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Analysis

5 Basic Traits a Healthcare Leader Needs to Succeed

By Steven Porter  
   August 26, 2019

It's not just about what an executive has accomplished, says Yale New Haven Health's long-time leader. How the exec has treated people along the way matters, too.

This article appears in the July/August 2019 edition of HealthLeaders magazine. It is a sidebar to the cover story, "Staying Power: How CEOs Can Lead Through Uncertainty."

Yale New Haven Health CEO Marna P. Borgstrom, MPH, says her senior leadership team has done a lot of work thinking through what leadership looks like.

Beyond having a curriculum vitae that checks off the right list of "experience" boxes, healthcare CEOs need to exhibit a set of traits. It's not just about what candidates have accomplished; it's also about how they accomplish those things, including how they treat people along the way, Borgstrom says.

"In our system, our leadership team defined five basic attributes for a successful healthcare leader," she says.

1. Lead with humility
 

Whenever she goes to the team with a new initiative or direction, Borgstrom says she speaks with confidence but tempers her message with an acknowledgement that some of her decisions over the years will inevitably be wrong. A leader must be able to cast a strong vision while remaining humble and introspective, correcting course and requesting help as needed, she says.

2. Drive alignment
 

"Figure out how to create a common vision among enough people so that you can bring teams together and really get meaningful work done as a team," Borgstrom says. "No one person, no matter how smart, gets it done alone."

3. Be courageous
 

"You have to be willing to go out on a limb, not always be the person who says only brilliant correct things," she says. "Be courageous, but if you balance that courage with humility, you'll probably do very well."

4. Support innovation
 

Get people comfortable enough to propose ideas that may not work, even if 80 of them are duds and only three stick to the wall, Borgstrom says. "If people get comfortable that there isn't one way to do things, you can get a lot more enthusiasm for what you're doing."

5. Collaborate meaningfully
 

Don't just pull a team together to advocate for your position as though you already know precisely what the end result should be, Borgstrom says. "Really engage people because the value of getting people who are really invested in getting something done and who work together to get something done generally deliver a better product."

Cover Story: Staying Power: How CEOs Can Lead Through Uncertainty

Steven Porter is an associate content manager and Strategy editor for HealthLeaders, a Simplify Compliance brand.

Photo credit: Marna P. Borgstrom, MPH is CEO of Yale New Haven Health in Connecticut (Julie Bidwell/Getty Images)

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