Living like a leader: A day with CHI CEO Kevin Lofton

kevin lofton"When I do meet in person with my direct reports, I hold what are called performance management meetings where we cover a wide range of topics. We each come in with an agenda and after every meeting I personally type up a summary including to-do lists, what's next for them and timeframes. It's a way we stay connected and clear on what was said in the meeting and it cuts down miscommunications."


Between clinical objectives, financial concerns, patient needs, and complex payer dynamics, there don't seem to be enough hours in the day for healthcare executives to address the diverse set of organizational goals they are tasked with accomplishing.

Kevin Lofton, president and CEO of Englewood, Colo.-based Catholic Health Initiatives, took the time to speak with Becker's Hospital Review for our "Living like a leader" series, which examines influential decision-makers' daily routines to offer readers an idea of how they manage their energy, teams and time.

Editor's note: Responses have been lightly edited for length and clarity

Question: What's the first thing you do when you wake up?

Kevin Lofton: I'm always dealing with a lot of conflicts and time-sensitive issues at work. Sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night with a thought about how to solve some of these problems, so I keep a little writing pad on my nightstand. Some of my best thoughts come in the middle of the night. When that happens, I get up to work. It helps me get some clarity around issues I've been thinking about. I have the gift of being able to fall back to sleep pretty quickly and still get a good night's sleep, but those nighttime work sessions help me have an actionable day when I get to work.

I have a pretty consistent routine when I wake up to take care of body essentials. I do some stretching and just a little bit of exercise, and I have a regular routine of weighing myself and taking my blood pressure. I think healthcare executives need to model that type of behavior for our employees and customers. I prefer to do a full workout later in the day — my morning stretch is just like when you have tapas to hold you until dinner time [laughs].

Q: What do you do before you get to the office?

KL: Breakfast is the most important meal of the day, and your body simply won't work without it. It helps to get your metabolism going and feeds your body all day. Instead of doing work before I get to the office, I kind of go in the exact opposite direction. I will either watch morning news as I get dressed or "Family Feud" with Steve Harvey. He can always make me laugh and the people on the show are real people, which I enjoy. It's lighthearted, mindless trivia that always gives me a good laugh before I get to work.

Q: What's the first thing you do when you arrive at work?

KL: Generally I check in with my assistant and make sure there's nothing I'm not prepared for. Then I get online to catch up with millions of emails, and once I'm caught up I love taking a peek at the mountains. From my office on a clear day I can see all the way to Pikes Peak, which is about 90 miles away in Colorado Springs. Gazing at the mountains kind of gives you a fresh lease on life. After that, I take a look at my schedule and go through preparatory materials for my meetings over the next couple days. One of the other things I really enjoy is, as a faith-based Catholic healthcare system, the employee-led interdenominational prayer services on Monday and Wednesday mornings. If my schedule allows, I always participate in those.

Q: How much of your time is spent with direct reports?

KL: It varies by the week because, between myself and my senior team, people travel at least 30-40 percent of the time. Some of us, including myself, travel 60 to 70 percent of the time, so a lot of our meetings are teleconferences. The senior-most executive team at CHI is called the President's Council, and we have two sets of meetings each month where everyone knows they have to be at the office. We meet for a day and a half and then have another set of meetings about two weeks later for two days. For one of the meetings every month we bring in our senior VPs of operations, who are our market CEOs. They have operations meetings that lead into the President's Council meeting, and then I have half a day where the President's Council also meets in person with the CEOs. That's the kind of the monthly routine.

When I do meet in person with my direct reports, I hold what are called performance management meetings where we cover a wide range of topics. We each come in with an agenda and after every meeting I personally type up a summary including to-do lists, what's next for them and timeframes. It's a way we stay connected and clear on what was said in the meeting and it cuts down miscommunications. I find it's a great vehicle to make sure everything's clear. Sometimes I'll write something up and it wasn't how they understood it. When they get the minutes from me they'll point that out. It's a great way to communicate with a corporate executive staff that travels so much. 

