The last 20 years have been a watershed for leadership development across a broad array of industries and geographies. The emergence of competencies, executive coaching, mentoring, social capital, team building, behavioral role profiling, neuro-science and assessments has provided opportunities for developing great leaders to address increasingly complex business issues with alacrity and confidence.
Against this backdrop, it’s shocking that hospitals still operate as if they were start-ups burdened by complicated governance structures dominated by doctors who are generally contractors to the institution and management that focuses on fundraising instead of leading. Slow-moving, overlapping committees take eons to respond to almost everything, including the fast-moving demands of a highly infectious disease like Ebola.
Just look at events. When Ebola began its recent journey, we were told not to worry. Then, the first Ebola patient arrived in Texas under his own authority. Next thing we knew the hospital’s protective effort failed due to a local control issue. The result: two affected people in Texas. Currently there are 76 possible Ebola cases coming from the hospital with extensions into the community from the original patient. The Director of the CDC admits his team might have handled it differently. How many of these events will it take to recognize that there is something fundamentally broken our hospitals’ approach to leadership, especially in response to a possible the pandemic disease?
Let this crisis serve as the call to arms. Often the first point of contact during a pandemic, is the hospital. It must take responsibility for the coordination of care in a real time manner — not as an ER event, but systemically, drawing on volumes of available data. The hospital’s experts must have the right resources at their fingertips (medical and other) and an ability to respond knowingly based upon experience as an institution. We like to believe that our medical talent will prevail, but that is equivalent to saying that every soldier should decide. What is needed now is strong leadership with authority to act swiftly and decisively.
Hospitals must immediately change their approach to leadership, empowering strong leaders to lead capable teams of business professionals and scientists. It starts with four critical steps:
- 1. Name the senior leader and empower the leader to assemble a great team.
- 2. Define the governance structure below the senior leadership team so decisions can be implemented quickly based on real data.
- 3. Separate leadership roles from clinical roles. Clinicians need to be viewed as front-line subject matter experts advising both patients and leaders.
- 4. Define clear leadership roles, competencies and career paths in contrast to clinical roles, competencies and career paths.
Some crises are game changing. For IT, it was Y2K which moved an industry from adolescence to maturity, in the process redefining the way most of us live and work today. Ebola is that crisis for hospitals. They must quickly make themselves into 21st century institutions. As a start, they must organize for success beginning with how they lead and govern.