Health system transformation begins with its leaders. Health leaders must have high emotional intelligence and IQ in today’s complex healthcare environment. Characteristics needed for effective leadership are integrity, compassion, vision, the ability to build cross-functional teams, and effective communication skills. Health leaders must also understand internal and external federal, state, and local political dynamics. They must understand special interest groups, the role of regulatory bodies, and budgets. And health leaders must respect and value the people they are called to serve, especially the vulnerable and marginalized.
I am fond of saying that everything rises or falls based on leadership. Positional titles and professional degrees aren’t always synonymous with leadership. Leadership is about having positive, relational influence that demonstrates organizational efficiencies and outcomes. Leaders shape organizational culture and objectives. And without the right organizational culture, it’s challenging to institutionalize correct organizational practices that enable maximum staff development and patient behavioral and primary health care outcomes.
Leadership can be complex, especially when leading an organization or system to change. I understand. I have done it multiple times across large systems. However, while challenging, it’s one of the most exhilarating, amazing things when it all comes together. You will see hope and faith in staff, patients, and stakeholders when it comes together. There is a sense of WE. It’s as if all parties are contributing to something bigger than themselves.
So, why does leadership matter within health care? It’s because we all get sick. We all want to be cared for when we become ill. And we are all going to die. A person’s race, ethnicity, education, money, where they live, political affiliation, or faith tradition they believe in or don’t believe in cannot save them from these inevitabilities. So the question remains, what can health leaders do?
In addition to building talented teams, designing innovative programs and services, establishing win/win payment models, and using enhanced technology and data analytics to meet patient needs, health leaders can use their influence and earned trust to build community infrastructure. For example, health leaders can help create jobs, buy supplies and equipment from local vendors, and work with government officials on ways to establish and expand affordable housing options, increase fresh food markets, develop reliable transportation systems, help to improve educational systems and work to build a more robust nonprofit sector, to name a few.
I believe all levels of government should be committed to reducing health disparities. I also believe managed care organizations, providers, and large health systems should be responsible for helping states reduce health disparities. However, the question is directed to leaders: how do you build scalable solutions that work across race, class, political ideology, staff shortages, trust issues, technological challenges, and the plethora of adverse social determinants of health?
I know our nation is divided. I understand our state is, too. But how do we reduce the divisions and focus on what unites us? During and after every major tragedy, we generally unite around assisting those in need. We focus. We must now focus on the words found in our nation’s and state’s most precious governing documents. We must focus on being one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty, justice, and yes, jobs, housing, food, good schools, and quality health care for all.
~ Dr. Monteic A. Sizer, Executive Director