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13 Traits of Highly Successful Healthcare Business Leaders

By Stewart Gandolf, Chief Executive Officer

Person's hand writing on evaluation checklistYour achievement checklist to getting ahead and staying ahead.

Owners and leaders of the most accomplished and admired healthcare ennterprises rarely achieve their success accidentally. This is just as true in the broader scope...including healthcare organizations, hospitals and related businesses such as pharmaceutical and medical device companies.

While true in most industries, the winners in private practice and healthcare service providers (and there are strong organizational and individual winners - and losers - whether or not you want to believe it) manage to get ahead and stay ahead for specific reasons.

Over several decades of observing and working with many of these high-achieving individuals, we have noticed a number of common characteristics or "traits."

If you already fall into the category of successful healthcare leaders, you will undoubtedly recognize many of these traits. If you aspire to join this elite group, consider this to be your checklist for achieving greater success in your future.

Business orientation - The most successful healthcare leaders know that the private practice of healthcare is more than simply a calling - it is a business - serious business.

Since most healthcare providers get little or no business education in their professional curriculum, they seek out the knowledge and information they need. They are usually voracious readers and not just of clinical journals. They read books, articles and magazines on business strategy. They take courses. They find business mentors. They learn and then they apply what they have learned, to create a more successful business.

Some of the most successful healthcare practices are led by healthcare providers, and other non-clinical professionals, who came to the healthcare field from a previous career or experience - often in other industries. One of the most savvy physician owners we know was a real estate entrepreneur prior to going back to school to earn his medical degree. Not surprisingly, his attitude and perspective toward the business of healthcare practice is far more progressive and proactive than 99% of his colleagues.

Have a dream and a goal - Leaders have vision. They see beyond their current situation. They tend to have big goals and big dreams and are focused on achieving both. To quote the wisdom of Yogi Berra, "If you don't know where you are going, you might wind up someplace else."

Successful healthcare leaders know where they want to go. They know how to measure their progress and success by setting and achieving specific, measurable goals. And they are not afraid to dream big dreams.

Positive attitude - People orient toward one of two groups in terms of how they view life and all of its opportunities and challenges. You are either in the "glass-half-full" camp or the "glass-half-empty" camp. It's hardly coincidental that life's opportunities seem to be attracted - almost as if by an electromagnetic force - to the "glass-half-full" folks and life's challenges seem to constantly create insurmountable obstacles for the "glass-half-empty" crowd.

Positive attitude isn't something you can fake to convince others. It's a way of looking at the world that orients your brain to focus on what's possible rather than what you have convinced yourself isn't. People with a negative attitude frequently see themselves as victims who are not in control of what happens to them. People with positive attitudes seize control of their situations.

Some people are born with a positive orientation; others have to retrain their brains. The good news is that a positive attitude is something you can learn to cultivate.

Energy - Have you ever noticed that highly successful individuals seem to have an endless supply of energy? They seem to be always on the go, moving and thinking faster than everyone around them. This characteristic of successful leaders is not coincidental.

Energy is fueled by exciting goals and desires, by passion, by positive attitude and by good physical and mental health. Lethargy and exhaustion are usually the result of disappointment, depression, frustration, anxiety, anger, low self-esteem and the absence of meaningful, achievable goals. Energy is required by successful leaders but it is also usually inherent in their makeup.

Personality - Our advice: have one. Seriously, not everyone is blessed with a charismatic personality but relationships are key to success in business, so even if you are more introverted or shy compared to some of your colleagues, you still need to push yourself to "get out there" so you can cultivate and nurture important relationships that will benefit your success. Let's face it - people refer to people they like, they trust, they believe are competent and they see as successful.

Willingness to market - Private practice in the healthcare field can be an easy competitive playing field for ambitious entrepreneurs because, unlike most industries, the "competition" tends to sit on the sidelines, due to biases, fears, apprehensions and ignorance regarding proactive, effective marketing.

Practice leaders who understand the enormous power and influence of effective marketing and aren't afraid to tap into that power are the ones who generally reap most of the rewards. This is yet another example of the Pareto Principle (more commonly known as the "80-20 Rule").

