Tomorrow's Top Healthcare Leaders: 5 Qualities of the Healthcare Leader of the Future

J. Stephen Lindsey, FACHE, Principal at Ivy Ventures, LLC, and John W. Mitchell, M.S., Hospital Advisor at Ivy Ventures, LLC -
The healthcare leader of the future will need to get things done while navigating a difficult, changing environment. Margins and valuation multiples are shrinking. The healthcare leader of the future will identify and adapt to a new hospital business model to be successful. Five qualities will define dynamic leadership in the future.

1. The healthcare leader of the future will be an independent thinker who understands the emerging healthcare market. Healthcare organizations require fresh solutions to the problems facing patients. Do you see changes in the market before others do?

"It's vital to not only to peek around corners, but to also pick the right people on your team to help lead the organization into the future," said Toni Ardabell, CEO at Bon Secours Health System in Richmond, Va.  

Executives can think independently by learning to focus on the problem and gather information by taking a hard look at what is not working — and by staying in close contact with their major stakeholders and customers. A number of solutions to the problem should be considered before an opinion is given.

2. The healthcare leader of the future will be passionate about serving the needs of the customer.
Is there a faster or more convenient way to serve the customer? Future top leaders will have a customer focus. Focusing on customer problems with passion is a winning management plan in any business. Legendary management consultant Peter Drucker once said, "Management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right things." In order to serve the customer, executives will spend more time talking and listening to their customers. For hospital administrators, this means rounding in patient rooms and waiting areas every day and staying close to the medical staff. For providers of services to hospitals, this means providing a unique solution to a hospital's competitive challenges through proven service improvement.

3. The healthcare leader of the future will be a change agent for their organization. The business model is changing in healthcare. Population management and the associated new compensation methods are already on the radar, for example. Successful executives must be able to quickly assess their markets and develop, communicate and execute plans while managing constant change. Change can be especially difficult in situations when the interests of physicians and other professionals must align for the common goal of serving patients under a new business model. But to quote the writer/singer Leonard Kohn, "If you don't become the ocean, you will be seasick everyday." The healthcare business model is changing right before our eyes — can you adapt?

4. The healthcare leader of the future will have the ability to motivate and inspire. With all of the changes in healthcare the successful leader must be able to motivate and inspire others to achieve common goals. Bill Gates observed, "As we look into the next century, leaders will be those who empower others." Without an alignment of interests, initiatives of change in an organization stand little chance of success. Talk about the future, and how your organization will be a part of it. Then, work with your stakeholders to identify specific, measurable goals that will need to be met in order for your organization to be successful in the future. Good communication is the key to motivating and inspiring others. Tell your story in simple terms, and repeat it often.

5. The healthcare leader of the future will run a lean, high-quality organization.
Leaders of the future will create and manage lean, effective organizations without sacrificing quality. This takes constant attention and focus — and agreed upon metrics. Every detail needs attention. Have a written plan, such as an annual and 90-Day plan for each manager in the organization, and always challenge your assumptions by asking, "Why are we doing this?" This is not easy in healthcare organizations, where history and the training of many participants often run counter to the need to make constant change. To again quote Peter Drucker, "Effective leadership is not about making speeches or being liked; leadership is defined by results, not attributes." This does not mean an inspired workforce cannot be held accountable for results. The great news is, an inspired and empowered workforce will hold themselves accountable. Try it — it's the easiest way to be in charge!

Summary of Challenges
1.Be an independent thinker.
This is difficult in healthcare, where a longstanding business model may foster a "We've always done it that way" mindset from key stakeholders.
2. Focus on the customer.
This is demanding. At any moment in time, the customer can be the patient, the physician, the payor or the regulator.
3. Be ready to lead change.
Are you willing to change your business model? Beware — there are people in the organization who like the old business model and will not want to change. Do you have the support you need to persevere?
4. Be ready to motivate and inspire — be a servant leader.
Some in the organization will be uncomfortable with this. Many managers, board members and physicians were taught to be “command and control” bosses, not leaders. Giving up control to empower hands-on caregivers seems counterintuitive to many
5. Measure, measure, measure!
Have a plan and set goals. Staffing ratios, productivity, denials, wait times, patient (customer) satisfaction, quality outcomes and market share are just a few metrics that managers must help establish and improve over time.

J. Stephen Lindsey, FACHE, was CEO at HCA Henrico Doctors’ Hospital for 16 years. He has served as an affiliate professor in the MHA program at Virginia Commonwealth University. Mr. Lindsey is a principal of Ivy Ventures, LLC, a consulting firm that helps hospitals grow outpatient service lines. He is a fellow of the American College of Healthcare Executives. He can be reached for questions at:

John W Mitchell, MS, (along with his executive team) was named "Top Leadership Team in Healthcare for Mid-Sized Hospital" by HealthLeaders Magazine in 2009. He has extensive experience in leadership, operations and product line development. He works with Ivy Ventures to develop new business and advise hospital clients. He can be reached at

More Articles on Healthcare Leadership:

5 Ways for Young Healthcare Leaders to Achieve Their Most Important Goals
Getting Ahead by Not Falling Behind: How to Take Ownership of Your Healthcare Career Through Staying Current

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