“Timeless Truths”

NCHL to promote leadership development that works whatever future  holds
By Andrew Garman and Christy Harris Lemak

This article was originally published May 2, 2011 MODERN HEALTHCARE.   It is reprinted here with permission.

Leadership development in healthcare has progressed considerably since 2001, when the National Center for Healthcare Leadership was first established. From the classroom to the C-suite, healthcare has increased its uptake of evidence-based practices. Leadership development that is clearly tied to strategic objectives, such as higher-validity hiring and promotion systems,
performance calibration and the implementation of leadership academies, are now providing great results for many hospitals and systems. And the NCHL, through the support of foundations, corporate sponsors, our volunteer board of directors, members of our Leadership Excellence Networks, graduate demonstration projects and our many other stakeholders, has been proud to play
a role in helping raise awareness of these practices across the field.

As we celebrate our 10th anniversary, the journey continues. Despite the efforts and achievements to date, the burning question remains: Are our leaders today being adequately prepared for the challenges they will face in the coming years?

Recent realities challenge the industry’s forward progress on two fronts. Many organizations are struggling to find the resources to invest in our leaders’ development. And even when those resources can be secured, how do we develop leaders for the future when we don’t know what that future is going to look like?

The NCHL focuses on leadership as the key driver of transformational change in healthcare. But from our perspective, leadership
development is not a transaction (i.e., a service that is delivered by a developer to someone being developed), but rather a process that involves learners developing their skills so they will be more effective—no matter what the future holds. Think of leadership development like water: Our task is less to “turn on the spigot” and more to guide the water that’s already flowing in the directions that will be most effective.

Where do we look for resources to invest in leadership development? If resources are a barrier, turn the question on its head: “How would I develop leaders if I had no resources to invest?” The answer is to find out where leadership development is already taking place in your organization and seek ways to make that development more effective.

For example, many organizations want to improve the business literacy skills of their clinical leaders. An organization can begin by identifying clinical leaders with the strongest business skills and find out how they developed these skills. Who are the natural mentors already at work in your organization?  How could you give these individuals a broader audience? Can leadership development be integrated with solving current clinical and strategic issues through case studies or other activities that bring together experienced and new leaders in a structured way? Pursue these questions, and you can be on your way to fortifying leadership development within your organization without even asking the resource question.

As we move forward, NCHL will expand our efforts to identify and share best practices—including ways of keeping the leadership development flowing despite resource limitations.

How do we develop leaders for the future when we don’t know what that future is going to look like? This question brings to mind another helpful philosophy: “Embrace the mystery.” There are some things about the future we simply cannot know. So, if planning is a barrier, try removing that altogether and ask, “How would I develop leaders if I didn’t know what the future looked like?” Under such conditions, your best approach is to identify some timeless truths and develop leaders against those truths.

What do we know about leadership that can be applied regardless of what the future holds? Using an evidence-based approach, we can identify many truths. For one, we know we will be challenged to deliver better care with fewer resources. So a focus on performance metrics and continuous improvement is here to stay. We also know that improving population health will require
many disciplines working in close harmony. Thus, interdisciplinary collaboration and teamwork will be key competencies. And certain leadership skills are not bound to specific environmental conditions. For example, how can your organization support skill development so leaders at all levels effectively listen, respond, reassure, train and reward others?

Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, we know the coming years are going to have more than their share of challenge and stress. Research is very clear about the greatest sources of job stress: role conflict, role uncertainty and role overload. We also know that the most potent buffers to stress are supportive relationships, a deeply felt sense of personal accomplishment and a sense of optimism about the future. The most effective leadership development efforts, then, will cultivate all of our leaders’ abilities to provide these remedies.

As the NCHL begins the second decade of its work, we will continue our focus on helping organizations make their own journeys toward leadership excellence, by focusing on building the leadership development evidence base and disseminating high-value resources and success stories. Regardless of what the next few years hold, we see a bright future for healthcare in the U.S., and we look forward to continuing this journey with you.

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About Andrew Garman

Chief Executive Officer, NCHL; Professor, Health Systems Management Department, Rush University

2 responses to ““Timeless Truths””

  1. Diane Simmons says :

    I couldn’t agree more. As we look at our member needs in these turbulent times, many keep looking for the “magic bullet” that will make the path crystal clear for leaders in healthcare finance. However, most will agree that authentic leadership skills driven by a values-based center will be the most adaptable over time. We’re seeing an increased desire to learn from “best practices”, case studies and perhaps more importantly, “lessons learned”.
    It is a challenging and envigorating time to be engaged in healthcare leadership.

  2. Regina B. Gervin says :

    I could not agree more that future leadership development should be through case studies and best practices. Case in point, laws were written based on historical events. Therefore, I think future leaders can build on a foundation that already is in place rather than build on a foundation that does not exist.

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