“It’s all about the leadership.” I was at a board meeting last week and at the end of the day, this was the conclusion. Even with a lot of organizational assets, without the right leaders to “pick up the ball and run,” success was unlikely.
This leads to the inevitable question – how can a board of directors tell if they have the right leader? We’ve written a number of pieces about leadership competencies in the past. Defining Your Executives’ Critical Competencies, highlighted strategic planning and financial management as key competencies. Hiring A New Exec? Promote From Within Or Go Outside?, pointed out the importance of defining the goals of the job that is being filled, and then deciding between internal and external candidates. What To Look For In A C-Suite Executive In Health & Human Services, discussed change management and the use of data as critical competencies.
Given that we’ve done a lot of work on this issue of leadership, typically few leadership articles really hold my attention. But a recent Managed Healthcare Executive article, The Changing Face Of Healthcare Leadership, got me thinking about other interesting characteristics leaders need for success in a constantly changing market that is increasing competitive and consumer-driven. Their “leadership hit list” included:
- Leaders who are consumer-obsessed
- Leaders who can run profitable, customer-obsessed businesses
- Leaders who can minimize the “noise” about mergers
- Leaders who are willing to get uncomfortable
- Leaders with diverse backgrounds
What is interesting about this list is that it is less about the leader’s specific skills and more about the fundamentals of who leaders are.
“Consumer-obsession” is an interesting way to frame a leadership characteristic. But this isn’t the “customer care” of old – this is insisting on an organization that can deliver a great consumer experience, as defined by the consumer. The article referred to direct competition for consumers, using the example of clinicians competing with $35 video chats in one California health plan. But, a great consumer experience alone is not enough – it’s the executive who can take that competitively “fabulous” consumer experience and turn it into a profitable business that will take their organization to the next level (see Consumer Sovereignty As Success Strategy and Another Look At Consumer Sovereignty).
Then there is the “unflappable” part – leaders who can deal with the pressures of an ever-changing market, and manage the short-term while keeping their eye on the long-term prize. It is the ability to “get uncomfortable” and do something new – to be the disruptor instead of reacting to the disruption, and still manage the routine (see Making Change Happen – C-Suite Perspective and Managing Change in Today’s Chaotic Health Care Market). And, there is managing the pressures for rapid innovation and scale to maintain market share. The ability (and temperament) to create collaborations, partnerships, joint ventures, franchises, mergers, acquisitions, and more (see When ‘Being Acquired’ Is The Best Financial Move and Thinking In Terms Of Meta Leadership). It is “grace under pressure.”
The last item on the list – the “diverse background” issue – defies a long-standing taboo in health and human services. Do organizations always need a leader with long experience in health and human services? This is certainly what I hear over and over. Or is this a time where complementary leadership skills that have been honed in other fields is exactly what is needed? Do we hire the executives who have competed on “great consumer experience” and lead “disruptive responses” – those from retail or hospitality or financial services?
I read this list and thought that this is not the profile of most executives in health and human services and for obvious reasons. Just two decades ago, health and human service organizations were generally not competitive (in terms of services or geography); often viewed themselves primarily as an extension of government; and “noblesse oblige” defined their attitude toward the consumers they served. The rules of the game have changed and with it, the requirements of leadership have also changed. It is not practical for most organizations to recruit a small army of leaders from other fields (though sprinkling a few throughout your organization may not be a bad idea). What is practical is to develop a thoughtful plan to expand and develop the skills of their current leadership bench. And if it is “all about the leadership,” this should be high on your priority list for strategic success.
For more, please join me in Gettysburg on September 22 for my keynote session, “Preparing For The Meta-Leadership Marathon – Collaboration, Strategic Decisionmaking & Leadership Intelligence In A Time Of Transformation,” at The 2016 OPEN MINDS Executive Leadership Retreat.