General Colin Powell once said, “Great leaders are almost always great simplifiers, who can cut through argument, debate, and doubt to offer a solution everybody can understand.” It’s no secret that effective leaders are often good communicators—able to motivate, encourage, and inspire others. But that’s not all. Great leaders are also adept at listening, learning, analyzing, adapting, pivoting, problem-solving, teaching, and training. 

With over 30 years of experience in healthcare administration, I currently serve as president of St. Joseph Mercy Ann Arbor and Livingston hospitals in southeast Michigan. However, my career first began in clinical operations with strategic leadership responsibilities, specifically in ambulatory services and physician practices.

As a longtime SHSMD member and a past board member (2000–2007), I have high regard for the healthcare strategy disciplines of planning, marketing, business development, public relations, and communications, and an appreciation for the value they bring to their organizations. And as a hospital administrator, I also have insight into what senior executives need from strategists in today’s environment, and what they’re looking for when hiring (and promoting) strategy leaders for their teams.

Based on my experiences, as well as key takeaways presented in SHSMD’s newly updated Bridging Worlds: The Future Role of the Healthcare Strategist report, here are six tips for strategy professionals looking to advance in their careers.

  1. Imagine what is possible. Chief executive officers and other members of the C-suite live in a whirlwind of daily demands and tend to be more “in the moment” and focused on clinical and operations priorities. We look to strategy professionals within our organizations to help us create and maintain a culture of “possibility thinking,” which looks at how-to solutions. Anticipate barriers, ask proactive questions, and propose strategies to overcome challenges and move an organization to action. Of course, practical experience is imperative as it enables strategists to link recommendations to real-world issues and challenges. Flexibility is also key in our layered, matrix-structured environment. Lead with a balance of being nimble, think on your feet, adapt to new ideas, and have a willingness to compromise when needed. 
  2. Help us see the big picture. We have plenty of roles and leaders who focus on internal issues. Help us focus on external opportunities, understanding the best practices happening in our field related to the challenges and choices we face. Share how those outside our field are addressing similar situations. And help us discern how we can use this knowledge strategically to better meet the needs of consumers. Drive our cultures to be more focused on learning and innovating. We need stimuli to push our boundaries, and strategists are ideally suited to be drivers and thought leaders. Ensure we are listening to the voice of consumers, patients, and their families. Encourage diversity in your team’s thought, approach, and delivery to maximize the relatability and applicability of our services to the various generations we treat. Help our organizations focus on the big picture, communicating the strategic direction rooted in our mission, vision, and values. Help others within the organization to understand the “why,” and engage them in strategy development and execution.
  3. Identify new tools to collect, interpret, and communicate information. Today’s healthcare consumers expect evidence-based medicine, so as leaders we need to incorporate strategies using the latest data and outcome measures, and provide options that support recommendations. Strategists must be skilled at identifying meaningful data sources and tools, analyzing and integrating information, and communicating insights to improve the organization’s decision making—and monitor ongoing success.
  4. Facilitate conversations and drive decisions forward. CEOs are looking for team members who can be objective and open to differing viewpoints and creative approaches. Demonstrate an ability to collaborate with others—both internally and externally—to build relationships, facilitate dialogue, and create trust that leads to developing shared opportunities. Be concise and focused on processes and language. Senior leaders relate and react to multiple constituencies and stakeholders. Be able to articulate the vision, market trends, and potential strategies in a manner that engages others. Develop action plans that move the organization forward toward achievement of the vision—building in measurement systems to help the organization quickly recognize the need for adjustment or repositioning. Be persistent in keeping the organization focused on proactive strategy development, while having empathy and respect for day-to-day operational realities. When it comes to communications, be transparent. Build trust by saying what you mean and following through on promises. Understand the issues facing your community that prevent patients from being their healthiest, and help find solutions for them, possibly by engaging with other organizations that have expertise and can extend and strengthen that reach. 
  5. Respect and mentor others. As a CEO, I value leaders who treat each other with respect, who motivate their team members, and who are not looking to dominate—but rather strive to develop themselves and those around them. Of course, they must also know their craft. So, our chief financial officer better know how to count. Our chief lawyer better know the law. And our chief communications officer should be a skillful communicator. I also look for individuals with “emotional intelligence.” In other words, they are those who are focused on team dynamics and ensuring everyone around them feels heard. Simply put, they care. Somebody with emotional intelligence also possesses critical thinking and problem-solving skills. He or she has the power to listen, communicate, connect, and create trust. 
  6. Continue learning and evolving. Strategists need to evolve as fast—if not faster—than the external environment. To continue advancing in your career, always extend yourself. Be aggressive and assertive toward learning, but with a focus on servant leadership. Ask yourself: How can I contribute? How can I help? And, how do I add value? And always keep an eye on your organization’s mission and commitment to the community. 

 To learn more about the updated Bridging Worlds report, which features new insights about the future role of strategists in the ever-changing healthcare landscape, visit

This article is provided courtesy of the Society for Healthcare Strategy & Market Development of the American Hospital Association.