Opinion: Reflections on four decades in the healthcare C-suite

I will be retiring later this year, after nearly 42 years as a healthcare executive. At the beginning of this journey, I had no idea what peaks and valleys lay in front of me. Now, after decades of always looking ahead, I am looking back—to reflect on the many lessons I’ve learned about leadership and myself.

The most important leadership lesson is to never forget where you came from. As someone with a modest background, my first healthcare position was as an orderly—one of the most physically demanding jobs in a hospital. That first role taught me the importance of every single member of the healthcare team. It grounded me in the nature of our work: hard, sometimes physical, often emotional, but always humbling in the way we impact the lives of those we care for and serve.

Another important leadership lesson is about managing and accepting change. Our business is always evolving, and many times we hear that the world is ending. Remember diagnosis-related groups? They were going to doom the industry. The same was often said of managed care and healthcare reform. And before my time, it was Medicare.

But those naysayers are never right. Successful leaders accept such changes and lead toward them, not away. Confident leaders see the possible opportunities involved and create a vision for their organizations to not only survive, but thrive. Change is constant, and as managers, we must modify our leadership style and grow accordingly.

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The industry will continue to change, sometimes at a dizzying speed. It is our responsibility to adapt in the way that most benefits our patients and communities.

Our business is all about service, for people and by people. Selecting, managing, coaching and developing people on our teams is critical work. Bringing out the very best in them—playing to their strengths and helping them overcome their challenges—is a win for everyone. I am blessed to have had some wonderful mentors over the years. As a result, I have spent my career paying it forward and helping others hone their talents. There is nothing more rewarding than seeing one of your team members get tapped for a larger and even more meaningful role.

Now let me pivot, look to the future and share my thoughts on where we are headed. As I noted earlier, while change is never the end of the world, it actually might be the end of the world as we know it. We face unprecedented pressures: Rising labor costs and shortages, inflation, disruptive technology and new players entering the industry all the time. Combine those with the long-term impact of COVID-19, mental health issues exacerbated by the pandemic, the crisis caused by gun violence, and the effects of climate change, and you have an uncharted landscape. Unlike most other businesses, we are not able to just increase our prices in response to these cost pressures with either private or governmental payers. I think it’s going to be a rough ride for a few years, and it won’t be for the faint of heart. But it will force us to be more efficient, focused and creative in doing our work differently and less expensively, while leveraging technology and clinical innovation.

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