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The New Leaders

Edward Prewitt, for HealthLeaders Media, March 13, 2013
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This article appears in the March 2013 issue of HealthLeaders magazine.

Of all the big issues facing healthcare organizations, leadership development is the least pressing but arguably the most important. Leadership skills are requisite beyond the CEO's office, particularly in an era when demands for change press on all functions and levels. An executive roundtable at the HealthLeaders Media CEO Exchange, held last fall at The Lodge at Torrey Pines in La Jolla, Calif., discussed leadership development programs for executives and physicians alike, the rise of new leadership competencies, and sources of inspiration.

Some health systems, particularly large organizations with many leadership positions, have long recognized the importance of developing leaders from within. MemorialCare Health System, the six-hospital, $2 billion integrated delivery system in Southern California, has enrolled 20 business-side executives and physician leaders in dual "leadership academies" each year since 1997. CEO Barry Arbuckle, PhD, said, "Below the senior level, closer to the front lines, we spent a lot of time on leadership development. We've had MemorialCare Academy in place for 16 years. We also have now a physician leadership academy. … Those have been an enormous benefit for developing and grooming leaders in the company. If you look at who has been promoted over the last 15 years, you can draw a direct line right back to the academy."

But the leadership requirements for healthcare organizations are shifting with the advent of new payment structures and operational models. New competencies are needed to handle risk management, case management, and medical informatics. "I think leadership is changing rapidly," said Christopher Howard, president and CEO of SSM Health Care-St. Louis. "The ability of a physician to think like a CEO and to deal with the issues that are in front of the lay leaders on a daily basis—the balance sheets, the income statements, every other report and responsibility we have, the ability to grasp and understand that and see a holistic picture—is going to be key for physician leaders of the future."