Health

Opinion: reflections on four decades in top health leadership

I will retire this year after nearly 42 years as a healthcare executive. At the beginning of this journey, I had no idea what peaks and valleys lay ahead of me. Now, after decades of constantly looking ahead, I look back to reflect on the many lessons I have learned about leadership and myself.

The most important lesson in leadership is to never forget where you come from. As someone with a humble background, my first job in healthcare was as a nurse, one of the most physically demanding jobs in a hospital. This first role taught me the importance of every member of the healthcare team. It helped me understand the nature of our work: hard, sometimes physical, often emotional, but always humble in how we impact the lives of those we care for and serve.

Another important leadership lesson concerns change management and acceptance. Our business is constantly evolving, and we hear many times that the end of the world is coming. Remember the groups associated with the diagnosis? They were going to destroy the industry. The same has often been said about managed care and health care reform. Before me, it was Medicare.

But these skeptics are never right. Successful leaders embrace such change and drive it, not away. Confident leaders see the opportunities that come with it and create a vision for their organizations to not only survive but thrive. Change happens all the time, and as managers we must change our leadership style and grow accordingly.

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The industry will continue to change, sometimes at breakneck speed. We have a responsibility to adapt in ways that bring the greatest benefit to our patients and society.

Our business is a service for people and for people. The selection, management, training and development of people in our teams is a critical job. Bringing out the very best in them—using their strengths and helping them overcome adversity—is a win for all. I am blessed to have had wonderful mentors over the years. As a result, I spent my career paying up front and helping others hone their talents. There is nothing more rewarding than seeing one of your team members get a bigger and even more meaningful role.

Now let me turn around, look into the future and share my thoughts on where we are headed. As I noted earlier, while change is never the end of the world, it can actually be the end of the world as we know it. We are facing unprecedented pressures: rising labor costs and shortages, inflation, disruptive technologies and the constant emergence of new players in the industry. Combine them with the long-term impact of COVID-19, mental health issues exacerbated by the pandemic, the gun violence crisis, and the effects of climate change, and you have an uncharted landscape. Unlike most other businesses, we cannot simply raise our prices in response to this pressure from private or public payers. I think it’s going to be a tough ride for a few years and it won’t be for the faint of heart. But it will force us to be more efficient, focused and creative, doing our jobs in new ways and at lower cost, while leveraging technology and clinical innovation.


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