Flexibility, community, engagement keys to hospital executive success

Most hospital executives, whether from an administrative or medical background, possess an innate leadership quality. But successful CEOs will tell you that running a hospital isn't always about being stalwart and headstrong; learning when to bend and rely on others is just as critical.

Instead of keeping your eye fixed on one optimum goal, envision for your hospital a portfolio of opportunities that allow for you to navigate setbacks and leverage successes, recommends Luis Natal, director of Philips Healthcare Consulting. "In addition to the macro business environment, opportunities will exist within your hospital in operational areas," he writes in an article for Becker's Hospital Review. "In some cases, operational improvements might not be included in strategy. In my view, this is a lost opportunity for planning departments and hospitals because knowing where to cut costs and reallocate budgets is a strategic issue."

Natal's next piece of advice is to engage senior leadership that will be responsible for sponsoring your strategy. "As the strategy team is evaluating opportunity areas, it is critical to begin sharing early findings with decision making executives," he says.

A recent post by Paul Levy on his Running a Hospital blog exemplifies both of these points, as the CEO of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston shares an email from the physician heading up the hospitals efforts to reduce readmissions using Lean process improvements. "I offer these as works in progress, with a full admission of current flaws in our processes," Levy writes. "I know folks in other hospitals will find the subject matter familiar, as the issue of readmissions is one we all face. Perhaps our approach will provide you with useful suggestions. We also welcome yours." Not only is Levy's appointed strategic leader keeping him in the loop, but BIDMC as a whole has everyone from residents to anyone who may comment on the blog engaged in the initiative.

Accepting feedback is not always easy for leaders, especially physicians, notes Hospitals & Health Networks Magazine's April cover story. But many physicians, such as Rick Anderson, MD, senior vice president of medical affairs and chief medical officer at Methodist Medical Center in Peoria, Ill., have realized recently that their hospitals' goals-including quality, safety and reimbursement issues-rely in part on them stepping up and out of their comfort zones.

"How could you possibly receive a bundled payment if there is no doctor leadership structure?" says David Nash, MD, dean of the Jefferson School of Population Health, based at Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia. "The majority of leading hospitals are well on their way toward cultivating physician managers. They recognize this and are working hard, frankly, to figure this out."

A common denominator among most leadership is to embrace communication of all kinds-and striving to be understood rather than merely heard. Stakeholders need to understand the plan and its significant details (and not get bogged down in confusing minutiae) in order to buy into it, Natal notes. "In every case, sharing an action plan, even at a high level, makes a vision more realistic, attainable and ultimately more supportable," he adds.

To learn more:
- read this Becker's Hospital Review piece
- check out Paul Levy's Running a Hospital blog post
- read this Hospitals & Health Networks article