“It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it. If you think about that, you’ll do things differently.”–Warren Buffett

Hospitals and health care system leaders are struggling.  Today’s health care leaders are dealing with an ever more complex environment due to a rapidly changing health care system landscape, lack of resources and support due to narrowing margins from tightened reimbursements from insurance payors and government funding, the challenging roll out of a complete computerization in health care and use of electronic health records, and a health care work force that is dealing with epidemic rises in burnout.

StrugglingLeadersAccording to Success Profiles Inc., a performance organization that has profiled over 30,000 health care leaders in the past 12 years, there is a 163% increase in the number of “struggling health care leaders” since 2009.

They based “struggling” vs. “successful” based on  performance metrics (e.g. quality, patient satisfaction, revenue, turnover, staff engagement, and culture)

So what type of characteristics do health care leaders possess that have successfully steered their ships through the turbulent storm and waves of today’s health care system?


Six factor leader
Characteristics exhibited of successful healthcare leaders


Perhaps most importantly, “the most effective leaders will not sacrifice relationships for results or results for relationships,” said Tom Olivo, CEO of Success Inc.  Instead, they effectively balance both relationships and results in their organization.

Of these 6 characteristics, what characteristics did the most successful health leaders exhibit? In their analysis with an initial population of 4,208 successful leaders and using a six-factor leadership assessment, they carved out a population of 383 “A level” leaders.  These “A level” leaders demonstrated the ability to consistently show effective cultures of high performance. They found three factors that separated the high achievers from the rest.  These “A” or exceptional performing leaders have a reputation for being assertive, somewhat impatient, and competitive. 

Leaders that are assertive usually have a reputation for being passionate or having conviction.  They communicate their message often so they can be heard. Since they have a true passion and conviction of their message or mission they are not seen as a phony.  They are also not pushy or annoying about it.

Importantly, being assertive doesn’t mean you can act like an asshole.  In fact, according to the profile of Success Inc., these “A” level leaders were collaborative and diplomatic.  They are not autocratic where they demanded control over all decisions and acknowledge very little input from others.  They are likely not rigid or inflexible. In fact, leaders who are more collaborative encourage creativity and out of the box thinking.

Assertive leaders also take the time to connect with others in the organization at all levels. They make themselves accessible to everyone. They put in the time to communicate clearly and personally about changes.  They also maintain excellent relationships. An assertive leader that is respected, admired and liked by others can exert influence and ask others to take on difficult tasks.

Assertive leaders have a reputation for having a high level of integrity.  Since they know the mission and their message and express it to others often, they find it easier to walk the talk.

Being somewhat impatient is also a virtue as a health care leader.  But wait what about “Patience is a Virtue”?  That is a virtue too.  But think of impatience and patience as two sides of a coin.  A little impatience can be a great motivator, we may never start or finish a goal without it.

Impatience is a good way to raise self-awareness in yourself.  Impatience is telling you something.  So if you are leading a meeting and finding yourself impatient, it might mean the meeting is not worth your time and you have better things to do.  Or it might be that you have certain expectations that are not being meant. The more you identify and become self-aware when you become impatient, the better you can figure out what is the root cause of it.  Think of it as a negative-feedback mechanism. On a side note, if you want to raise your self-awareness, even more, do what a lot of really successful leaders do, meditate.

Finally, the other leadership strong trait “A” health care leaders have is that they are competitive. These leaders have a willingness to out-market the competition. Other healthcare facilities are vying for patients’ business.  So it isn’t surprising that health care leaders who take a proactive approach to marketing or out-competing their competition will ensure the success of the organization.

Also, these health care leaders may likely know that one significant way to out-compete the competition is how well you attract talent.  Forward thinking organizations realize that the better you treat your employees, the better your organization will do–employees are going to be happier and more productive.  This will naturally attract high-quality employees who will want to come work in the organization.  Therefore, patients are more likely going to choose your hospital due to the better services and the exceptional care they receive.

It is important to realize that “A” leaders don’t only have these 3 traits: assertive, somewhat impatient, and competitive to be exceptional.  These leaders like other successful health care leaders were also engaging, methodical, ambitious and practical. However, by having stronger attributes of these three traits separated them with exceptional performances at their organizations compared to the rest.




I am a gynecologic oncologist, a husband, and a father. My blog is mostly about our healthcare system and well-being, but occasionally I get inspired to write about other "stuff" too.

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