Collaborative CEOs

This post about collaborative CEOs takes inspiration from Molly Gamble’s recent interview with Quint Studer, entitled 5 Things the Most Extraordinary Hospital CEOs Do. I encourage you to read this article in its entirety to capture the nuances.  Briefly, extraordinary CEOs:

  • Diagnose their organization’s ailments objectively: they constantly push employees to improve or maintain top performance
  • Drive variability out of leadership: using the example of the way that meetings run, he mentioned that variation by a single executive can hold back the entire organization
  • Align their outlook with their organization’s outlook: according to Mr. Studer, CEOs must communicate the healthcare environment to all stakeholders, so that they can align their sense of urgency
  • Understand how the change process affects employees: “We micromanage construction projects but we don’t micromanage human processes,” says Mr. Studer. “That’s a mistake, because human change is the key to everything.”
  • Consistently manage employee performance: by communicating and upholding clear expectations for direct reports, CEOs drive a culture of accountability that permeates the entire organization

In “Seven Unhealthy Habits of Hospital Executives,” Tuck Business School Professor Sydney Finkelstein and I dissected a case presentation of a community hospital CEO who was fired because he did the opposite of what Mr. Studer recommended (Better Communication for Better Care, Health Administration Press, 2005, 39-45). People who are not collaborative CEOs:

  • See themselves and their companies as dominating their environments: they suffer from the illusion of personal preeminence, believe that that they can create the conditions under which they will operate, and achieve their vision by imposing their will on employees (and physicians whom they do not employ), using intimidation
  • Identify so completely with their organizations that they lose sight of the boundary between personal and corporate interests: they develop a private-empire mentality, behave as though they own their institutions, and act as though they have the right to do anything that they want
  • Think that they have all the answers: such intransigence drives opposing perspectives underground and dampens creativity and innovation
  • Ruthlessly eliminate anyone who is not 100% behind them: by defining reformers as negative influences, they eliminate dissenting viewpoints and cut themselves off from their best chance of correcting problems as they arise
  • Are consummate company spokesmen, obsessed with company image: they allow media accolades to cloud their judgment and settle for the appearance of accomplishment rather than substantive change
  • Underestimate major obstacles, especially if the organization has enjoyed previous successes: when they find that obstacles are more formidable than expected, they tend to escalate their commitment rather than rethink their strategy
  • Stubbornly rely on what worked for them in the past: they fail not because they failed to learn, but because they learned one lesson all too well

Fortunately, the damage wrought by executives who are not collaborative CEOs is not irreversible.  I have interviewed the CEO who took over from the unsuccessful CEO and turned around that hospital.  Professor Leonard Friedman and I will be presenting those data at the annual Congress of the American College of Healthcare Executives, Tuesday March 12, 2013 at 8:45 am (Seminar 37: Virtuous Healthcare Organizations: Breaking Away from Blamestorming).  I hope to see you there and at my Witt-Kieffer seminar the same day at 4:30 pm, at the Blackstone Hotel (The Zen of Clinical Integration: A Practicing Surgeon’s Perspective).

As always, I welcome your input to improve healthcare collaboration where you work. Please send me your comments and suggestions for improvement.


Kenneth H. Cohn

© 2013, all rights reserved


I have not received any compensation for writing this content. I have no material connection to the brands, topics and/or products that are mentioned herein.


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