Top 5 traits of a forward-thinking executive leader

Choosing your next leader is like rolling the die sometimes. Even with thorough background checks, behavioral interviewing, and personality tests, hospitals that are on the lookout for executives sometimes pick a dud or even worse, a law breaker like these guys. If you want to pick a winner who will be remembered for his or her legacy rather than infamy, for patient satisfaction rather than police arrests, then consider choosing someone that can both live up to the reputation of your institution while transforming it for the next wave of healthcare.

So how do you choose who will make a good leader? You could pick leaders based on how they look. As a recent Psychological Science study points out, CEO performance is linked to the shape of their face. Researchers found that male CEOs at Fortune 500 companies with wider faces (relative to facial height) had better financial performance at the company. Part of the reason had to do with employees looking up to someone they perceived as an authority figure, something more pronounced with a wider face. The study didn't look at female CEOs.

But if you want to examine other traits besides someone's proportions, consider an executive who can keep pace with healthcare trends. Here's a list top things that a good executive leader should have (which you could even include in the job description):

Appreciation for and experience in technology
Beth Israel Medical Center this week announced its new CEO, Dr. Kevin Tabb, who was the chief quality and medical information officer of Stanford Hospital and Clinics and worked at GE Healthcare IT. My guess is that it's no coincidence the renowned Boston hospital sought the laurels of a techy leader. He's credited with not only having transformed quality performance at Stanford, but he helped implement the facility's electronic medical records system.

Just as other institutions around the country are racing to meet meaningful use standards and gearing up for the ICD-10 changeover, hospitals and health systems would be well advised to seek leaders with experience in technology, or at least, and appreciation for it.

Long-term view for partnership and collaboration
As important as a technology background is foresight into partnerships and collaborations. Beth Israel's CEO-elect said the first thing he is going to do in his new role is to look into partnerships, in what can only be assumed to be another Massachusetts consolidation. With mergers and acquisitions at an all-time high, more hospitals and health systems, as well as providers and insurers, are considering ways to align. For example, Mayo Clinic and Cleveland Clinic recently announced they are pursing affiliations with physician practices. More partnerships are likely to keep coming, and the leaders ought to prepare themselves.

Even if it's not as formal as a 10-year plan for mergers and acquisitions, leaders ought to consider employment models or other partnerships with providers in the community, especially with care coordination underway via healthcare reform.

Financial eye
Also key to care coordination and electronic implementation is, of course, the bottom line. As Dr. Sanjay B. Saxena, vice president and partner of San Francisco-based global consulting firm Booz & Company, told FierceHealthcare, organizations should consider individuals who can think financially.

"Strategically, you will want to have those individuals to be ones who have a broad-base understanding of not just the sector that they're in--not necessarily the hospital sector--but who have exposure and understanding of some of the other pieces of the system so they understand the financing component, [such as] working at insurers or reimbursement or contracting-related functions," Saxena said.

After all, healthcare is a business, even if we don't like to think about it that way. With reimbursement cuts and the economic downturn affecting patient volumes, it's no wonder that a strong executive leader needs to pay attention to the black-versus-red budget.

Clinical background

This trait is a controversial one. Just as we expect healthcare leaders to have some financial training, should we require they also have some medical training? A recent study in the Social Science and Medicine found that the best run hospitals are those managed by physicians and not by (nonclinical) managers. In fact, more physicians today are training as entrepreneurs in the business of healthcare, presumably to advance to higher leadership roles.

Although many healthcare executives have medical management or public health degrees, keep in mind that it might be equally useful for the leader to have a medical degree.

Patients at heart
Of course, the final (arguably the first) trait of a good executive leader is compassion for patients and understanding for their experience--not only because patient satisfaction plays an increasing role in hospital rankings but because patients are at the core of those we serve. Keeping patients at heart will drive leaders to continuously improve patient safety and overall quality of care.

Did I miss any required traits? Follow us on Twitter and send us a DM to let us know what's on your list. You could see it in a follow-up article.

Good luck on your search for the next leader! - Karen (@FierceHealth)