The areas 16 health system execs prize most for future growth

Becker's asked C-suite executives from hospitals and health systems across the U.S. to share their organization's areas of growth for the next few years. 

The 16 executives featured in this article are all speaking at the Becker's Healthcare 14th Annual Meeting on April 8-11 and 12th Annual CEO+CFO Roundtable on Nov. 11-14, at the Hyatt Regency in Chicago. 

To learn more about the Annual Meeting event, click here. To learn more about the CEO+CFO Roundtable event, click here.

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As part of an ongoing series, Becker's is talking to healthcare leaders who will speak at our conference. The following are answers from our speakers at the event.

Question: Which types of leaders are quickly becoming the most essential to your organization?

David Lubarsky, MD. CEO and Vice Chancellor of Human Health Sciences at UC Davis Health (Sacramento, Calif.): Of course, an ongoing commitment to equitable patient care comes first, but that’s the same for everyone. We have recently added a chief ventures officer to develop new, external and diversified revenue for our health system, and explore things such as partnering with industry to accelerate revenue opportunities and mitigate financial risk. As health system margins continue to tighten, and the mission of healthcare continues to expand, we have to be looking for better ways to monetize products we have developed, commercialize what we can, provide health-adjacent services to expand revenue sources, and manufacture those things we are best positioned to create.

Ronald Place, MD. President and CEO of Avera McKennan Hospital & University Health Center (Sioux Falls, S.D.): As a Catholic healthcare organization, we're prioritizing 'servant leaders.' They might not call themselves that, but we see them as selfless leaders faithful to optimizing the lives and health of the people and communities we serve. In other words, the video matches the audio, which goes a long way toward sustaining the culture. They respect every member of our team; recognizing their responsibility to provide guidance today, and mentorship for the future. Finally, they have healthy insight into where they can improve their leadership skills, inviting feedback from their supervisors, peers, and direct reports alike.

Cristy Page, MD. Executive Dean of UNC School of Medicine; Chief Academic Officer of UNC Health (Chapel Hill, N.C.): The best leaders are those who care more about the mission than themselves. Approaching issues with ego in check creates better outcomes, but also a better working environment as we care for each other first as people and then as colleagues. We know that the last several years have been difficult, so to get through that we have to connect back to the mission as the foundation. That bond can get you through a difficult situation because you understand what’s important to those you’re working with and where their heart is.

Elizabeth Wako, MD, MBA. President and CEO of Swedish Health Services (Seattle): All leadership roles across health care – nurse and physician leaders, administrators and operators, support teams — play a vital and interconnected role in ensuring the safe and effective delivery of care. But leaders who possess these qualities are essential in driving innovation and change for the future: 

(1) Transformational leaders who inspire and motivate their teams to achieve a shared vision of positive change and growth; 

(2) Collaborative leaders who create a culture of teamwork and respect, remove silos, and improve patient outcomes and enhance the overall quality of care;

 (3) Patient-centered leaders who promote a culture of empathy and compassion, and spearhead initiatives to enhance the patient experience and satisfaction; 

(4) Data-driven leaders who can effectively use data to drive evidence-based decision-making; (5) Community and population health leaders who address social determinants of health, promote health equity, and improve the overall health outcomes of communities we serve. It’s worth noting that these types of leaders may overlap or complement each other, and the specific qualities needed may vary depending on the healthcare setting. Overall, I appreciate leaders who have vision and grit!

David Sylvan. Chief Strategy and Innovation Officer of University Hospitals (Cleveland); President of UH Ventures: For healthcare systems in 2024, business-as-usual is no longer defensible. Of course, we all require accretive patient volumes, but sustainable viability requires all leaders, clinical and administrative, to be strategic and innovative thinkers; to exude emotional intelligence, and to embrace adaptability. These together with unwavering ethical judgment, integrity, and resiliency, will enable us to navigate the unprecedented headwinds we’re all facing allowing us to drive positive change in the service of the patients for whom we’re responsible.

Bill Morice, MD, PhD. President and CEO of Mayo Clinic Laboratories (Rochester, Minn.): In today's rapidly evolving healthcare environment with new opportunities and challenges, leaders who can adeptly navigate and adapt are key to our success. 

