• Article
  • October 27, 2021

11 Hospital Leaders Share Their Best Advice

Children’s hospital leaders share their insights on managing teams, guiding organizations and navigating the pandemic—in a compilation of our most popular Leadership Tips.

By Brian Busenbark

The last year and a half have thrown new challenges at children’s hospitals, while the enduring issues remain. Strong leadership is required to lead organizations through the residual effects of the pandemic, while also continuing to adopt new strategies for getting back to basics. Looking for inspiration? Take advice from your peers.

Listen Up

Building strong listening skills is the key to unlocking the potential of your team, according to Winifred King. “My group has an incredible breadth and depth of expertise,” says King, chief diversity officer at Cook Children’s Health Care System in Fort Worth, Texas.

“I really value the ability to listen to them.” King says listening to her team’s input has stretched her abilities as a leader and fortified the bonds they share. “A lot of it truly is about trust. They trust each other, I trust them, and I hope that they trust me—the trust of my team is imperative,” King says. “I don’t have all the answers, and I am not the sole expert in this field, but I value the fact that they feel comfortable and trusting enough to tell me the truth.”

Harness the Power of Questions

“It’s very simple,” says R. Lawrence Moss, president and chief executive officer at Nemours Children’s Health. “When you’re a leader, never make a statement when you can ask a question.” He adds, “I benefit most when I hear other people, and they feel free to speak their ideas.”

Moss says that approach not only empowers others to contribute to the conversation but helps prevent misunderstandings. “When you’re in a leadership role, there’s a megaphone attached to everything you say,” he says. “There are often nuances that can be interpreted in ways that you may not have intended, so I try to ask as many questions as I can.”

Illustrate the Big Picture

Leading large-scale changes in an organization requires more than just strategic vision; it’s imperative to align all staff members toward an ambitious goal. “Communicating it and making sure that everyone in the organization has a line of sight to that vision is incredibly important,” says Tim Robinson, chief executive officer at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio.

Robinson adds it’s especially important to ensure team members can connect their day-to-day duties to the big picture. “It can be hard to keep that in front of people, so they understand what they’re doing is much more than the task at hand—it’s how they’re contributing to this bigger vision,” he says.

Find Common Ground

When working through a conflict of opinion, your colleagues’ objectives may not always seem clear because health care clinicians are often juggling multiple professional obligations, according to Maggie Moon, M.D., M.P.H., pediatrician-in-chief at Johns Hopkins Children’s Center. But assuming the best of your counterparts is a great starting point for those conversations. “It’s about respect—recognizing the quality of the people you’re working with is a key point,” she says. “I presume the intelligence and integrity of everyone in the room when I start. By offering them my sincere respect, I’m able to build a bridge to the conversation on that basis.”

Leverage 3 Keys to Project Success

Directing a team toward a milestone achievement requires the right mix of determination and motivation. According to Edward Hickey, M.D., surgical director of the Adult Congenital Heart Program at Texas Children’s Hospital in Houston, there are three characteristics crucial to leading a successful project:

  • Inspiration. “You’ve got to inspire people,” Hickey says. “You’ve got to bring stakeholders on board and make them realize your ideas are very valuable and necessary.”
  • Talent. “It’s all about the people—and having the right people who are hungry, visionary and dynamic,” Hickey says.
  • Humility. Leading by example and sharing credit for successes is instrumental in keeping all team members on board. “When things go well, don’t beat your chest and act as if it’s only you,” Hickey says. “Be humble and congratulate everyone around you.”

Bridge the Generation Gap

The entry of Generation Z into the workforce means it’s likely the first time ever that four generations—Gen Z and boomers along with Generation X and millennials—are working shoulder-to-shoulder. Such a diverse generational span in the workplace requires hospital leaders to understand the perspectives of each group.

