What Skills Do CEOs Need to Be Successful Today?

HealthLeaders Media Staff, October 17, 2008

I'm in Chicago today at our Top Leadership Teams in Healthcare conference, so I thought it was only fitting to examine what traits and skill sets CEOs need to be successful in the current healthcare environment.

Although there are leadership traits that every CEO should possess—and these haven't changed all that much throughout the years—there are some skill sets that are more important today than they were 10 years ago. Recently, I asked healthcare CEOs and industry experts what skills are a must-have in today's healthcare environment. Here are the most common answers.

CEOs Need to Be Collaborative. This skill fits in nicely with our awards program, which celebrates teamwork in healthcare. But today's CEOs should also know how to collaborate beyond their hospitals' walls. Developing relationships with medical and nursing schools, governmental authorities, and key organizations and businesses in the community will be increasingly important. CEOs should also be open to building alliances with other providers, as well—yes, even with your competitors. These partnerships may be the best way to provide services to the greatest number of people in the community. They may also be the most economically responsible way to provide care. Unfortunately, collaboration isn't an ability that you can just pick up in management school. It's one of those competencies that you usually have to learn while on the job.

CEOs Need Technological Acumen CEOs don't have to be Bill Gates, but they can't be a Luddite either in today's healthcare system. There have been numerous technological advances both clinically and in the care-delivery process; for example, there is telemedicine, barcode technology, infrared and radio-frequency asset-tracking systems. Not to mention the push for electronic medical records. CEOs should be familiar with technology, so that they can discuss organizationwide issues and direct their IT department effectively.

CEOs Need to Be Visible. It has always been good practice to be involved with the community, walk the floors of the hospital, visit the physicians' lounge, and round on patients. And now more than ever CEOs should break free from the executive suites and be visible. In fact, some CEOs are finding that staff members don't just think it's nice that the CEO rounds, they expect the CEO to round. They want to be able to meet with the CEO regularly and express concerns, or at least know that he or she is out there learning the challenges that they encounter on a daily basis.

With the current financial crisis and tightening credit markets, healthcare organizations will likely be turning to their communities more frequently for capital to expand or renovate the existing plant or purchase that new MRI or CT scanner. Although today may not be the best time to ask for a donation, CEOs should still make sure that they are developing relationships with key members of the community.

CEOs Need to Be Political Advocates. As the feds become more involved in healthcare, it's crucial that CEOs are able to effectively advocate for their organizations to local, state, and federal legislators and regulators.

CEOs Need to Be a Negotiator. CEOs should hone their negotiating prowess so that they can secure better contracts with payers, and develop partnerships or service agreements with other providers that will be successful for their organizations long term.

CEOs Need to Be Creative. The healthcare paradigm is changing, and CEOs will have to adapt, act quickly, be decisive, and—dare I say it—think outside the box, if they are to not only survive but be successful in the years ahead.

Carrie Vaughan is leadership editor with HealthLeaders magazine. She can be reached at cvaughan@healthleadersmedia.com.

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