Strengthening Your Leadership Ability

By | February 12, 2019

Leadership in healthcare has changed dramatically in recent decades. Seeing the big picture and having an integrative, strategic vision is more important than ever. In our experience, a high tolerance for ambiguity and change is more important than ever for today’s and tomorrow’s leaders.

As you know, the rate of change is accelerating in all areas of the healthcare industry. Pay for performance, bundled payments, increased consumer engagement and population health management are just a few of the initiatives that are changing the landscape.  We’d like to share some of our suggestions for increasing your leadership ability.

How can you improve your leadership profile?

Broaden Your Experience Breadth of experience is more important than ever in candidates for leadership positions.  Seek experience in different health care sectors (hospitals, physician groups, payers, etc.) to enable you to understand perspectives from different sides of the table. This may be through a professional society, like HFMA, where you have the opportunity to learn from peers in other delivery organizations. Take advantage of chances to expand your familiarity with a variety of key functional areas, for example, information technology (IT), by joining an implementation committee or product evaluation task force. IT is both the glue and lubrication that enables different parts of an organization work seamlessly together. While you will never be expected to write code, active involvement in evaluating a new IT system, for example, is an important skill.

Think about exploring other functional areas than the one you work in, like operations, business development, strategic planning, facilities and construction, physician relations or human resources. Actively look for ways to participate on committees in these areas. Let the leaders and your peers in those functional areas know that you are happy to provide input and to learn from them. Read more widely; ask your colleagues in other functional areas what they recommend.

Be Professionally Active Get involved in professional organizations outside your job.  This will engage you in more “big picture” issues and keep you closer to the cutting edge of changes in the field, a critically important qualification for advanced leadership.  Learn from colleagues and give back through your participation. Volunteer on committees in areas unfamiliar to you but where your background could be helpful. Challenge yourself!

Educate Yourself Consider advanced training to expand your skills and increase your leadership credibility.  Graduate education is a highly valued, almost necessary qualification for senior leadership. If you do not have the resources or inclination for an MBA or an MHA program, there are many professional education programs that can help you grow your knowledge base. Online study is a legitimate option. But while online courses can be a convenient and effective way to educate yourself, an in-person course does double duty: you learn and you interact with peers. Keep up those relationships, a great source of advice and support. From an in-person course, you have the bonus of enriching your “people skills”, a critical “soft skill”.

Develop Strong “Soft Skills” Having strong soft skills is just as important as developing the hard skills mentioned above.  In fact, we joke that “the soft skills are the hard skills.”  Take advantage of opportunities to interact with people in a variety of settings, including networking with colleagues from other organizations.

Invest some time in learning about your colleagues’ positions – superiors, peers and subordinates’ – and what they see as priorities and as challenges. Develop your listening skills; “tell me more about that” is a very useful phrase. Active listening will help you create a culture of trust, respect and involvement between you and your colleagues. Learning to build a positive culture is a key skill for a leader, and one that will provide an immense return for your efforts, professionally and personally.

Become Interdisciplinary Develop your ability to lead and to work as part of interdisciplinary teams. Successful collaboration of clinical, technical and business personnel is critical in today’s healthcare organizations. Specifically, working with physicians has become much more important given their effect on an organization’s viability. Increasingly physicians are the drivers of health care organizations, and more and more organizations are choosing leaders who are physicians.  Working well with them is key.

Get Help Find a mentor who is more senior and experienced, usually in the same field or situation that you are in.  A mentor can help you develop your skills so you can bring the most value to your work consistent with your goals, values, satisfaction, and desired direction.  A coach can also be helpful in the process of mapping our career enhancement activities and goals. Generally, a coach works to support and enhance growth, independent of any previous content knowledge or experience.

Be Visible, Build Relationships, Network Actively Don’t be desk-bound in your office. Build both internal and external relationships and keep them active. Linkedin is a great way to stay in touch. Make sure your profile is up to date and that it includes a headshot. Learn how to post items to improve your visibility. Get to know and be known by search firms.

Leadership opportunities are much more likely to find you if you are both professionally visible and well equipped to handle them.

The old adage that the only constant is change is truer than ever. Don’t be a dinosaur–evolution is much better than extinction.

Author: Jeff Zegas and Anita Karcz, MD

Jeff Zegas is CEO and Anita Karcz MD MBA is Senior Vice President at ZurickDavis, a retained executive search firm exclusively serving health care organizations. Linkedin at ZurickDavis @ZurickDavis