Becoming an effective healthcare leader

March 24, 2015

For clinicians who aspire to leadership positions within their healthcare organization, keys to success include the ability to embrace ambiguity, not being afraid to fail, and falling in love with the problem and not the solution.

For clinicians who aspire to leadership positions within their healthcare organization, keys to success include the ability to embrace ambiguity, not being afraid to fail, and falling in love with the problem and not the solution.

“Fail quickly, frugally, and move on,” said Kevin Fitzpatrick, Chief Innovation Officer of the ACC, who discussed important skills needed to assume executive leadership positions in healthcare in a session at the ACC meeting, entitled “The Road to Executive Leadership.”

Other important skills include respecting the past without being constrained by it, and the ability to thoughtfully assess and embrace important new technologies.

Saying that opportunities for executive leadership positions abound at the intersection of traditional markets, Fitzpatrick emphasized the importance of leadership qualities that promote good communication in an environment that embraces innovation along with a shared vision and purpose.

Executive leaders need to communicate and over-communicate clarity, lead change, create a culture that is able to adapt to a business environment that is constantly changing (what he referred to as creating an “anti-fragile” team), provide guidance, inspire confidence, and maintain a truly strategic focus.

Positions for which these skills and sensibilities are needed include department chairs, service line directors, senior health system administrators, senior faculty positions, as well as senior leadership in the medical industry.

“We believe that the most effective healthcare executives,” he said, “are those who carry with them the sensibilities and patient orientation of clinicians.”

Commentary by Debra Benton, executive coach and bestselling author, The CEO Difference (McGraw-Hill 2014):

“Fitzpatrick's message on becoming an effective healthcare leader is right on target,” commented Debra Benton, executive coach and best-selling author.  “The prescription for healthcare leaders to communicate and over communicate is what I like to reinforce.”

Benton noted that effective leaders in any walk of life use questions instead of statements as their predominant communication tool. They use inquiring words to find out what is important in a conversation 80% of the time, and pontificate or proclaim by way of statements 20% of the time.

“A key component of asking is then to listen to the answer,” she added. “Even when you know the answer, it is important to ask people for their reply; their point of view, first.  You want to learn their thinking and test how close or far apart you are.  If you want to influence people you don’t always have control over, it is best to find out what they want to achieve and what they want to avoid.  By asking, you discover if and where there is a dangerous gap.”

Benton emphasized that one universal truism is that leaders stand out from the crowd.  “In effort to communicate well, the professional healthcare leader - although trained to give answers - will positively stand out when he or she asks questions before giving answers, recommendations, and solutions,” she said.