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By Sarah C. Threnhauser, MPA

Earlier this week, OPEN MINDS chief executive officer Monica E. Oss, wrote about the major disruptors reshaping the health and human service market focused on complex consumers – new competition, new technologies, and new performance requirements driven by a payer focus on integration and value-based reimbursement (see Leadership Lesson #1 – Don’t Be Surprised!). There are many implications of this shifting market for executive teams, including the need for new leadership skills.

OPEN MINDS Senior Associate Robert Dunbar speaking at The 2017 OPEN MINDS Executive Leadership Retreat.

Key among these new leadership skills is the ability to collaborate – and not just with your executive team colleagues. Success in this market requires the ability to develop relationships beyond traditional organizational borders – with health plans, other provider organizations, referral sources, tech firms, banking organizations, educational institutions, staffing firms, and more. This is the stuff of meta-leadership (defined as the overarching leadership framework for strategically linking the efforts of different organizations) and was the focus of two sessions this week led by my colleague and OPEN MINDS Senior Associate Robert Dunbar at The 2017 OPEN MINDS Executive Leadership Retreat, Meta-Leadership In Action: Making Provider Organization Collaborations Work and Best Practices Meta Leadership: Framework for Leadership Effectiveness.

Mr. Dunbar explained that meta-leadership is a framework for moving beyond the silo mentality that often paralyzes health and human service management teams and moving toward a cooperative course of action based on strategic connections. At a minimum, leaders need to create an organization that can collaborate with other provider organizations, payers, vendors, legislators, and social services (see Thinking In Terms Of Meta Leadership and Meta-Leadership – A New & Tall Order).

How do you build these collaborative connections? There are four key facets of strategic connectivity:

  1. Leading down – This is the traditional leadership model that builds trust and commitment among employees to build a more sustainable organization that is positioned to compete in the market. “Leading down” is what most executives think about when they consider their skills as a leader.
  2. Leading Up – An executive isn’t only responsible for leading only their employees, they are also responsible to other stakeholders within their system. “Leading up” is about effectively influencing people you have some type of accountability to by keeping them informed, educating them about your market and your organization’s strategy, and communicating your plans. As an executive you are accountable to a wide mix of people and organizations in different capacities, including your board, your consumers, your payers, your community leaders.
  3. Leading across – In a market increasingly centered on integrated care coordination, “leading across” is more essential than any time before. In our market, executives must promote cross-system linkages by influencing and engaging stakeholders while also competing for resources. Working with leaders within the health care system can take different forms, from contracting with large health systems, accountable care organizations (ACOs), or health plans; to engaging with other agencies to better manage care for your consumers (housing programs, nutrition support, the education system, the corrections system, etc.).
  4. Leading beyond – Market disruption creates new opportunities for executives. Executive can’t be certain about where these opportunities may come from, so they need to build the capacity to identify mutually beneficial objectives in unexpected places, look for partners outside of the usual sphere of influence, and be prepared to leverage their assets to produce results. “Leading beyond” is centered on the idea that your organization must be open to considering external expertise and capacity, seeking to influence rather than exert power or authority.

What does this look like in action? This week, David Wawrzynek, Chief Financial Officer at Spectrum Health Services, will discuss some examples of how his team is building connectivity in their market. A couple of years ago, Spectrum, a certified community behavioral health center located in western New York, was faced with a new challenge in their market: They had the choice to become a health home lead agency and be responsible for agencies providing the health home services, or participate as a non-lead entity. To do this, the organization used the principles of connectivity. First, they “led down” by developing an internal workgroup to look at the pros and cons of each option. Once Spectrum decided to become a lead health home agency, they “led up” by engaging their board in the process. Then the organization “led across” by creating an inter-departmental implementation team in order to make sure the organization could meet all health home competencies. Finally, Spectrum had to “lead beyond” when the state suggested they partner with two other organizations to become a lead agency.

Organizations now need leaders who are willing and able to use their influence and connections to guide a cooperative course of action – one that extends beyond organizational boundaries – to succeed with organizational strategy. Developing meta-leadership competency in executive teams is the challenge of the next decade. For more on how to lead an organization through change, join us at The 2017 OPEN MINDS Technology and Informatics Institute for the session, “The Leader’s Challenge: Leading The Technology Imperative In A Provider Organization,” led by OPEN MINDS Senior Associate Jim Gargiulo.

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