Six Ways Health Execs Can Advance Their Careers More Quickly

July 31, 2018

There’s nothing wrong with wanting to get ahead and move up the career ladder, but sometimes, healthcare executives have trouble advancing their careers the way they’d like. Here are some tips from top executive coaches.

There’s nothing wrong with wanting to get ahead and move up the career ladder, but sometimes, healthcare executives have trouble advancing their careers the way they’d like. Here are some tips from top executive coaches.

1. It’s not all about vertical movement

Healthcare organizations can be somewhat flat once you reach a director level, as there are often limited opportunities for upward advancement without leaving a place of employment, because those positions are already filled. 

Ted Beasley, lead instructor for Emergent Execs, Austin, Texas, says that before you start posting your resume online, you should consider two alternate paths for advancement.  

The first is horizontal-opportunities in other departments that can help you gain more valuable experience. For example, one of Emergent Execs’ clients hit a ceiling in her career, and the next level up on a traditional career path was CFO but her entrenched CFO was blocking that route. So, she opted to make a lateral move and helped transform the company through her efforts, gaining exposure in another area that she never would have otherwise.

“While you may not have some of the technical expertise required, your hard-won executive skills can make you an instant asset working in a different functional area,” Beasley says. “Sometimes you need to move sideways before you can move up.”

The other alternative is to gain exposure in a less formal way. For example, consider how you might grow your skills, or radiate your influence.

“Volunteer for a critical cross-functional project. Take on more of a training mindset. Get certified in some new skillset,” Beasley says. “All of these are ways to expand your influence, and when the company makes decisions about promoting from within, they often look at who has the most influence.”

2. Work on communication skills

When it comes to career advancement, Carol Vernon, an executive coach with Communication Matters, Washington, D.C., says the most important thing she recommends to healthcare executives is focusing on their communications skills.

“Too often, leaders wait until they are in executive roles to focus on building executive level communication skills,” she says. “I’d strongly recommend leaders focus on building next level communication skills now, including seeking opportunities to develop their formal presentations skills as well as their informal communications with their various stakeholders.”

To develop your communication skills, Vernon recommends you start by getting input from different stakeholders about what is working well in terms of how you are communicating both informally as well as in more formal presentations.

“Check to see if you are concise, contextualized, and clear,” she says. “Once you have the input, you can use traditional tools and training (such as courses, speaking opportunities, etc.) to grow specific skills, seek support from a colleague (perhaps a mentoring relationship) or work with an external coach.”

Communicating ideas clearly not only develops relationships but is a key indicator of longer-term potential for higher-level success.

3. Improve your team

When looking to move up the ladder, it’s important for an executive to have a team below them that is just as successful as he or she is.

“You will advance your career if you put the emphasis on advancing other people’s careers,” says Jim Vaselopulos, founder & CEO of Rafti Advisors, Inc., Chicago. “It’s not just about making your boss look good, it’s about building leaders. Your mindset shouldn’t be on just building your own career, but building the success of the people in the organization as a whole.”

Shifting your focus from own career to the careers of everyone, reaps benefits that will play out in career advancement.

4. Seek out a mentor

Carrie A. L. Arnold, PhD, principal coach and consultant with Denver-based The Willow Group, believes a great way for someone to advance their career is to find people in higher levels of leadership who will champion them and work with them to unleash their full potential. 

“Do not wait for someone to tap you on the shoulder with a request to join a formal mentoring program,” she says. “Seek out your next mentor and be willing to advocate for yourself.  Ask for time and attention and be willing to listen and learn.”

5. Develop your successor

Ironically, one of the primary reasons executives are not promoted is that they are indispensable in their current position. Beasley says that’s why it’s important to develop someone “on the bench” to replace you if you were moved to a higher role. 

“In order to get that promotion you want, your organization needs to be confident that they can backfill your responsibilities and competencies,” he says. “Identify the best candidates for replacing you in terms of their performance and potential. Make the time to fill in their gaps and prepare them for the day you move on.”

One company he worked with knew that their director of operations was their best internal candidate for replacing the CEO, yet the CEO stayed in that position for two additional years. The CEO’s reasoning? The director of operations was a lynchpin, and there was no one to replace him. 

“It took two years to hire and onboard a new operations exec before the new CEO could be promoted,” Beasley says.

6. Keep developing

An executive should never rest on laurels and feel they have nothing else to learn.

Arnold recommends people stay as current as possible on the issues facing their particular scope of work. This can be done by being involved in conferences, reading journal articles, and being part of peer groups that contribute to learning. 

“Do not stay isolated thinking you can learn things on your own,” she says. “The job will quickly take up all available space if things are not already blocked off and reserved for development needs.”