• Article
  • October 23, 2018

Leadership Tips Anyone Who Works at A Children's Hospital Can Use

From the front lines to the front office, leaders at children's hospitals across the country share their favorite leadership tips you can use, no matter what your role is within a hospital.

By Amanda Bertholf

Aspire to lead

Choose the work you love, and do it with enthusiasm and joy. Apple co-founder steve jobs said, "the only way to do great work is to love what you do." the key is to start by choosing something you care deeply about and then work to leave a legacy of positive change. Be courageous. Being a leader is not for the faint of heart. The position involves making difficult choices and dealing with challenging situations, but it's the leader's job to do what's right, even when it isn't easy. Build and maintain relationships with care. We are all just people, and things most often get done with those who are connected in a positive way. —Caitlin beck Stella, M.P.H., CEO, Joe DiMaggio Children's Hospital

Don't fear a do-over

Don't get too swept up in overthinking every opportunity and strategy—just hit the ground running and get things done. And don't be afraid to kill an idea, iterate or pivot. Better to do that than to spend a year or two strategizing on a concept just to find out it was a bad idea. —John Brownstein, Ph.D., chief innovation officer, Boston Children's Hospital

Your shadow sets the tone


Leadership is about setting clear direction and supporting your team in overcoming short-term obstacles to achieve long-term objectives. Leading from a place of understanding is critical to building sustainable bridges. The best way to create a cohesive leadership team is to work together as one team and remove any siloed thinking. It's critical to invest in authentic leadership growth and development plans that enable your team to understand their gaps and feel supported on their leadership journey. The "shadow of a leader" sets the tone for the organization and requires leaders to role model the actions that will guide the team. —Gil peri, president and chief operating officer, Connecticut Children's Medical Center

Do the right thing

The essential basis of leadership is integrity. Integrity is not being brutally honest, brilliantly strategic or aggressively steadfast. It is about trustworthiness, open mindedness and being grounded in always doing the right thing for the right reason. —Bruce K. Rubin, M.D., MBA, FRCPC, Jessie Ball DuPont distinguished professor and chair, department of pediatrics, physician-in-chief, Children's Hospital of Richmond at VCU

Leadership is selfless

Give your life in service to others. Nowhere is this more apparent than in pediatric care. We devote ourselves to ensuring the patient, as well as parents, siblings and other loved ones receive kind and compassionate care. Remember, we are not simply coming to a job each day, but serving those in their greatest hour of need. —Ninfa M. Saunders, M.D., FACHE, president and CEO, Navicent Health and Beverly Knight Olson Children's Hospital, Navicent Health

5 pillars of an effective leader

pillars of leadership

These pillars serve as the foundation of a successful approach to leadership:

  1. Humility. Openly and freely express gratitude. Never underestimate the value and power of kind, supportive and appreciative words.

  2. Integrity. Follow through on your promises. Live and lead by example. Demonstrate the qualities you want to  see in others.

  3. Transparency. When you make decisions, explain the process. Explain how you are evaluating the situation.

  4. Equity. Create a level playing field where everyone has the opportunity to succeed.

  5. Be a force of inspiration. Years ago, a physician mentor shared valuable advice: first and foremost, do everything possible to promote the interests and professional satisfaction of the doctors and employees for whom you are responsible. Your success as a leader will follow. —Brian Berman, M.D., chair, Department of Pediatrics, Beaumont Children's

Gather all the facts

Leadership decisions require certain perquisites. Gathering all the available information is mandatory. Delaying a non-urgent decision until you have all the facts is good practice as long as that delay is communicated. The ultimate decision should follow the mantra: the institution trumps any individual. Personal interests cannot jeopardize the organization's mission or vision. Difficult decisions require input from the leadership team to ensure a unified decision-making process and to present a consistent message. Hindsight and personal reflection into the decisions you've made, whether they ended up being right or wrong, is required. This allows you to think about lessons learned, which reinforces positive decision-making and disaffirms negative decision-making. —Scott H. Kozin, M.D., chief of staff, Shriners hospital for Children-Philadelphia