At Mayo Clinic, we have a culture of servant leadership, where leaders prioritize serving others, building trust, and fostering collaboration. This culture is fundamental to our organization, and it is crucial to have leaders who approach their work with humility and openness to change to ensure our organization is tirelessly working to improve patient care and provide our staff the tools and direction needed for success. 

Perhaps most importantly, transparency and effective communications are core competencies for leaders in the organization. Leadership is about taking others with you and learning from them along the journey. Without trust in leadership, teams will struggle to pivot or undertake calculated risks, underscoring the significance of clear and open communications. 

Ramin Davidoff, MD. Executive Medical Director and Board Chair of Southern California Permanente Medical Group (Pasadena); Board Chair and CEO of The Southeast Permanente Medical Group; Board Chair and CEO of Hawaii Permanente Medical Group; Co-CEO, of The Permanente Federation: I believe physicians can and should lead at all levels, and that the most essential physician leaders are those dedicated to driving person-centered, high-quality care based on evidence and data. Additional important qualities include agility, effective communication skills, courage, awareness of the external and internal environments, and high levels of emotional intelligence. These characteristics equip leaders with the tools they need to succeed in the highly complex, emotionally demanding, and rapidly evolving health care industry.

Maulin Shah, MD. Chief Medical Information Officer of Providence (Renton, Wash.): In the financially challenging environment healthcare finds itself in, we need leaders that can focus, prioritize and execute. We cannot make significant progress when we have too many priorities. Leaders that can develop a strategic plan aligned with the system vision are those that will be most successful. Leaders that bring an innovative perspective — not just iterating what has been done before — making bold moves to find a new way through technical, operational, clinical or financial innovation, are essential to the organization. As we focus on key priorities like reducing caregiver burnout and improving clinical quality, clinically trained leaders must continue to partner alongside business leaders to ensure our work remains grounded. The leaders that continue to inspire in the face of real challenges and paint the picture of a better future are the leaders who will continue to be the most essential to our organization.

Karen McConnell, PharmD. System Vice President of Pharmacy Enterprise and Chief Pharmacy Officer at CommonSpirit Health (Chicago): The types of leaders that are most essential are the strategic doers. The leaders who are making sure that the right tasks are being completed on the right timeline and the desired outcomes are being realized are essential to ensure we are reaching our goals.

Susmita Pati. Chief of Primary Care Pediatrics; Chief Medical Program Advisor of The Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science at Stony Brook University (N.Y.): Leaders with exceptional skills in workforce development are becoming the most essential to our organization. For Stony Brook Medicine, our first priority in our 2024-2029 strategic plan is fostering a high performance culture and this relies on leaders who can attract, develop, recognize, and retain an exceptional workforce. Stony Brook Medicine needs leaders who encourage people to share ideas, take calculated risks and collaborate. Leaders who embrace innovation and continuous improvement will advance Stony Brook Medicine’s ability to respond to industry changes, drive innovation and create unique problem-solving.

Pooja P. Vyas, DO. Vice President and Chief Medical Officer of Christian Hospital Northeast & Northwest Healthcare (St. Louis): Servant, democratic, transformational and visionary are the four types of leaders that we find bring value to the organization. We need our leaders to be people first and think about what the organization is doing for our staff and patients. The servant leader upholds true value principles and leads by example. Democratic leaders make sure everyone’s voice is heard. We have to be very crucial in our times of changes to make sure all stakeholders are involved. Transformational leaders keep  us on track. They help inspire, motivate, and transform others to their best potential. They seek change, yet they also inspire along the way. Finally, the visionary leader, to help us see outside the box, think of the future, and imagine where we have the potential of reaching.

Gian Varbaro, MD, MBA. Chief Medical Officer and Vice President of Ambulatory Services at Bergen New Bridge Medical Center (Paramus, N.J.): Developing talent has always been essential, but it has become even more imperative. Specifically, we are finding that dynamic, flexible leaders are essential. There are many possible effective styles, but leaders who can pivot and read a changing landscape are necessary in a rapidly changing healthcare environment.

