Technical skills aren’t enough to effectively manage an organization-you need other skills they don’t teach in school.
It’s true that health executives require a broad range of technical and managerial skills. From poring over readmission rate data to dissecting the latest healthcare trends to a thorough knowledge of running day-to-day operations, health executives need to maintain a mountain of information to lead well.
But what if those skills aren’t enough? There are variety of skills they don’t teach in school that are also vital for your success. These 11 soft skills might seem out of reach for some-especially if they don’t come to you naturally-but they are, after all, skills. Skills can be learned over time with enough practice.
1. Problem solving
“Solving today’s complex healthcare challenges requires not only analytical skill, but also plenty of creativity and adaptability,” says Jennifer Carney, vice president of finance and analytics at Beth Israel Deaconess Care Organization. “For instance, about a year ago, we partnered with a vendor on a population health tool that applies predictive analytics to help us identify where the opportunities exist for improved outcomes. Gathering and integrating all the data this tool needs was a complicated process that involved revamping traditional methodologies (and mindsets) nearly every step of the way. If our leadership team wasn’t able to innovate-at the macro and micro level-we wouldn’t have progressed so far, so fast.”
“Listening is just a first step; leaders need to let their teams know that their input made a real difference; decisions were made or actions were taken that had a real impact on the business,” says Stewart Schaffer, managing partner and co-founder of CSuite Solutions, a national healthcare advisory firm. “Many leaders ask for feedback and then never incorporate it into the planning or decision making of the organization. Team members will see this as being insincere and will withdraw from providing their expertise to the organization.”
“There is an assumption that you have to be transactional to get results,” says Schaffer. “While that is true, it should not define or be at the center of a leader’s relationships with stakeholders. Leaders primarily need to focus on relationships-finding new ones and growing old ones. By being relationship focused, trust is built and the likelihood of producing win-win strategies dramatically improves. When a relationship is strictly transactional, it typically lacks the view and understanding to grow long-term with the organization. Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, and Warren Buffett all built their fortunes through relationships.”
Margaret Cary, MD, MBA, MPH, PCC, CEO at The Cary Group Global, a leadership coaching organization, says vulnerability with employees is key. Vulnerability, she says, is about “being transparent and being present,” which means the ability to communicate your own feelings and understand the feelings of others.
Vulnerability requires trust, and far from being a weakness (Cary says, “if you say vulnerability is a weakness, then feelings are a weakness”), vulnerability enables you to stay strong and stand on principles. “Vulnerability is about standing up for what you believe in,” Cary adds, “saying this is what I stand for.”
“To be successful in value-based contract arrangements, the clinical side and the financial side have to work together as one team … [with] a shared vision, mutual respect, and plenty of open and ongoing communication,” says Carney.
“Several years ago, our senior leadership team collaborated on ways to restructure our teams to better work … creating and disseminating actionable data to our practices. The data integration team ensures the accuracy of the clinical data aggregated from across our varied network. The data then becomes available to the medical economics and performance analytics team to evaluate and analyze. Focused reporting with clear directives can then be communicated out to the practices. This work flow depends on constant communication and teamwork.”
“It is imperative that leaders communicate effectively,” says Debbie Ritchie, managing director in Huron’s Studer Group business. “It means being clear about the why so others can better understand the reason for taking action. When we lead with the why, the what and how is more meaningful. To be an effective communicator it’s not only about what you’re saying, but also that you’re actively listening. Leaders that are not good communicators can struggle expressing their ideas and create confusion among employees and stakeholders.
“Whether managing through change or driving better alignment across your organization, good communication helps gain the trust and confidence of your team and can lead to better employee engagement and outcomes.”
“By fashioning oneself as being curious and constantly learning, a leader will project a powerful message of humility and transparency,” says Schaffer. “Leaders who ‘know it all,’ ‘have all the answers,’ ‘has been doing XYZ for 25 years’ close themselves off to new ideas, solutions, technology, etc. They also suppress the creativity and motivation of the people they lead.”
8. Time management
“Healthcare leaders must be self-aware, so that they understand, at a personal level, which time management techniques work best for them,” says Carney. “One of my first responsibilities [at BIDCO] was to establish a performance analytics and medical economics team. Because I was simultaneously managing a myriad of other new responsibilities, getting this initiative off the ground required disciplined time management. I relied on setting goals to keep me accountable to myself along the way. Another technique I employ is delegating tasks whenever appropriate. This is great to keep yourself focused on your highest priorities and provides an opportunity to create learning opportunities and stretch goals for my team members.”
“Humility is often an overlooked skill,” says Ritchie. “No one enjoys admitting that they are wrong, and it takes a humble person to take responsibility. It is important for leaders to learn from their mistakes, to listen to others’ ideas, to collaborate and to be able to adapt based on their learnings. When a leader is known to lack in humility, they tend to overreact during conflict and may refuse to apologize or accept responsibility, even if they are wrong.
“The most effective leaders are humble, creating an environment where they can take responsibility and fostering a culture where employees can ask questions and provide feedback to better the organization.”
“Leaders must believe in and create an environment of accountability or the organization will suffer,” says Schaffer. “I personally believe in equal opportunity, but do not believe in equal outcomes. Everyone doesn’t win when a game is over in the business world. So, while people are encouraged to apply their intelligence, skills, and energy to move the organization forward, there must be equitable ways to measure performance. Those whose performance is exemplary should be well-rewarded. Those who are holding the organization back should be offered a period time for remediation to determine the future opportunities there are or are not with the organization.”
“As care delivery models grow in complexity, healthcare leaders need to know how to exert their influence and be persuasive while simultaneously respecting other viewpoints and working toward mutually agreeable solutions,” says Carney.
“Value-based care models depend heavily on achieving quality measures and health outcomes, and there’s a lot of negotiation that goes into determining which data to use and how it can flow into the system in a meaningful way. ... It’s imperative that healthcare leaders have strong interpersonal skills to build a rapport with colleagues, key stakeholders, and vendors and to resolve disagreements. Without strong negotiation skills, stakeholders can be left feeling as if they fell short of getting what they needed.”