Living Like a Leader: A day with LifePoint Health's President and CEO David Dill

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"I am working on being more effective about scheduling a margin in my calendar for more time to think and explore new ideas. I really admire leaders who have built that margin into their schedules, and it is something I am working to mirror."

Between driving growth, meeting clinical objectives and navigating complex payer dynamics, there don't seem to be enough hours in the day for healthcare executives.

Leaders succeed despite these challenges, each with their own habits, hacks, styles and methods — and David Dill, president and CEO of LifePoint Health, is no exception. 

In his role as president and CEO, Mr. Dill is responsible for the development and oversight of LifePoint's strategic priorities and organizational growth, advancing the company's mission of Making Communities Healthier and strengthening its culture enterprisewide. The Brentwood, Tenn.-based health system has 89 hospital campuses across 30 states.

Mr. Dill first joined LifePoint in 2007 as executive vice president and CFO. He was then appointed to COO of the system in 2009, a role he held for nine years. He added president to his title in 2011.

After LifePoint finalized its merger with Brentwood-based RCCH HealthCare Partners in November 2018, Bill Carpenter, then-CEO and chairman of LifePoint, retired, handing the reins of the newly merged and now private health system to Mr. Dill. 

Mr. Dill recently spoke 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?

David Dill: I've always been a morning person. I love mornings because they are a quiet time at the house. I do my best thinking in the morning, so those 90 minutes before work are helpful for me to clear my head and think about what I am going to accomplish that day. I go to Starbucks every morning, which is about 1.5-miles from my house, pre-order a Venti Pike roast with the mobile app, and my coffee is handed to me when I get there. It's a nice feeling to walk into a place where the baristas know you and your order. Typically, from there I will head home and catch up on the morning news. This includes sifting through my e-mail for news items sent to me overnight. I try to limit my morning reading to things that organizations such as Becker's have written or other items that I can share with my team. CNBC is usually on the TV in the background. 

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

DD: In every given week there are breakfast meetings or other meetings outside the office, but a typical day for me starts by climbing the stairs to my office. It's a seven-story building. I decided on my birthday in June to start climbing the stairs each morning as a form of exercise to start my day. From there, I get myself organized for a series of meetings that often start right away with the team or outside organizations.

Q: Is there anything that makes your physical office setup unique?

DD: There are four key elements in my office that are important to me. The first is that I have some bookcases behind my desk with glass fronts. It reminds me how important transparency and openness is to our organization. There is nothing hidden behind wooden doors or in secret materials. I want to be a leader that works to promote transparency and openness. 

Another thing that is important to me are pictures of my family, which includes my wife and two kids, one boy and one girl. Once a year, I take each kid on a small weekend trip, and my office is full of pictures from all the different trips. It really reminds me of the importance of family.

I also have photos of the different communities where we have hospitals. They aren't pictures of the hospitals themselves, but they are representative of the community, and they serve as visual reminders that the work we are doing every day is much bigger than just debits and credits or numbers on a piece of paper. We are investing in communities and making people healthier.

Additionally, I have a large picture of a sunrise over a rural county road. I grew up in a small Southern town, and I enjoy the beginning of each new day. Also, a lot of our hospitals are in communities very similar to where I grew up. The picture helps me think about the promise of a new day, a new chapter and the communities we serve. Those are the four key elements to my office because they remind me of the things in life that are most important to me. 

Q: What kind of work do you like to get done before lunch?

DD: It depends on the day. I travel a couple days a week to various hospitals or other organizations. But typically, I like to complete any structured meetings in the first two-thirds of the day. I try to open my calendar on the back part of the day for ad hoc meetings. I use that time to talk through problems with the team.  

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

DD: We meet once a week as an executive team. Additionally, once every two weeks there are scheduled one-on-one meetings with each of my direct reports. I also have that unstructured time at the end of the day where they can pop in to discuss any issues. 

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

DD: We have 89 hospitals throughout the country. I try to get out to at least one of our hospitals every two to three weeks. Some months, I will visit a bunch, while other months I may not even visit one. But I truly think one of the most important parts of my job is listening to our frontline caregivers about our challenges, problem-solving with them and knocking down any barriers.

Q:  How do you think your routine differs from that of other healthcare executives?

DD: All healthcare executives are working hard. My schedule is a bit different from a hospital CEO who is situated upstairs from the main facility. I don't have physicians in and out of my office like them. I guess something I think is unique is that I am working on being more effective about scheduling a margin in my calendar for more time to think and explore new ideas. I really admire leaders who have built that margin into their schedules, and it is something I am working to mirror.

Q: What is the hardest part of your day?

DD: In my previous role, I had a list of tasks, and I was able to cross out items on the list as they got done. What I do now in the CEO role is more long-term in nature. So, the hardest part of my day is shaking the nagging feeling that I didn't get everything done that I need to, mainly because I didn't mark 10 things off a list like I used to. I think it's just an adjustment.

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

DD: Although I don't get to do it every day, the most rewarding part is when I get to travel to our hospitals or there are leadership events for the company that we host at our office. What is super rewarding is being able to share with those leaders what is important to me and the company, while also being able to hear from them about how they connect to the mission of our organization. That is the most inspiring, rewarding part for me. For example, recently we hosted 25 new hospital leaders that have been with the company for a brief period of time. They came in for two days of orientation. I was able to talk to them for two hours about what's important to me, and they shared with me what they are doing to advance the mission of the company. It's humbling, inspiring and gives me the energy to wake up and do this every day.

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

DD: Usually before I leave, I will stop by my CFO’s office and ask him, "do we have enough money to pay the bills?" Mike Coggin [our CFO] has been a friend of mine for years, and our families know each other well. I usually will stop by his office because it's next to mine, check in to see how things are going and ask if there is anything I need to be aware of before heading to a dinner or to my home. 

Q: Do you do work at home?

DD: I try not to do too much work at home. I'll sometimes take work home with me, but it usually sits in my briefcase. It's nice to know it is there in case I need to get something done, but over the years, I have found that I am not very effective at working from home. That doesn't mean I don't think about work at home, or that I don't reply to emails. But I try hard to shut it off while at home and on vacation.

Q: How do you unwind at the end of the day?

DD: I love sitting at home with my wife, having a glass of wine and reflecting on the day. I don't talk much about what happened at work, but I listen to her. We will sit on our back porch, turn on music or a TV show in the background and just talk. That time with her on the back porch, catching up on the kids and relaxing help me unwind and stay balanced.  I also call my parents most nights. Those things at the end of the day bring everything back together before we shut the house down, wake up and go after it again.

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