“Organization really doesn’t accomplish anything. Plans don’t accomplish anything, either. Theories of management don’t much matter. Endeavors succeed or fail because of the people involved. Only by attracting the best people will you accomplish great deeds.”
— Colin Powell

To have a high-performing organization, you must have the best people. On the other hand, to attract and keep great people, you must have a first-class organization. Where do you start? This is a serious challenge in health care—an industry in which, perhaps more than in any other, good people have become by far the greatest and most prized assets.

Healthcare and business environments today are complex, and leaders face profound demands and challenges. If you are in a leadership role in health care, you know how difficult it is to meet the clinical demands of patients, address the needs of staff, and at the same time drive success and prosperity in the organization. If you are a top executive or administrator, you may see your organizational leaders struggle to achieve these goals, even though you know that with a little guidance, they would be able to move forward and excel, creating a high-performing organization and an enviable workplace.

Getting to the Balance

Let’s say that you are an executive who sees one of your promising leaders struggling to get to that next level. Sometimes it seems that his efforts are having their intended impact and positive changes are taking place, but then at other times it seems that things are sliding back to what they were. You want to ensure that the leader is making the impact he intends and getting the results you need to see in your hospital or clinic, and you want positive momentum, change and improvement to continue to progress. How do you ensure that you get there? Is your leader just one more management course away from the answer? If you promote him or change his job description slightly, will it help make his management challenges go away?

It’s very unlikely. The power behind getting there is not the latest management theory—it is almost always found right there within the leader, waiting to be unleashed. They learn that they have the strengths and the drive within them to create the optimum organization.

In a recent presentation, retired Gen. Colin Powell hit the nail on the head. “Too often, people are assumed to be empty chess pieces to be moved around by grand viziers, which may explain why so many top managers immerse their calendar time in deal-making, restructuring and the latest management fad,” Powell said. “How many immerse themselves in the goal of creating an environment where the best, the brightest, the most creative are attracted, retained, and most importantly, unleashed?”

Enhancing the value of healthcare leaders, and unlocking the potential of good leaders who are facing challenges, is particularly important in a time when people are the greatest assets in health care. Leaders need to be able to create a harmonious, highly effective and stimulating working environment—one that people will want to come to, and one they will want to stay in once they are there.

Imagine a healthcare organization in which its leaders:

  • act as partners and treat others as partners
  • have excellent communication and listening skills
  • choose active leadership over passive behavior
  • use their voices for positive change
  • accept responsibility for their own thoughts and feelings
  • continuously improve their relationships and collaboration skills
  • act responsibly and accept accountability
  • think and plan strategically rather than tactically

Imagine how much more collaborative, motivated and productive the entire staff would be. Imagine how much the quality of care could improve and patient satisfaction could increase. And imagine what such an environment does for recruitment and retention.

It all starts with the leader, and the key to achieving the ideal workplace is developing effective leadership. Unleashing this potential benefits the hospital, clinic, medical practice or unit involved, because an organization excels only when its CEO, physician and nursing leaders and other executives are performing at their highest levels.

As a coach, if I’m called in to address a problem with a leader, we get clear right away on whether the coaching is for development or for outplacement. I am tapped more often when there is a great wealth of potential that needs to be unleashed for the benefit of an organization and we need to find the key to let it loose.

This often occurs when someone is making a job transition with a great increase in responsibility, or the always-difficult change from a clinical to a leadership position. We know that the professional edge in any healthcare organization is the successful transition of excellent clinical providers into successful leaders. This is especially vital in making that subtle but important shift in mindset from a physician who happens to be an executive to an executive who happens to be a physician.

A successful transition can completely transform the impact a physician leader has in the organization. In one case, a top hospital executive brought me in to help smooth the transition of his Vice President of Medical Affairs, who was struggling. Six months later, the executive told me that his vice president had become a star member of the executive team and had been able to craft a compelling vision for Medical Affairs, and then communicate that vision to the administrative and medical staff. He added that the work from our coaching relationship had resulted in a stronger team with a clear focus on quality.

This is the ultimate goal of leadership development—to improve the effectiveness and impact of good leaders for the benefit of the organization. But let’s not forget the effect on the individual—to be seen as a star player and feel like a key contributor to the executive team.

Again, as Colin Powell said, success isn’t about management theories and grand plans. It’s about great people doing great things. And how great people get there is always changing, especially as they move up and develop. As one of my clients said, “One thing I have learned is what gets you to your current level of success won’t necessarily take you to the next level of success.”

Leadership development coaching with LifeWork Solutions helps leaders in health care and business develop skills and techniques that will open the doors to creating more fulfilling work and a more meaningful life, which in turn will benefit the entire organization. An emergency department medical director recently commented, “Without your help it would have taken me years of trial and error to figure out what it has taken me only months to discover.”