“All these generations have different motivational factors that attract them to an organization and keep them there,” says Paul Kempinski, M.S., FACHE, president and chief executive officer at Children’s Mercy Kansas City in Missouri. “At our organization, we want to make sure we’re mindful of that and create a level of diversity and nimbleness in how we target and engage these different generations of workers.”

Understanding those varying perspectives also forms the basis of an organizational diversity plan—not unlike racial and ethnic diversity initiatives, according to Kempinski./p>

Stay Productive with Technology

“I can’t recommend enough for leaders to learn how to use technology to help them be more effective,” says Jason Foland, M.D., pediatrician-in-chief at The Studer Family Children’s Hospital at Ascension Sacred Heart in Pensacola, Florida. “Sticky notes don’t cut it.” Here are Foland’s five must-have digital tools:

  • Video chat. Use for quick interactions.
  • Secure text messaging. Allows care teams to discuss patient care issues quickly and safely.
  • Email reminders. Build notifications into emails and tasks to keep all parties aware of deadlines.
  • Cloud-based sharing. Enables everyone to participate in real-time document editing.
  • Virtual chat rooms. Quickly and easily created for groups to discuss issues rather than long email threads.

Take Lessons from a Management Newbie

Emily Smith views her entire management career through a COVID-19 lens—she earned a promotion to a nurse manager role just as the pandemic began. Smith, RN, clinical manager, The Children’s Hospital at Saint Francis in Tulsa, Oklahoma, says there are two key takeaways that will shape her approach to leadership as her career progresses:

Self-care. “I reinforce with nurses and staff all the time that if you can’t take care of yourself right now, then you can’t take care of anyone else,” Smith says. “You can’t pour from an empty cup.”

Perseverance through teamwork. Smith has been encouraged by how her unit—and on a larger scale, the hospital—succeeded through the trials of the past year. “We have all been stretched to places we didn’t think we would be stretched,” Smith says. “I’ve learned we can get through any challenge that faces us if we stick together and lean on each other.”

Don’t Go It Alone

For most of the population, isolation and social distancing have been key strategies for limiting the spread of COVID-19. But for health care providers, the opposite holds true. “My biggest piece of leadership advice is always to recognize the importance of communities and networks,” says Natalie Pageler M.D., M.Ed., chief medical information officer at Stanford Children’s Health, and clinical professor of pediatric critical care, Stanford University, in Palo Alto, California.

“It’s absolutely critical that every leader finds groups of people in the same field and develops those connections so they can reach out quickly to their peer group and learn together—especially in a time of crisis.”

Get Creative with Staffing

The surge of COVID-19 infections due to the delta variant has stressed health care systems across the country. “We had very little time to react because the numbers of RSV and COVID-19 went up so quickly,” says Mark W. Kline, M.D., physician-in-chief and chief academic officer at Children’s Hospital New Orleans. “We were near a breaking point.”

The challenge leading the organization to a near breaking point was finding enough nurses to care for the patients streaming into its facilities. The problem required some unconventional thinking and led Kline to seek an in-house solution. “We were already short on staff nurses, so we’ve ended up pulling nurses from administrative positions; we’ve pulled nurses from our outpatient clinics and nurses who have past inpatient experience,” Kline says. “You have to think creatively and do the best you can.”

Come Together and Talk It Out

Solid communication is a cornerstone of any successful organization, but the pressures of the pandemic have underscored its importance. Kennedy Krieger Institute in Baltimore, Maryland, instituted daily task force calls with more than 100 leaders from across the organization. The objective: to ensure they were on the same page regarding the information they shared with their teams—and, ultimately, to patients and families.

“It’s exciting to see how everyone has pulled together as leaders to have a consistent message that we’re sending to our staff,” says Melissa Trovato, M.D., medical director of rehabilitation. “If there’s any good to come from the pandemic, it’s that it’s helped break down silos and create a cohesive group of leadership and staff.”

Brian Busenbark is a writer and communications strategist based in Omaha, Nebraska.

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