Uncertain times require unconventional leadership

Dennis Bolin, Health Plan Alliance


Person lost in mazeWhether you are the CEO in the corner office or the front-line supervisor we as leaders are facing very real changes and challenges in the health care industry.  And while each generation of leaders faces situations unique to them, some say the challenges we must address today are unlike any previously encountered.  But we can learn from other leaders who have navigated through rough waters.

I had the opportunity recently to hear Nancy Schlichting, former CEO of Henry Ford Health System, share her insights on issues confronting today’s leaders and the characteristics she believes leaders should possess to be the most successful in steering their organizations.  Her perspectives are shared in her book Unconventional Leadership: What Henry Ford and Detroit Taught Me About Reinvention and Diversity.


The issues, changes and challenges demanding the attention of health care leaders today:

  1. Moving from volume to value payment models

  2. Affordability—Not just cost but what is the financial impact on consumers

  3. Access—Consumers are demanding access when, where and how they want it not when, where and how we want to deliver it

  4. Technology—Delivering and access medical care – personalizing treatment and care

  5. Demographic shifts—Beyond the traditional age descriptors to views consumers in all their diversity – how they want to be treated, the type of care they require and individualized approaches


These changes are so dramatic that those who succeed are those who disrupt and who are unconventional in their approach.  Disruption and unconventional are not terms we as leaders are comfortable with.  In fact we avoid disruption and unconventionality preferring instead the less risky tried and true solutions we have always used.

So, in this untested environment Ms. Schlichting suggests that...


Successful leaders will be those who:

Embrace diversity among leadership
Bring in different viewpoints and experiences to create a problem-solving environment that looks at problems and solutions differently because innovation springs from diversity
Look for the disrupters on your team and encourage them
Who are those in your organization who are always asking “why not”
Are humble and human
Ego gets in the way of searching for solutions and along the way know who you are, your values, and beliefs
Are honest
Able to identify the root problems and what it will take to resolve them

Believe in possibilities
Create the future not just react to events, identify what you want to happen and create it 
Focus on people
Develop and support your entire team, from the those in the cubicles to those in the big offices
Look for unique solution
It may take something entirely new and even off-the-wall like Ms. Schlichting’s decision to hire a former Ritz Carlton executive to help design and run a new hospital
Put quality first
Does every solution lead back to better quality of care and service for our members


These traits are not common and they may not be traits that got us to where we are today. But if all the turmoil and disruption is as industry-changing and different as we keep saying it is, what worked in the past may not work today. To succeed we may have to look at things differently.


Additional Resources 

In 2016, the Alliance offered two CEO workshops on leadership.
View the event materials


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