It's something I probably started about 10 years ago when the dean of a business school worked with us to improve our management effectiveness. Time is precious, and these notes take out the guesswork and clarify what we agreed upon so the investment of time is more valuable. It saves us effort on the back end.

Q: How often do you meet with clinical staff or perform rounds?

KL: I'm not based at a caregiving site, I'm in a corporate office. The time where I get my hospital administrative fix is when I'm visiting our markets, which usually happens twice a month. Typically when I visit markets, the board and senior management team always want to take me on rounds and show me what's going on in their hospitals. Our CMO and CNO are in the President's Council so when we're in the corporate meetings they bring that clinical perspective, but because I'm not a facility-based executive I don't do rounds in a traditional way.

Q: How do you think your routine is different than other healthcare executive's?

KL: The last thing I want to do is speak for how other people do their jobs, but I would generally say my job is more similar to CEOs who run national and multi-state organizations, including large regional health systems. I would say one of the most important aspects of my job is learning how to manage in a virtual fashion. We're in 18 states, so I'm not going to be able to touch everyone. I can't just walk up on a unit and visit with people. We have done a good job of improving our technology to stay connected. We have even held the last couple of national market leader meetings — where we have senior leaders in operations across the country — virtually. With the amount of travel I do and the amount of virtual communication we conduct, you have to be comfortable working with people you're not going to see everyday.

Q: What is the hardest part of your day?

KL: The travel is the job, so you get used to it. But I would say multi-city travel weeks, with three different cities in the same week — those can get difficult. You're up and down at airports, going through security, checking into new hotels, different beds, different pillows. That is by far the hardest part of the day. When I'm home it's a much more regular schedule, but when I am on the road there will be evening events and you start again early in the morning. Sometimes you might land late at night and have an early meeting the next morning. Everybody is happy to have their corporate CEO in for a visit, so they want to show me as much as they can and meet with as many people as possible. 

Q: What is the most rewarding part of your day?

KL: We have a great leadership team, not just on the corporate team but across the country. Our market leaders are phenomenal, and I love getting to meet the fabulous caregivers across CHI, such as our team in Texas that heroically dealt with the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey. I'm proud of the individual work we do and the care we provide for patients across the country. The most directly rewarding aspect of my job is knowing I'm in a position to help make decisions that can improve the lives of millions of people that we take care of throughout the course of a year.

It's not just what we do from the delivery standpoint but as a leading advocacy organization. Counting both inpatient and outpatient visits, CHI facilitates 10 million encounters per year, and we make decisions that can have a national impact. CHI serves as a beacon that other people can model. We were the first national healthcare [organization] to focus on violence prevention; we just celebrated the 10 year anniversary of our United Against Violence initiative. Most recently CHI, along with Boston-based Massachusetts General Hospital and the American Hospital Association, led an effort that resulted in getting ICD-10 codes for providers that care for victims of human trafficking. When I know we can do things in our organization that can wind up being a model for the country, that's a pretty rewarding area for me. 

Q: What's the last thing you do before you leave your office?

KL: A lot of the days are challenging, filled with surprises and can stress you out, so I love to be able to connect with people, whether it's just closing out the day with my executive assistant or stopping by and chatting with people to see how their day went. One of the things I try to do a lot more of is have direct contact with employees here in the national office and connect with staff, find out if they have any evening plans or weekend plans, how the kids and grandkids are doing. CHI annually sponsors anywhere from six to eight high school students here in Denver and a few more at our corporate office in Erlanger, Ky., outside of Cincinnati. We pay their tuition and have a work study program where they work one day a week at our offices. The person who coordinates that program sits right outside my office, so I'll always take some time to chat with the interns and see how they're doing. I'm more of an evening workout person and I try to go at least three days a week.

Q: What do you do when you get home?

KL: Typically when I first get home it's all about unwinding a little bit. It might be a bike ride, that time of day is usually pretty nice here in Denver. Usually I just relax, have dinner with my wife and spend some time with her. I also love to see my son who lives in Denver and my almost-three year old granddaughter who lives here. The grandfather club is the best club anyone can to belong to. 

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