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07 Top Leadership Teams: The Traits of Winning Leadership

Philip Betbeze, for HealthLeaders Magazine, December 13, 2007
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Healthcare leans on its individuals. Superstar CEOs clog the speaker's circuit--some so often that you wonder who's really running those top-notch organizations behind the scenes.

Not so the HealthLeaders Media Top Leadership Teams winners for 2007. Such leaders are characterized by the fact that they are "ambitious for the organization, not for themselves," says Gordon Clark, former president and CEO of the Governance Institute, and a judge for the fourth annual contest. Winning leadership teams boast three basic characteristics, he says: They share a deep commitment to the organization and its mission, a sense of accountability, and a commitment to making results transparent not only when they're going well, but also when they're not.

Steve Simonin, CEO of Wright Medical Center, a 25-bed hospital in Clarion, IA, said his facility had to commit five years ago to a wholesale attitude adjustment. The Small Hospital category winner faced a difficult transformation from when the word on the street advised patients to "go there for the ER if you need to but then get the heck out of town," said Annette Odland, the hospital's clinical services leader.

"This wasn't all about me. It was about service and quality and bringing excellence to the patient," Simonin said. "At a small hospital like ours, you have friends and family working for you. Some of those people have to be let off the bus." Now the hospital is among the top 1 percent nationally on patient satisfaction and in the top 2 percent for employee satisfaction.

Brent Marsteller, CEO of Cabell-Huntington Hospital in Huntington, WV, leads a mid-size hospital that has to deal with a disproportionate share of patients with chronic health problems, yet is one of the state's most profitable hospitals. Marsteller, whose hospital won in the Community and Mid-Sized category, attributes those results not to his leadership or measurement of metrics, but to establishing a culture of accountability. "It's nice to measure, but it's better to act on it," he said. "Corrective action is essential."

Thomas Royer, MD, and Linda McClung attribute Christus Health's transformation from two troubled cultures to a well-oiled, purpose-driven organization to their leadership team's commitment to transparency. "We had really bad news [several years ago]," said McClung, the senior vice president for communications for the winner in the Large Hospitals category. "But we said we have to communicate our bad patient satisfaction and our losses to our 25,000-30,000 associates." At first, said Royer, Christus' CEO, "there was lots of pushback, but over time, they did see the benefit."

For Erickson Advantage Health Plan in Baltimore, the winner in the Health Plans category, establishing the true meaning of accountability has been a crucial component of the organization's success. "It used to mean we sit down with you once a year and review the goals set a year ago. If you reached the goals, great. If not, you made up a bunch of excuses," said Bruce R. "Rick" Grindrod, president. "But it doesn't work once a year. It's regular agreement on goals. Are they achievable? Are they driving to a bigger mission and vision of the organization?"

Fred Gaschen, executive vice president of the winner in the Medical Group Practice category, emphasizes that profitability is directly proportional to quality in his business at Radiological Associates of Sacramento. "In the end, if you're not profitable, you're gone," he said. "We like to think that we do provide the best-quality product. But we have to find out how we're not meeting the quality goals to get to that level."

Panelists
Christus Health, Dallas, TX:
Thomas Royer, MD, CEO
Linda McClung, senior vice president for communications, philanthropy and system services

Cabell-Huntington Hospital, Huntington, WV:
Brent Marsteller, CEO

Wright Medical Center, Clarion, IA:
Steven Simonin, CEO
Annette Odland, clinical services leader

Radiological Associates of Sacramento, Sacramento, CA:
Fred Gaschen, executive vice president
Narasimhachari Raghavan, MD, president and chairman

Erickson Advantage Health Plan, Baltimore, MD:
Bruce Sturm, senior vice president
Bruce R. "Rick" Grindrod Jr., president

-Philip Betbeze

Read more about the 07 Top Leadership Teams in Healthcare Annual Conference and Awards

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