CHICAGO — We all know that health care has become something of an ever-changing, amorphous entity nowadays. Yesterday’s success in high admissions is tomorrow’s failure to coordinate care and keep patients out of the hospital.
The difference between leading a parade and getting run out of town is kind of slim, when you think about it, or at least Thomas Zenty, the CEO of University Hospitals in Cleveland, says. How are C-suites and their boards supposed to select the leaders of tomorrow’s health care in such an uncertain environment, and how can current chief executives display those skills themselves? Two hospital CEOs from different generations — baby boomer Zenty, along with 35-year-old Gen X chief exec Nicholas Tejeda, whom we recently interviewed — looked to answer those and other questions during a panel discussion at the ACHE Congress this week.
As a constantly in-motion CEO, Zenty has a hard time keeping up with health care literature during his day-to-day duties. So, he often brings a stack of journals and periodicals on which to catch up during trips. He ticked off a list of a dozen or so topics on which to bone up from the past few weeks — consumerism, population health management and patient engagement, just to name a few. That reading list is much different from what it was six or seven years ago when, in the throes of a major recession, hospital leaders were focused on cutting costs and weathering the storm, he told attendees. Most aren’t topics that boomer CEOs, and maybe even millennials, had a chance to cover in their formal education. To succeed in today’s market, leaders must stay abreast of the news and look to constantly reinvent themselves, Zenty believes.
“It’s not the strongest of the species that survives, nor is it the most intelligent," he says. “It’s those who are willing to adapt to change, and as we look at the change that we’re experiencing in our field today, it’s important for you to be leaders, to be well-read, and have the opportunity to engage in leadership education."
Many execs in the field seem to believe that their leadership teams are perfectly capable of facing this wave of change. Almost 70 percent of hospital and health system leaders last year expressed confidence that their senior management has the required skills to achieve the strategic priorities of today’s market, according to a report last year from the American Hospital Association and SpencerStuart. Talent gaps still exist, however, including experience with nontraditional partnerships, pop health management, change management experience, advanced financial expertise and data analytics.
Naturally, a CEO can't embody all of these different competencies, but they should surround themselves with a team possessing such expertise, says Jack Schlosser, an executive search consultant with SpencerStuart and moderator of the session. Leaders who will excel during this transition in health care need to up their skills, and have the ability to move away from silos, work together in teams, and think in a broader and more strategic fashion, he adds.
On the other end of the career spectrum, Tejeda, a just-starting-off CEO with Tenet’s 73-bed Doctors Hospital of Manteca, (Calif.) says hospital leaders should always stay curious in their careers and look around corners toward what’s next for the field.
“If we had all the answers, we wouldn’t need this Congress," Tejeda says. “All the answers aren’t out there. Ask questions. Status quo has never been as less acceptable as it is now."