Matthew Painter, PhD. Director of Leadership Development at UAB Health System and School of Medicine (Birmingham, Ala.): The workplace landscape has become exponentially more difficult to navigate. Our world is driven by new medical research, new technologies, new oversights, new designs, all of which require new ways of working. Our current workforce is largely ill-prepared for this context. Even our internal investments in management and leadership skills have not kept pace. Those that rise to the occasion and are able to successfully adapt to our current and future ways of working, will likely possess eight important, and overlapping, traits.

  1. Takes ownership: Embraces their own success, is a curious learner, and doesn’t make excuses. Takes on the challenge of charting their success and the success of the organization.
  1. Embraces change: Leans into change as a strategic imperative, as an opportunity, not a threat. A willingness to learn and help others see the potential that change provides.
  1. Thinks systemically: Considers broad perspectives in the midst of acute specializations, is a constant student of, and advocate for, the ever-changing system.
  1. Communicates empathically: Interacts with others' needs in mind, invites other’s perspectives before sharing their own, quick to acknowledge and appreciate the realities of others, and seeks to build and improve relationships.
  1. Collaborates fearlessly: Draws people into decisions, recognizes broad-based impact of decisions and courses on others, identifies or creates synergies, seeks win-win solutions, considers a wide range of stakeholders and engages each.
  1. Decides clearly: Makes decisions decisively, uses clear decision criteria, advocates for decisions in the face of ambiguity, provides transparency when appropriate, and understands the impact of decision-delay.
  1. Adapts continuously: Changes course readily, continuously solicits and finds ways to improve, revisits strategic and operational plans regularly to adjust as needed, keeps abreast of changes in the operating environment. 
  2. Mentors Thoughtfully: Invests in others success based on strengths, liabilities, and aspirations, has a thoughtful succession plan to ensure continuity of success, ensures operational viability through others.

Vi-Anne Antrum. Senior Vice President and Chief Nursing Officer of Cone Health (Greensboro, N.C.): Leaders with exemplary soft skills are becoming the most essential to my organization. There is a high degree of change in healthcare, and we need leaders who can help people understand these changes, build trust, make people feel valued and heard, and are extremely collaborative to be able to partner with colleagues and our communities. Another important asset for leaders is the ability to be innovative. We need people who embrace technology and are willing to take risks, try new things, and invent new processes. The ability to adapt and be flexible is another critical skill. Leaders need to be adept at change management and leading themselves through it so they can lead others successfully. Finally, we need leaders who are able to embrace the pace of change and the velocity at which things are occurring. Regardless of subject matter expertise and functional acumen, these skills are universally needed in every leadership role.

Bill Munley. Market Administrator, Southeast of Shriners Hospitals for Children - Greenville (S.C.): I believe the leaders who are quickly becoming the most essential today are the ones who have not yet obtained the official “director” or “manager” title yet.

It’s the unofficial leaders of a unit or department who are the “boots on the ground” and should be identified and trained as the next ones to step up into formal management roles. Too often in healthcare, and in other industries as well, internal candidates are overlooked for leadership positions because they don’t have the experience or training. However, these same individuals would make excellent managers if given the chance and provided proper training. Some staff already demonstrate this skill when asked to step in and cover for their boss. As they say in sports, “the next man or woman in” is essential.

Jean Ann Larson. Chief Leadership Development Officer and Senior Associate Dean Leadership Development at UAB Medicine (Birmingham): The leaders who are becoming most essential to our organization are those leaders in the organization who continue to develop themselves and the leaders around them. We are all faced with openings at all levels of leadership and one of the best ways to fill these openings is to develop leaders internally and give those who join our organizations the opportunity to build their leadership skills and take on new challenges. At UAB Medicine, we have intentionally created experiential programs for leaders at all levels - from the emerging leader all the way up to our senior leadership teams. We consider the level of leadership development support we provide across the enterprise of the academic medical center a competitive advantage. One of the most important legacies we provide as leaders is the leaders who come after us. 

Scott Polenz. Former Vice President of Physician and Advanced Practice Clinician Relations at Marshfield Clinic Health System (Wis.): I read something the other day and hit home and is spot on in what type of leader our staff and physicians and coworkers are looking for.  The new leadership needs to look at KPIs as Keep People Interested, Keep People Informed, Keep People Involved, and Keep People Inspired!

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