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Clinicians in the C-Suite

By Debra Shute  
   May 08, 2017

The power of pairs

A less-universally adopted element of the Mayo leadership model, despite Noseworthy’s routine advice to industry colleagues, is the concept of paired leadership.

The keys to a successful dyad partnership are trust, respect, and complementary skill sets, he says. When these elements are present, physicians and administrators can share open and honest feedback with one another, which Noseworthy considers essential.

And Noseworthy has no lack of praise for his own administrative partner, Jeff Bolton, Mayo’s vice president of administration and chief administrative officer. “He comes from a background as a CFO, and prior to that he was in the social sciences. So he has a very deep understanding of humanity,” Noseworthy says. “He’s a caring, concerned humanist and a fabulous partner.”

As part of their working relationship, Noseworthy and Bolton spend half of every workday together, speak daily, and run meetings together. “But we do see things differently,” he notes. “A business-minded administrator is going to see a problem with a slightly different lens than a physician scientist.”

Those complementary points of view are part of what make the dyad work, Noseworthy says. And should the partners reach an impasse, the culture of Mayo is one of consensus building. “That doesn’t mean decisions are unanimous, but we do err on the side of getting more input rather than less,” he says, referring to the committee structure of the organization.

“I’m very fortunate that I have a really good partner to help me,” Noseworthy says, “especially when I don’t know what to do or I have a bad idea.”

In a way, Hundorfean’s appointment of clinician leaders at AHN hospitals achieves a similar objective. “When I joined the organization, I recognized early on that to be a truly clinician-led, patient-centered health system, we needed more clinically trained executive leaders in place across the network to help guide our strategy and mission. As a healthcare executive, I have found that having the insights of experienced clinicians in the C-suite is essential to ensuring that decisions are always made with the best interests of the patient in mind.”

For example, Aoun was appointed to his new position in June 2016, and AHN got same-day appointments fully up and running in six months. Same-day appointments for PCPs were in place by October, and the specialty side was ready to go by January.

“It took a big team rowing in the same direction to accomplish that—but certainly, his leadership was one of the reasons we were able to move as quickly as we did. It’s an incredible accomplishment for that team, and for Dr. Aoun,” Hundorfean says.

“We’re also moving faster in the area of patient experience,” she adds. “With Dr. Patrick DeMeo leading that process, leadership has greater credibility among the physicians to make the changes we need to make. It’s easier for doctors to talk to other doctors.”

‘Barriers and baggage’

But while some administrative and physician partners can be seen finishing each other’s sentences, not all organizations that try the dyad model experience the same level of success, says Angood.

He says that the best partners actively work to complement each other’s capabilities. “When they work nicely as a team, that tends to permeate down into the rest of the leadership and certainly down into the management,” Angood says.

Debra Shute is the Senior Physicians Editor for HealthLeaders Media.

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