The New Leaders of Healthcare


First posted on Educate the Young on 01/18/2013

David Mayer MD, Vice President of Quality and Safety for MedStar Health

Healthcare in the US is rapidly changing. We might not know exactly what healthcare will look like in 5-10 years but it definitely will be quite different from the model we have today. A good friend likes to say the “fee-for-service” model is a zombie…while it is still walking around, it is really dead and will be gone in the not so distant future. Quality, wellness and value are the terms we hear today and shareholders are now either battling or partnering to “acquire” as many patients as they can to ensure their survival and a seat at the table. This appears to be a good thing since the current care provision model has not been ideal.

With all this change going on around us, it begs the question, “What type of leadership is needed for success in these changing times?”  Peter Pronovost’s wonderful post, Leadership qualities for a patient safety turn-around, called for a new type of healthcare leader – one that leads from the heart with love.  Peter’s call reminded me of the time I spent with Lance Secretan and learning about his Higher Ground Leadership philosophies (see Healthcare Leadership of the Future Is About Inspiration) . Similar to Peter’s call, Secretan shares that:

great leadership is not a formula or a program, it is a human activity that comes from the heart and considers the hearts of others. It is an attitude, not a routine…

In Secretan’s new book entitled, The Spark, The Flame, and The Torch, he continues his call for leaders that inspire versus motivate. As he astutely points out the definition of motivation is “to provide a motive to induce, incite or impel”.  Motivational leadership moves people toward a goal set by the motivator.  Secretan states that this is the “old story leader” – something we all have seen many times before.  Yet the definition of inspiration comes from the Latin term “spirare” meaning spirit, to breathe or give life to. To be inspired means to love what we are doing and to be inspirational leaders, all of us must first find our own “Destiny, Character and Calling” – something that relies on leaders first finding our own personal true North Star and deciding what we want our lives to be about.

There seems to be more of this “new leader” talk in healthcare today. Dr. Robert (Bob) Rosen, the founder of Healthy Companies ( and his team partner with CEOs and executive teams in helping build high-performing organizations. Over the years, Healthy Companies has interviewed or worked with more than 250 CEOs from 34 countries, including AT&T, Booz Allen Hamilton, ING Group, Macy’s, MedStar Health, New York Life, Northrop Grumman, Singapore Airlines, Toyota and more. They have built an extensive knowledge base of leadership best practices through research in the characteristics of successful CEOs and healthy companies.

At a recent leadership development session, Bob shared his thoughts on leadership for the 21stcentury, challenging all of us around the premise of “Who you are drives what you do”. As Rosen and colleagues teach, healthy leaders of the 21st century will be “mindful” leaders that incorporate two important qualities in all their work:

  1. Open mindsets around self-awareness, broad-minded thinking, win/win mentality, we-centric
  2. Positive emotions based on hope, empathy, trust, gratitude

Open mindsets and positive emotions such as self-awareness, hope, empathy, trust and gratitude are qualities I believe inspire, versus motivate, people. I found Rosen’s thoughts similar to Secretan’s philosophies on Destiny, Character and Calling. Both Secretan and Rosen talk about a passion leaders must have for their work. Funny, this is also what Lucian Leape, the father of patient safety, has been telling us the last few years…healthcare leaders need to bring joy and meaning back into the workplace. The qualities Lucian talks about – being respected, supported and appreciated – are qualities that come through inspirational leadership, not motivational leadership. Four great scholars – Pronovost, Secretan, Rosen and Leape – all sharing similar thoughts on what type of leaders are now needed today – those that are driven by a higher calling, value all individuals in an organization, lead from the heart, and inspire all of us to do the healing work we came into healthcare to do.

Healthcare is definitely changing. Maybe the successful healthcare leader of the 21st century will also be changing. Maybe we are moving away from leaders who were driven by financial metrics and the volume of care provided while ignoring the quality and safety of the care provided. Hopefully that old leadership model will also be the zombie of the future.

Patricia Salber, MD, MBA is the founder and host of The Doctor Weighs In. She is also the CEO of Health Tech Hatch, the sister site of TDWI that helps innovators tell their stories to the world. She is also a physician executive who has worked in all aspects of healthcare including practicing emergency physician, health plan executive, consultant to employers, CMS, and other organizations. She is a Board Certified Internist and Emergency Physician who loves to write about just about anything that has to do with healthcare.