AHA panel: Women leaders should 'mind their P's'

Female executive leading meeting
Four women in healthcare leadership shared experiences and advice at a panel on diversity as part of the American Hospital Association's annual meeting. (Getty/Sam Edwards)

WASHINGTON, D.C.—When a panel of healthcare leaders at the American Hospital Association’s annual meeting this week suggested women should mind their "P's," they weren't talking about being well-behaved. They were talking about characteristics such as perseverance and passion.

Mary L. Blunt, senior corporate vice president at Sentara Healthcare in Norfolk, Virginia, said a CEO she once worked for told her that she didn’t have what it takes to be a healthcare executive because she did not have as aggressive of an approach to leadership as he did.

Mary L. Blunt

“If he didn’t see you in the administrative suite yelling and screaming” he doubted leadership skills, she said. So, she stepped away from the leadership track and returned to it several years later with some lessons about how women and minorities can establish themselves in the healthcare C-suite:

  1. Don’t let anyone define you
  2. Determine what you stand for
  3. Don’t be afraid to take a step back or a step forward
  4. People don’t leave jobs, they leave managers

“I think you learn more by observation of what you don’t want to do,” Blunt said.

M. Beatrice Grause

Blunt was joined on the panel by Christina R. Campos, administrator at Guadalupe County Hospital in Santa Rosa, New Mexico; M. Beatrice Grause, R.N., president of the Healthcare Association of New York State; and Phyllis A. Wingate, division president at Carolinas HealthCare System in Charlotte, North Carolina.

It was moderated by Nancy Howell Agee, CEO of Carilion Clinic in Roanoke, Virginia, and Ninfa M. Saunders, CEO of Navicent Health in Macon, Georgia.

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Grause, in her experience both in hospitals and politics, said she has defined four P's that women and minorities who are seeking leadership positions should keep in mind: preparedness, passion, perseverance and perspective.

Phyllis A. Wingate

Perseverance is especially key when planning transformative initiatives, as a leader could spend decades embroiled in the same project. To accomplish large goals, leaders have to be “in it for the long game,” she said.

Wingate said that it’s also necessary for health system leaders to have regular discussions on diversity and ways that they can improve. These talks can be difficult, but nothing is changed without conversation, she said. Women and minorities need to be prepared to step into the spotlight, too, when these talks take place and be frank and open.

Christina R. Campos

Campos said that one issue women and minorities may have when jumping into leadership roles is the urge to play nice to ensure they’re treated fairly, but she emphasized that hiring decisions are not a popularity contest. Potential leaders shouldn’t settle for becoming a “discount administrator” because they couldn’t fight for themselves.

She suggested that people applying for leadership roles do their homework and research what their predecessor made and industry and market standards before negotiating benefits and salary to avoid selling themselves short.

“Don’t walk in with just a number,” she said. “Have some information to back it up.”