Top Four Pieces of Advice for Health Execs from Executive Coaches

August 8, 2018

When you are at the top or close to the peak in the leadership hierarchy, sometimes it’s hard to get proper advice. After all, with rank comes power, and many of your colleagues may be unwilling to speak the truth because they are protecting their own interests.

When you are at the top or close to the peak in the leadership hierarchy, sometimes it’s hard to get proper advice. After all, with rank comes power, and many of your colleagues may be unwilling to speak the truth because they are protecting their own interests.

Here are some valuable tips from executive coaches that will help any healthcare executive succeed.

1. Build resiliency muscles

Resiliency is a catch phrase in many workplaces today, particularly in the healthcare arena because of the inevitable challenges in the work. More than ever, healthcare executives need to thrive through change and make peace with the unknown.

Carol Vernon, certified executive coach with Communication Matters, an executive coaching and training company in Washington, D.C., says in the high stakes world healthcare executives live in, the need to build strong “resiliency muscles” is absolutely necessary.

“We all know a few of those people who sail through tough times more easily than the rest of us,” she says. “This means they show up better-often projecting more calm and confidence in the face of uncertainty and adversity than those who allow the stresses of work and life to impact their presence.”

Executives may also be juggling multiple priorities: trying to balance work, family, friends, hobbies. And they often are dealing with complex work issues and relationships, realities of time constraints, unrealistic expectations, limited resources, and limited control on the outcomes.

“My advice is to take time to focus on building resiliency by identifying and focusing your energy on those things that you have control or influence over, rather than things or situations out of your control, and accept circumstances that cannot be changed,” Vernon says. “Nurture your relationships and rely on others for support during times of stress and adversity, both at work and home, and protect yourself from work and personal relationships that drain you, and ultimately, reduce joy and pleasure in your life.”

Resiliency can dramatically impact your executive presence. If you allow the stresses of your work to impact your health and well-being, this will lead to poor concentration and lack of focus, anxiety, impaired decision making, lack of creativity, and self-doubt.

2. Concentrate on development needs

Most executives in healthcare carry hefty loads that are often too heavy to bear alone. Carrie A. L. Arnold, PhD, principal coach and consultant of Denver-based The Willow Group, says it is difficult for many leaders who find themselves in executive roles and still wrestle with basic leadership issues, as it is hard for them to ask for help as there is an assumption they should know things by now. 

What happens is these leaders become great champions and supporters of development opportunities for their direct reports and emerging leaders, but they sacrifice their own development needs. 

“They should not scrimp on their own needs for success,” Arnold says. “They should maintain mentors, work with coaches, be part of communities of practice, and above all else, have a strong network of friends who are also executives. They need to have a shared context with their network of support.”

Arnold has worked with numerous executives who have admitted they have few friends, something she especially finds true with women execs.

“They need to ensure they are feeling connected, as the absence of this will create stress creep that jeopardizes their self-care and efficacy as leaders,” she says.

3. Adopt a ‘general manager mindset’

Gone are the “old school” days when an executive was solely responsible for the profit-loss of their silo. No longer does running successful projects simply called for managing by checklists and repeatable processes. That’s why Ted Beasley, lead instructor for Emergent Execs, Austin, Texas, says strong leaders need to develop a general manager (GM) mindset.

“The profile of the modern general manager is shifting due to the speed of change and the interconnectedness of business units in healthcare,” he says. “The GM mindset of that past required healthcare execs to excel in long-term strategic planning, aligning people around priorities through positional power, using metrics to manage, and getting the systems and process right.”

While those skills will always be needed, the application of them is changing due to digital transformation, the unpredictable regulatory environment, the collaborative nature of the new economy, and modern technology. More and more today, Beasley notes, success is determined by one’s ability to adapt to the uniqueness of every project; embrace ambiguity to drive innovation and process improvement; exercise influence and collaboration in a matrix environment; and be more reflective about what type of leadership required in each situation.

4. Put people in the right jobs

“Get the right people on the bus!” Liz Callahan, executive and team coach for Full Spectrum Coaching, Concord, California, explains this means having people in positions who you have the highest level of trust and confidence in, in terms of an ability to execute in their jobs.

The problem she has found in the healthcare space is many C-suite exes spend too many hours doing things that aren’t part of their job. A lot of this is oversite-checking in, monitoring, second guessing, reviewing what someone has done, and while important, she notes this is not what they were hired for and leads to burnout.

“Get the right people that you are confident in so there’s not a need for constant oversite and second guessing,” Callahan says. “When you can do that, you can stop doing their jobs and start doing yours.”