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Hospital Grooms Tomorrow's Leaders Today

John Commins, for HealthLeaders Media, February 17, 2009

One question businesses everywhere should be asking is "where will we get the leaders of tomorrow?"

Surprisingly, leadership development was a fairly low priority among CEOs in the new HealthLeaders Media Industry Survey 2009. Just 9% of hospital leaders include it among their Top 3 Priorities, although 48% of CEOs concede that mentoring future managers is a top personnel issue in need of improvement.

Executives at Central Maine Medical Center, a 250-bed, not-for-profit hospital in Lewiston, ME, are among those healthcare leaders who believe leadership development should be a top priority.

"To get to where we want to go as an organization we know we have to further invest in our managers to develop their skills and capacity to meet the challenges of healthcare," says Joyce McPhetres, vice president of Human Resources and Organizational Development at parent Central Maine Healthcare.

Like most health systems, CMHC has had leadership education programs in place for years. In the fall of 2007, however, CMHC established an Accelerated Development Group. Nine mid-level managers from the health system were screened from a pool of about 125 candidates representing a spectrum from administrative and clinical services. They were picked after a series of aptitude tests, interviews, and personal recommendations from their bosses that identified leadership traits, superior job performance, and communication skills.

Assisted by consultants from Princeton, NJ-based Caliper Corp., the nine managers were divided into four groups and each was told to create an "action learning project" around a real business directive: Expand the health system's market share. Following that straightforward directive, the managers identified four strategies: expanding primary care and specialty care services; improving inter-system access with a shuttle service; improving patient referrals within the health system; and improving disease management protocols.

While working closely with one another to develop their projects, group members got help from Caliper coaches to refine their leadership, communication, and organizational skills. For many in the group, the program marked first time in their professional careers that they were encouraged to see themselves as leaders, and to act the part.

"This program taught me how to develop business cases, how to facilitate more effective meetings, and how to do a better job gathering data as I approached the projects," says Kathi Schandelmeier, director of primary care practices, at CMHC, and one of the nine managers in the charter program.

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