, partner with and support the patients you serve, the community you serve and clinicians you serve. 

I'd also add that a great leader knows how to build the team that directly works with them as well as creates teams throughout their organization. Nothing is done without teams, and we must work together to support each other and take on new challenges every day.

When I hire leaders, I expect that they have the humility of continuous learning and a spirit of generosity to educate and support in whatever way the people they are working with need. To me that is great leadership.

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