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Check in with any healthcare publication, and you’ll be met with dozens of articles about changes in leadership throughout hospitals and healthcare systems. Hundreds, if not thousands, of leadership changes have occurred in the post-pandemic era. But what makes a leader a leader in healthcare? With the healthcare workforce losing over 333,000 providers in 2021, how does a hospital find its next leader? Who should they be looking for next?

I often use a phrase to describe individuals with an innate ability to view things differently and think beyond the norm as someone with “high ceilings.” While hitting that mythical 1000% mark might be rare, these individuals bring fresh perspectives and innovative ideas that can truly set your team apart. Let’s start by demystifying the term “high ceilings.”

How do you identify these individuals? There’s no magic formula, but I’ve honed a few strategies over the years. The key is to immerse yourself in different environments, interact with diverse groups, and be on the lookout for those who ask questions that make you pause and think, “Now that’s a smart question.” These are the individuals who possess that elusive, high-ceiling quality.

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Thinking Big Picture

Discovering these outstanding leaders isn’t just sitting back and hoping they’ll emerge; it’s about getting your hands dirty. Engage closely with your teams, invest time in understanding your colleagues, and get to know them personally. Sometimes, it’s that one out of 25 individuals who possess that extra spark. They might be in a less prominent role, like the afternoon shift in the Emergency Department, but their unique perspective shines through when given the chance.

What truly sets these individuals apart is their way of thinking. They’re not merely punching in hours; they’re thinking big-picture. They’re wired to see opportunities that others might overlook. While there’s no precise formula for finding them, closely working with people will help you recognize those with that high-ceiling quality.

One thing I’ve done in my career is create Focus Groups. I brainstorm with 3 or 4 of my frontline staff for about an hour over three weeks out of a month. The other week of the month I spent shadowing them and …poorly…trying to do their job. I ask their one-up to cover their shift for that hour, and we talk shop and life. I think this accomplishes a few things:

I get closer to where the work is done, and it forces interaction by me with my most valuable asset: my team.

I get to know these folks more personally, and they I. When you get to know people, it’s easier to care and root for them.

Ideas bubble up, giving a micro-opportunity to create a proving ground. Typically, we try ideas that they come up with.

It shows that their one-up is also invested in this and creates an organic constituency amongst the team and their leader.

Equating Experience with Leadership Aptitude

Charisma often takes a back seat in discussions about leadership, but it’s a crucial trait. A leader should be able to engage, inspire, and motivate their team. It’s not just about holding authority; it’s about becoming a go-to person who commands respect and admiration from their peers. These are the individuals whose names keep cropping up, even when they’re not in a formal leadership position. This charisma is a telltale sign of potential leadership.

One pitfall to avoid, however, is equating experience with leadership aptitude. Longevity doesn’t always translate to adaptability or innovation. Tenure can sometimes lead to complacency and outdated habits. Instead of focusing solely on the longest-serving employees, direct your attention to those who consistently demonstrate a willingness to think outside the box.

Natural Charisma & A Propensity For Innovative Thinking

Don’t confine your search for leaders within the usual boundaries. Exceptional talent often emerges from unexpected places. For instance, hiring a social worker for a critical leadership role in the revenue cycle might raise eyebrows, but it’s a move I made with great success. They brought a fresh perspective, a different approach, and a willingness to challenge the status quo. So, broaden your search beyond conventional candidates and tap into talent from diverse backgrounds.

In healthcare, soft skills take precedence over hard skills when selecting leaders. The ability to empathize, communicate effectively, and collaborate as a team player is crucial. Above all, empathy is non-negotiable. In healthcare, where dealing with patients at their lowest points is a constant, a leader who truly understands this can make a difference.

Finding exceptional leaders isn’t about molding individuals into what you want; it’s about recognizing those who already possess the traits. Look for the natural charisma, the propensity for innovative thinking, and the ability to inspire. These individuals can drive transformative change and elevate your team to new heights.

A Mix Of Caution & Enthusiasm

Boiling down leadership qualities, I’ve identified four key attributes: happiness, hard work, empathy, and teamwork. Look for individuals who radiate positivity, are committed to putting in the effort, demonstrate genuine empathy, and can seamlessly collaborate with their team. These qualities lay the foundation for impactful leadership that resonates in healthcare.

Let’s not sugarcoat it; managing the healthcare revenue cycle can be challenging. It’s not uncommon for it to feel downright miserable at times. The key lies in openly acknowledging these challenges and cultivating a supportive environment. Leaders should address difficulties head-on and encourage their teams to weather these storms together. The power of camaraderie and shared resilience cannot be underestimated.

My advice for those considering a venture into revenue cycle management is a mix of caution and enthusiasm. This sector offers unparalleled opportunities to drive real impact, especially if you possess empathy for patients and a genuine desire for positive change. Embrace the challenges, adapt to changes, and be prepared to champion transformation.

In an ever-evolving healthcare landscape, effective leadership has never been more critical. Embrace the journey, stay true to your authentic self, and surround yourself with individuals who share your vision for change. Know the difference between being “like-minded” and “thinking alike”. I want people who are after the same goal (like-minded), but I want an environment that challenges “how we get there”. So encourage “like-mindedness, but discourage “thinking alike”. With the right leaders by your side, challenging the status quo, you can navigate this challenging landscape and seize the opportunities that lie ahead.


Meet the Expert

Ryan O’Hara

Divisional VP, Consulting Services

Ryan O’Hara is an accomplished healthcare executive with a wealth of experience in revenue cycle operations. Throughout his career, Ryan has demonstrated a deep understanding of the complexities of healthcare financial management and has worked to develop strategies and solutions to drive efficiency, reduce costs, and improve patient outcomes.