Part 2: Strategic Alignment – The Science Behind NCHL’s 2013 National Health Leadership Survey

Every 2-3 years, NCHL conducts a national leadership development survey as part of ongoing efforts to strengthen the evidence base supporting these practices. If your hospital or health system did not receive an invitation to participate (or if you’re not sure but would like to participate), please contact Joyce Anne Wainio at

Deliberate practice

Research on virtuoso performance suggests that innate talent plays a limited role in determining who becomes a top performer. Instead, the top performers are those who clock the most hours of meaningful practice.

For readers interested in a highly accessible review of this work, I encourage you to pick up a copy of Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers: The story of successin which he cites many colorful examples as diverse as hockey leagues, software engineering, flight safety, and the turn-of-the-century garment industry.

But what about leadership?  Biographies of prominent CEOs provide some interesting clues.  Descriptions of the careers of Warren Buffett, Michael Dell, and Bill Gates all point to early experiences honing what eventually became their trademark approaches to building highly successful companies.  The same seems to be true for healthcare leadership, as revealed by a study published in 2010 of the backgrounds of top executives of U.S. News Honor Roll hospitals.

Several questions on the 2013 survey about programs designed to provide early careerists with formative experience in leadership roles.  A well-crafted administrative fellowship is a classic example of such a program; others, such as job rotations, action learning projects, and simulations, all can provide these critical opportunities for practice, both early on and throughout a leader’s career.

Although practice is critical, not all practice opportunities hold the same power to transform good leaders into great ones, and great leaders in to exceptional ones.  In our next post, we will focus on the types of experience with the greatest potential to accelerate the development process.

About Andrew Garman

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

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