Building Better Leaders

Building Better Leaders

What are the traits, talents and tools that tomorrow’s health care leaders must possess? We asked some tried-and-true chiefs for their must-haves.

Natalie Hinchcliffe, D.O.’13, is interested in medical treatment of addiction and passionate about equality in health care. That’s why she applied to and participated in the Betty Ford Center’s Summer Institute for Medical Students for a week last May.

“I was the only medical student in the room with the patients and a counselor. By the end of the week, you know these women because the things you’re sharing are really personal,” she says. The center’s holistic, team approach, she adds, will help her shape her career.

“How am I going to be the kind of doctor my patients will feel comfortable with? In medicine, so much has to do with your relationship with the patient,” she says. “Being able to have relationships of trust with my patients is so important to me for the kind of doctor I want to be.”

Meanwhile, Akash Shah, D.O.’14, spent his summer as one of eight interns for U.S. Senator Mark Pryor of Arkansas, a role in which he researched policies and programs in health care, foreign relations, national security and transportation.

“When I came to DMU, our professors told us we are on the forefront of all the changes in medicine. By getting involved on the policy level, we can have an impact on those changes,” says Shah, president of the College of Osteopathic Medicine Student Government Association. “I wanted to understand that process.”

Hinchcliffe and Shah epitomize the types of students DMU typically attracts – ardent, aspiring health care professionals who seek leadership roles and responsibilities. How should DMU foster their abilities to build the kinds of leaders needed in health care today and tomorrow?

The installation of Angela Walker Franklin, Ph.D., as DMU’s 15th president was an opportunity to ask current leaders – individuals who served on her honorary inauguration committee – that question. Excerpts from their responses appear below.

“Good leadership means surrounding yourself with capable, talented people. You can’t run a complex organization by yourself. It’s the leader’s responsibility to articulate the vision and the plan, then listen to others to reach consensus and get their buy-in.

“Lead by example. Have the energy level, work ethic and love for what you do. Show people you have the excitement and enthusiasm for your work.

“One of the things I learned at DMU is the importance of data-driven decision-making. It involves not just relying on your instincts but also on the data. That’s the way we need to do things in government, too.”

Terry Branstad, J.D., Iowa governor and DMU’s 14th president

“You need expertise in something to be authentic and believable, and also be willing to share it. You have to radiate an aura of confidence. I tell students that when talking with patients in diagnosis and treatment, they have to be direct and specific and not equivocate.

“The politics of medicine are not unlike the politics in other arenas. You have to have negotiation, compromise and consensus-building.”

William Anderson, D.O.’56, FACOS, vice president for academic affairs, osteopathic medical education,  Detroit Medical Center

“I define leadership as the ability to get other people to do what they might not otherwise do and to enjoy doing it… I have led through creating a vision of what we could be and building consensus of how to get there.

I believe there are several admirable traits of a great leader, but foremost is to have the integrity to be totally trustworthy.”

Karen Nichols, D.O., M.A., MACOI, CS, immediate past president, American Osteopathic Association; professor of medicine and dean, Midwestern University

“Leaders in any organization, health care or otherwise, have to have credibility first and foremost. You create credibility by being honest and doing the right thing. People watch very closely what their leaders do. I may not agree with you, but if I believe you’re trying to do the right thing for the organization, I will give you the benefit of the doubt.

“Leaders provide the vision and focus for the organization, so people can come to work every day and not only do their jobs, but also be inspired by what the organization is trying to accomplish and understand how their job relates to that vision.”

Bill Leaver, president and chief executive officer, Iowa Health System

“Effective leadership is dependent upon the ability to listen very carefully to all parties with whom you’re working. It’s easy to jump in there and think you have all the answers, but it’s very unusual for one person to have all the answers. People on your team need to know you’re listening not because of fear and ignorance, but because you really care.

“We’re focusing a great deal in today’s world on health professionals listening very carefully to their patients. That sensitivity and respect and ability to listen, to use what’s being communicated and apply it to the needs of the patient, are really what we’re all about.”

Richard Ryan Jr., D.Sc., president emeritus, Des Moines University

“Leading by example is action. You enhance the abilities of the people in the organization and help make them effective leaders. Work with their strengths and work on their weaknesses. One of my current CEOs first worked with me when he was 27, and he just had his 64th birthday.”

John Pappajohn, entrepreneur, Des Moines

“There is no simple way to define effective leadership. However, a leader is most effective if she or he believes working with others can make a difference. All leaders must demonstrate the highest level of integrity, but this may be even more true in health care.”

Glenn Gastwirth, D.P.M., executive director and chief executive officer, American Podiatric Medical Association

“Great leaders surround themselves with the best people, set high expectations and then empower others to work in teams and lead change…The true secret is empowering people to make decisions in their areas of expertise and to let others truly lead the continuous improvement and development of the organization.

“Another aspect of leadership is knowing and living your core values…We believe health care is a higher calling, and part of my role as leader is to keep that calling – our mission and values – in the forefront of 7,000 employees’ minds.

“Lastly, I believe a leader’s role is to inspire…We certainly have to take seriously our challenges, but we cannot lose sight of how fortunate we are to live in the era of modern medicine, and how blessed we are to have the opportunity to create the health care system of the future.”

David Vellinga, president and chief executive officer, Mercy Medical Center-Des Moines and Mercy Health Network

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