Work together

Set up systems so everyone feels like a part of the whole, pushing in the same direction. The more buy-in you have up front, the more likely you are to sustain change. —Adam Mezoff, M.D., chief medical officer and pediatric gastroenterologist, Dayton Children's Hospital 

Don't give up

Great leaders have a high degree of tenacity. Surround yourself with people who will challenge you if you move down a path of arrogance—this ensures tenacity does not turn to stubbornness. Flow through challenges rather than push through them. —Richard G. Azizkhan, M.D., president and CEO, Children's Hospital & Medical Center; Omaha, Nebraska

Building a team

When assessing a team or program, it's easy to oversimplify an issue by separating it into categories such as the villain, victim and hero. Most often the system is the problem, and not the players. When a system is "sick," relationships falter and dysfunction occurs. Learn from family therapist Salvador Minuchin who developed the concept of structural family therapy. This looks at relationships and the balance of power within a family, mapping interactions and then disrupting dysfunctional relationships, which leads to a healthier environment.  Follow this ideology and create change by mapping  and addressing these interpersonal interactions. —Jonathan Ellen, M.D., president, CEO, and physician-in-chief, Johns Hopkins All Children's Hospital

Look to the front lines

You want the teams that are doing the day-to-day work to rise up with the solution. That's how the best ideas are generated. —Pamela Gigi Chawla, M.D., chief of general pediatrics, Children's Minnesota

Try a new way


Medical care changes all the time due to new discoveries, technologies and evolving standards. But we often hold firmly to practices that are familiar, even when conditions change. We try harder, rather than consider if a new and different approach is needed. To welcome change and be courageous, innovation must be an organizational value. —John Bancroft, M.D., chief of pediatrics, The Barbara Bush Children's Hospital 

Change happens

Put yourself in uncomfortable positions and embrace change. Empower employees to invite change, and they become part of a creative process promoting possibilities for excellence. Employees excited by new opportunities and drawn to continuous improvement will naturally fit into leadership roles. —Jodi Carter, M.D., chief clinical integration officer, Phoenix Children's and chief medical officer of Phoenix Children's Care Network

Lend an ear

Building relationships are the beginnings of a long, fruitful career. The time it takes to listen pales in comparison to what you gain in the end. —Ben Hamby, clinical manager, Children's Hospital Colorado

Give your time

From the last lecture: find something impressive about everyone on your team. If you struggle to find something, spend more time with that person until you figure it out. Leadership requires relationship. —Cherylann Vaillancourt, magnet program director, Children's Memorial Hermann Hospital

Do what's right

Always choose what is right, even if it isn't easy. —Sara Montenegro, assistant vice president, Texas Children's Hospital

Have gratitude

Employees and volunteers need to feel appreciated and valued. Expressions of gratitude go a long way. —Jennifer Foley, nuclear medicine technologist, Children's Mercy Kansas City

Serve others

Every word, action or email can affect your team directly or indirectly. At all times, wonder to yourself: "am i being self-serving, or am i being of service to others?" always aim to be of service to others. Recognize that abundance begets abundance. —Daniel A. Perez, B.S., CCRP, clinical research manager, Children's Hospital Los Angeles

Leave it to the pros

Defer to expertise. —John Kohler Sr., M.D., MBA, director of quality, Women's and Children's Services, Vidant Medical Center

Watch, listen

You don't have to be the loudest voice at the table to be heard. —Winifred Maeve Carey, M.S., quality improvement specialist, Helen Devos Children's Hospital

Let it go

You can't do everything alone. Build a team of capable people and delegate accordingly. It'll help increase your team's knowledge too. —Jennifer K. Chen, M.D., PHM fellow, Rady Children's Hospital San Diego

Don't dictate

Give direction, not directions. —Luanne Stanislaw Smedley, M.H.A., B.S.N., RN, administrative director, Lucile Packard Children's Hospital Stanford

Share your favorite leadership tip or piece of advice.