For decades, U.S. hospital administrators and medical professionals have operated within a challenging, rapidly changing, and fragmented healthcare system. Today, this environment is even more complex as healthcare reform and market forces transform the way healthcare is delivered and managed.

To help our healthcare clients better understand and focus the development of leaders, CCL analyzed leadership effectiveness data from nearly 35,000 people working in the field.

The goal of the study was to answer 2 important questions:

  1. What leadership competencies are most important for healthcare sector organizations?
  2. How well do healthcare sector leaders perform those competencies?

3 Key Findings of the Healthcare in Leadership Study

1. The top priority for leadership development in the healthcare sector is to improve the ability to lead employees and work in teams. This finding speaks to the importance of creating an organizational culture of collaboration.

Leaders in healthcare organizations generally should develop a more participative management style, improve their ability to build relationships and lead teams, and learn to deal more effectively with problem employees.

2. Healthcare organizations also need to create strategies to provide current and future leaders’ broad, cross organizational experiences, and learning. Healthcare leaders have gaps in several areas that are essential for learning and long-term success: having a broad functional orientation, self-awareness, and career management.

Organizational training and development, succession planning and individual feedback, coaching, and development efforts should address these gaps. This supports what CCL has been hearing from hospitals about the need for their employees to be able to work effectively across boundaries and communicate more effectively.

3. Healthcare leaders have important strengths, too. The ability to adapt to change and to meet business objectives are strong points for healthcare leaders. They’re resourceful, straightforward and composed, fast learners, and willing to “do whatever it takes.”

These findings show that healthcare organizations have a pool of adaptable and committed leaders – a powerful asset in today’s complicated world.

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Healthcare in Leadership: Identifying the Gaps

Our research shows that leaders and managers in the healthcare sector are skilled in important areas such as adapting to change, meeting business objectives, and being resourceful. They’re reported to be straightforward, quick studies, comfortable to be around, and skilled at dealing with individual differences. However, healthcare managers and leaders fall short in several crucial areas.

The study showed the skill ranked by respondents as most important for success in the healthcare sector – the ability to lead employees – rated lower than 14 other competencies in terms of leader performance. Healthcare leaders put a high value on the ability to lead others, yet there is notable room for improvement in how leaders perform in this competency.

Healthcare leaders were also rated lower in performance on related high-value abilities – confronting problem employees, building and mending relationships, and participative management.

Balancing Individual Development and Culture Change for a Successful Healthcare in Leadership Strategy

The most successful healthcare organizations create a leadership strategy that builds essential skills and behaviors of individual leaders AND invests in its culture. Culture, in concert with the business strategy, drives outcomes. Through a culture of collaboration, people throughout the organization can develop a full spectrum of capabilities required to lead into the future.

In uncertain times, healthcare companies cannot afford to pour resources into generalized leadership development, hoping that somehow they will end up with the “right” outcomes. Yet, they know leadership talent and technical expertise are necessary to meet the population’s healthcare needs, manage operations, and find innovative and effective solutions to complex challenges.

Well-targeted leadership development initiatives, then, are essential for success. Using CCL research as a starting point, healthcare organizations have the opportunity to reassess their organizational leadership capabilities and begin focused efforts to develop leaders and create a culture of collaboration.

6 Collaborative Leadership Practices that Will Transform Healthcare Organizations

CCL has developed a model that focuses on 6 essential organizational capabilities — along with key leadership practices — that foster collaboration and are essential for success in this new world order of healthcare.

Organizations that develop a leadership strategy and culture that develop these 6 capabilities will gain a competitive advantage:

1. Collaborative Patient Care Teams. While collaboration is important throughout the hospital, it is especially important at the patient interface. The ability to ensure patient care is determined not only by technical expertise, but also by the leadership effectiveness of all those involved in solving the presenting medical issues.

2. Resource Stewardship. In an age of increasing accountability, resource stewardship is both a big-picture, system-level obligation and a series of daily decisions. Hospitals need both patient-focused business professionals and business-minded clinicians.

3. Talent Transformation. Leaders of healthcare systems need to hire and develop talented individuals who can see the next wave of plausible solutions and innovations and lead transformational change. As part of a well-articulated business strategy, healthcare organizations need comprehensive strategies for identifying, hiring, developing and retaining leadership talent.

4. Boundary Spanning. The most pressing challenges in hospitals and health systems cannot be solved by one person, one specialty or one organization. They require expertise, ideas and support from multiple perspectives and stakeholders. Healthcare leaders must develop the ability to bridge departmental, cultural, organizational, and industry divides and lead across traditional boundaries.

5. Capacity for Complexity, Innovation, and Change. Healthcare leaders must navigate a continuous whitewater. While influencing, monitoring and responding to unfolding change, they must respond to demographic shifts in the workforce and among patients; technological advances; the tumultuous nature of employee relationships, insurance and reimbursement processes; and current regulatory practices. Effective leaders help move people from old established processes to new models of effectiveness.

6. Employee Engagement and Well-Being. Why are employee engagement and well-being leadership issues? Both impact the very mission of a healthcare organization. For example, research on healthcare effectiveness suggests that quality of care is positively influenced by nurses being satisfied with their jobs and feeling empowered in their roles. Without a proactive focus on employee engagement and well-being, the challenges of the next few years also have the potential to create new levels of burnout within the rank and file. Healthcare organizations cannot afford to let patient care suffer due to lack of ideas, skills, time, and talent.

Read our white paper Physician Leadership Development: The Foundation of Health System Transformation, and learn how physician leadership development can be a starting point to solve the challenges faced by the healthcare industry.

Delivering a Collaborative Leadership Strategy for Healthcare

We believe that collaborative leadership in healthcare is necessary for overcoming challenges that the system now faces. Collaborative leadership means the distribution and allocation of leadership power to wherever capability, expertise, and motivation sit. The responsibility of leadership is shared by each and every member of the organization.

A collaborative healthcare in leadership culture requires new mindsets, not just new skills. These take time to develop. Many healthcare organizations have focused their development efforts only on individual leader competencies. For sustainable change, they need to advance both individual and collaborative leadership mindsets. Making the shift to collaborative leadership in an organization requires strategic implementation.

Developing and implementing an effective collaborative leadership strategy comes in 3 phases: Discovery, Design, and Delivery.

  • The Discovery phase involves collecting data and intelligence about the strategy, vision, mission, future challenges, political context and opportunities for the organization. This process enables organizations to identify the leadership capabilities required to face the future and the gap between current and required future capabilities.
  • The Design phase involves identifying required leadership capabilities for individual and collaborative leadership and the means to acquire, develop, and sustain those capabilities.
  • The Delivery phase involves elements from organizational and individual leadership development alike, targeting culture, systems and processes, as well as leadership development in synchrony.

In a time when many healthcare leaders are overloaded and uncertain, they may find assurance in knowing that when organizations strengthen leadership, they begin to pry loose some of their most intractable, resistant problems and uncover new directions, solutions, and opportunities.

Collaborative leadership has the power to transform hospitals and healthcare organizations, improving the system today and for the future — to the benefit of patients, families, and caregivers.

Ready to Take the Next Step?

At CCL, we bring 50 years of experience partnering with top healthcare providers to achieve transformational change, organization-wide. The experts in our healthcare practice can partner with you to provide maximum learning and growth for your healthcare leaders at the individual, team, and system level.

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