What makes a great leader?

Even the most revered leaders must constantly seek ways to become better. As industries evolve, rules and regulations change, technology and communication tools advance and a new generation of workers emerges, great leaders remain perceptive to new competencies they must build and timeless management skills they must enhance.

At Becker's 5th Annual CEO + CFO Roundtable Nov. 8 in Chicago, five senior executives discussed the crucibles of leadership and how to inspire others. The panel included Phillip Kambic, president and CEO of Riverside Healthcare in Kankakee, Ill.; José R. Sánchez, president and CEO of Norwegian American Hospital in Chicago; Charles Koontz, president and CEO of GE Healthcare IT and chief digital officer of GE Healthcare; Michael Haley, president and CEO of IU Health Ball Memorial Hospital in Muncie, Ind.; and Mark Madden, senior vice president of senior executive search at B.E. Smith. Kayla McCann Marty, associate at McGuireWoods, moderated the discussion.

Here are five thoughts from the panelists on great leadership.

1. Certain tenets of outstanding leadership will never fade. Flexibility and nimbleness amid periods of change, strong communication skills, courage, humility, patience and a desire to learn are among the most critical leadership traits, and will remain so, according to Mr. Sánchez. Great leaders should be able to describe themselves in those terms, but they must also possess the self-awareness to know where they need to improve.

2. Communication is king. A leader who doesn't communicate frequently and clearly will fail to inspire and engage employees. This is especially pertinent as the American workforce becomes increasingly saturated in millennial professionals who desire and expect a higher degree of transparency and communication with senior leaders. According to Mr. Madden, one of the most important skills B.E. Smith looks for in its CEO recruits is communication, in addition to the ability to adapt to change.

An important aspect of solid communication is the ability to tailor one's approach and message to each audience, according to Mr. Kambic. "You need different tools and techniques for different audiences," he said. "For example, we have a three-hour weekly meeting with our senior vice presidents, and that's an expensive meeting. But to achieve the focus and clarity around what we are working on, and so everyone knows what the expectations are — it's worth it."

3. Accessibility is a must. The CEO who holes up in the office and is but a faceless name and distant presence will quickly lose touch with the workforce, and subsequently, his or her ability to inspire them. In addition to communication, a leader who is accessible and receptive to meeting with employees will go far. "It's important to be aware of the level of visibility of the leadership," said Mr. Haley. "I think I'm approachable to the staff, which is critical. Folks routinely come around and ask me questions. I also do a breakfast mic series twice a month with people from all walks of the hospital to listen to their questions and learn about what's going on."

4. Don't underestimate the power of data. Across all industries, and especially in healthcare, data analytics is becoming increasingly important for making projections, tracking trends and deriving actionable insights. While the CEO and CIO may not have been the closest of colleagues in the past, the increasing demand for healthcare IT and the growing presence of data analytics in quality and operations initiatives means understanding data and technology is now the CEO's responsibility as well.

"Our healthcare provider customers are hungry for help in figuring out how to approach the mountains of data their EMRs have accumulated," said Mr. Koontz. Healthcare leaders today must prioritize "unlocking the potential of data and digitization — that's where the opportunity lies," he added.

5. Build exceptional teams. "To anyone who's accused me of being a great leader, I tell them I'm just really good at surrounding myself with people who are driven, committed and take ownership of their work," said Mr. Haley. "With great teams, you can move mountains, but if you don't surround yourself with people like that, accomplishing anything will be a challenge."

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