The Leadership Crisis in Healthcare Delivery

I continue to be struck by the varied, and often times limited leadership capabilities of healthcare systems’ top executives. While there are many effective managers, great leaders are few and far between.

Helen Adamopoulos of Becker’s Review quotes Simon Gisby, Managing Director of Deloitte Corporate Finance in her 4/4/2014 Blog noting there are four main operating models that hospitals are using to survive in a world of value-based care. They include:

  1. Innovator- provides cutting edge care;
  2. Diversifier- builds services across the continuum of care;
  3. Aggregator- leverages infrastructure across a greater number of hospitals; and,
  4. Health Manager- collaborates with health insurers, large employers and others to improve the health and wellness of specific segments of the population.

Whatever role, or combination of roles, a health system leader chooses the right mind set and leadership moves are essential. The reality is that there is a number of baby boomer CEOs who got the corner office years ago because they were solid managers, not necessarily because they were effective leaders.

One of the response to Helen’s Blog notes Warren Bennis’ list of the differences between management and leadership:

  • The manager administers; the leader innovates
  • The manager copies; the leader is an original
  • The manager maintains; the leader develops
  • The manager focuses on systems and structure; the leader focuses on people
  • 
The manager relies on control; the leader inspires trust
  • The manager has a short-range view; the leader has a long-range perspective
  • The manager asks how and when; the leader asks what and why
  • The manager has his or her eye always on the bottom line; the leader’s eye is on the horizon
  • The manager imitates; the leader originates
  • The manager accepts the status quo; the leader challenges it
  • The manager is the classic good soldier; the leader is his or her own person
  • The manager does things right; the leader does the right thing

Great leadership is essential for those leading healthcare delivery in this country to transform our rather broken system. Developing and maintaining collaborative relationships with the right organizations/leaders, for the right strategic reasons that creates lasting value will not happen without leadership.

Stated differently, if the clinical and administrative leadership of healthcare delivery organizations only does what they have always done before (and been quite successful along the way!) innovation will continue to elusive.

Many leaders think that they can simply reason the way to creating a more effective healthcare system. For many their current reasoning and thinking process has led them to exactly where you are. So that has to change.

And, it all starts with self-awareness. Where are you and your leadership team members relative to Bennis’ managing-leading dimensions? What can you do for, and with those people to move from managing to leading? Knowing where you are is essential to setting the course forward. Actions to improve are most times obvious when the questions are called. Take the risk and give it a try.

In my work as and advisor and consultant to healthcare leaders, I have seen great managers, shift their mindset and develop some new leadership moves if they are willing take a look in the mirror.

Like relationship building, we were not taught self-assessment. However, most of us can take a pretty good guess at what makes us tick. Here are some questions you could apply immediately to help you fill in some additional perspective:

  1. What are the life events that have most shaped who I am today?
  2. What do you do love to do—the stuff that makes your heart swell?
  3. What do you do exceptionally well—the stuff people will take about at your memorial service?
  4. What do you want to learn and why is this important to you?
  5. What kind of work-life environment is ideal?
  6. What sacrifices are you willing and able to make to obtain?

Based on the answers to these questions, consider asking members of your leadership team these same questions. Then, map the talent mix across you team and identify critical gaps that must be addressed to explore, develop and implement strategies required to maintain leadership in healthcare delivery.

One final thought–there is an insufficient supply of next generation leaders with traditional healthcare delivery experience. Look outside the traditional career path and seek leaders with self-awareness and proven leadership impact who also are agile learners.