In this case, 80% of the business is controlled by 20% of the competitors in almost every market and specialty. One of the characteristics that almost all of the dominating 20% share is their willingness to get in the game and let people know how good they are and how they can help people to live healthier, longer, happier lives.

Sales skills - Most healthcare practitioners fear this "s" word. But the reality is that you are selling every day. Even if no money is changing hands, whenever you make a diagnosis and a treatment recommendation to a patient, you are selling. You need to convince the patient that he or she needs to take your treatment recommendation seriously.

Sales is the art of influencing people to buy into what you are selling. Ethical selling is first about having something of value that can help someone and then being able to honestly help them appreciate that value and use you to provide the solution they seek.

If the product or service you have to offer requires the patient to actually pay cash out-of-pocket beyond a co-pay (particularly for elective services), effective, ethical selling becomes even more critical to your success. All of the most successful healthcare practice leaders are great salespeople and aren't conflicted about using those skills to persuade others.

(By the way, your own employees are one of your most important customer groups, because if they aren't buying into what you are selling, then it's very unlikely that patients or referring physicians will buy into what you are selling, either.)

Leadership by example - Leaders who earn the respect of the people they lead always walk their talk. Yes, some leaders lead through intimidation and you can even get people to follow you for a time based on fear. But that style rarely works for the long term.

Leaders earn respect by example. People respect others whose actions are consistent with their words. We don't tend to respect (or follow) people who say one thing and do another. Yet in healthcare practices, we often see one set of "rules" for the leaders and another for the rank-and-file employees. That contradiction often underlies many of the personnel problems that seem to continually confront struggling practices. If you're not prepared to walk the walk, then save your breath and don't bother talking the talk.

Great staff - Speaking of your employees, your staff can make or break your practice and a great staff doesn't just happen. The most successful practice leaders know how to recruit great people, mold them into a great staff and nurture them to create an environment where great people want to stay.

Healthcare practice is part of the service industry and the people in service organizations either reinforce or contradict the brand image and message, but either way, they are unquestionably influential to the perception of your customers.

"Doers" - To quote a line from the great Neil Simon play, Barefoot in the Park, "There are watchers in this world and there are doers. And the watchers sit around watching the doers do."

In healthcare, practitioners gain knowledge and skill through extensive study and careful analysis. Then they study more and analyze more. Also, healthcare providers learn to be extremely careful in their clinical practice because a mistake can sometimes literally be a life-or-death miscalculation.

This careful, thorough, analytical and cautious approach works well for developing an outstanding clinical practice but can often be a detriment in business. You can actually feel like you are doing something by studying, analyzing and carefully considering all aspects and implications of a business situation. And while you are engaged in that process, the real winners in business are constantly on the lookout for opportunities and when they find a good one, they jump on it before someone else beats them to it.

Are you a doer or are you a watcher who is watching the doers achieve and succeed?

 Focus on what is really important - The higher up you are in the organizational chart, the more important it becomes to be effective at prioritizing competing demands for your time and attention. Here, the 80-20 Rule comes up again.

Focusing on what is really important means understanding that 20 percent of your daily activities will have 80 percent of the impact on your business. Effective leaders know how to identify and recognize the 20 percent of their efforts that will yield 80 percent of their desired results and they focus their time and attention relentlessly on the 20 percent.

Do you even know which 20 percent of your activities influence 80 percent of your desired results? If you don't know, then you may be spending 80 percent of your time on activities that don't move you closer to your goals. In fact, that is the way most people live their lives and why so many are frustrated and disappointed.

Take smart risks - Successful healthcare practice leaders understand that risk is an inherent aspect of business and they are not afraid to take risks when the payoff seems worth it. Successful leaders don't desire failure but they don't fear it either. Sometimes it is the preceding failures that create the stepping stones on our path to success.

Constant quest for improvement - Thomas Edison said, "Show me a thoroughly satisfied man and I will show you a failure." The most successful healthcare practice leaders, like leaders in other industries and endeavors, are never satisfied and never done learning. They have insatiable curiosity. They continue to read, study, take continuing education courses and learn more about the world and about themselves. They share an understanding that there is always room for improvement and so they always seek to improve.

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