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Are Healthcare Leadership Skills Different?

December 17, 2015

healthcare-leaderHealthcare is unique. The service delivery methodology is complex. The nature of the service, and of the “customers” are fundamentally different from a normal consumer situation. The organizational structure is unique and complex and we are dealing with several types of professionals and areas of expertise. Let’s not even talk about the payment structure and methodology! In many ways, it’s unlike any other industry and it’s been said that leading a healthcare organization is more challenging than any other.

With that in mind, then, are we looking for different leadership skills? We get this question a lot. We do thousands of executive assessments a year. Do senior healthcare executives show a different behavioral profile when compared to other industries? We administer tens of thousands of mid-manager and director-level behavioral assessments a year, for both selection and development, using our Select Assessment for Leader Development. Are these profiles different in healthcare? Generally, the answer is “no.”

In aggregate, when we measure the strengths and weaknesses of healthcare leaders, they align pretty closely with results from leaders in other industries.

For instance, Select Assessment for Leader Development measures:

  • Accountability
  • Adaptability
  • Coaching
  • Conflict Management
  • Delegating and Empowering Others
  • Initiative
  • Interpreting Information/Analysis
  • Managing Change
  • Motivating Others
  • Negotiation
  • Openness to new ideas
  • Performance Management
  • Positive Impact
  • Providing Feedback
  • Self Awareness
  • Social Awareness/Sensitivity
  • Working Collaboratively

We recently compared the results of over 200 managers/directors in a large healthcare system, to our normative database covering all industries. Overall there were only minor differences. Healthcare managers scored a bit higher than the norm in both Interpreting Information/Analysis, and Managing Change and a bit lower in Self Awareness. It’s hard to draw any conclusions from these differences, but frequently healthcare leaders would not be in their positions if they weren’t good at analyzing information, particularly in the clinical fields. Similarly, given the changes of the past decade, leaders would not survive long if they can’t manage change. At the same time, we see in some healthcare leadership teams a lack of Emotional Intelligence, including Self Awareness. This may be a reflection of a lack of focus on these skills in certain clinical fields.

Rather than comparing healthcare leaders to those in other industries, it’s more important to look at the results of individual leadership teams, and consider how they impact that organization’s challenges. We measure the same competencies. While in aggregate, there aren’t significant differences, what does matter is what competencies are critical to a particular organization.

For instance, we used SALD to help the senior team of an academic medical center. This group was facing a great deal of change – a re-organization, change of senior leaders, and a pending merger with another system. Everyone reported that the “troops” were nervous and that moral of the organization was low – at least partially due to how this senior team was communicating changes. Not surprisingly, this group, as a whole, scored low in Positive Impact. They are not naturally good at crafting and delivering a positive message in trying times and needed to change how they approach this challenge, given their natural weakness.

In another situation, senior leadership wanted to better understand the performance of their department chairs. Many were struggling to change their management style to match the new demands on the system, including working with the CMO and administration, on new ways to collaborate toward newly defined common goals. Not surprisingly, Select Assessment for Executives revealed that the group scored low in Openness to Feedback, Emotional Intelligence, Accountability and Holding others Accountable. These behavioral deficiencies were directly impacting the organization’s efforts. Armed with this information, the group understands their challenges and are adopting new approaches.

Another system is looking to fill key leadership roles. The organization is heavily invested in “lean” principles. While we measured the standard leadership competencies of candidates, our work with the system revealed that certain competencies are particularly important in this culture – including Adaptability, Openness to New Ideas and Social Awareness/Sensitivity. The current team values their style of open communication and respect for each other’s ideas. They are concerned about adding a team member who might struggle in this culture or be overly sensitive when their ideas are criticized.

The overall competencies we are looking for in healthcare aren’t different than other industries. What matters is which competencies are particularly important to a specific culture or the specific operational challenges facing the organization.

Given the nature of the challenge facing hospital administration, from mid-level managers to the C-Suite, it’s important to both select the right candidate, and for the current team to have a thorough understanding of their individual, and the group’s strengths and weaknesses – and to see the direct connection to organizational performance.

To learn more, see our free whitepaper:

leadership healthcare

Bryan Warren Bryan Warren is the President of J3 Personica, a consulting, assessment, training, and coaching firm, and a guest blogger for PSI. Bryan is an expert in progressive talent strategies, with a particular focus on leader and physician selection and development.