Hospital CIOs: Leadership is more than a title

Between implementing federal government initiatives and ensuring the safety and security of IT systems, it's easy to forget the importance of relationship building at all levels for hospital chief information officers in order to achieve widespread success. That message, however, was delivered loud and clear by a trio of industry leaders Thursday afternoon at the College of Healthcare Information Management Executives annual fall forum in San Antonio, Texas.

Texas Health Resources Senior Vice President and CIO Ed Marx (pictured right), Orlando Health VP and CIO Rick Schooler and University of Utah Health Care CIO Jim Turnbull--during a panel discussion--shared with a room overflowing with CIOs their advice for managing the daily grind in the context of a broad and complex health IT landscape.

"What's going on at many of our organizations is really nuts," Schooler (pictured left) said. "There is really too much going on at once. Our people are getting jerked around endlessly and our ability to get them through it and connect the dots ... is a skill. I don't know if we'll ever perfect that."

To that end, Marx, who serves on FierceHealthIT's Editorial Advisory Board, said that it is "incumbent" on CIOs to give a message of hope and reinforcement to employees. To do that, he said, CIOs need to know their employees at a human level.

"It's not just asking questions about their day," Marx said. "Before a new employee's first day of work, they've been to my house with their family. Now imagine when things get tough the relationship I have with them on a personal level."

Such attitudes, Turnbull (pictured right) said, help to prepare employees to thrive in an atmosphere in which priorities seemingly change by the month.

"I've often heard people say that you've got to have all these different knives in the drawer, and that there will always be a place for a butter knife and a steak knife," Turnbull said. "But we're really looking for our staff to be Swiss Army Knives and have many different skills."

Still, Turnbull said, leadership isn't about one-size-fits-all problem solving.

"Leadership is really situational," he said. "It's not about the title."

Additionally, Schooler said, a collaborative foundation needs to be built to ensure ubiquitous buy-in of staff. If CIOs can't get down in the trenches and serve, he said, they can't lead.

"We've all got egos, but those egos need to be directed at the success of others," Schooler said. "Partners win-win and lose-lose; they win together or they lose together. Partners don't win-lose"

Marx agreed, saying that the primary responsibility of leaders is to replicate themselves.

"If it's just about one person, you're going to be so limited," he said. "If you want to have an impact ... you have to multiply yourself."