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Transforming health care through research and education.

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Leveraging research and education to create a society of healthy communities, where all individuals reach their highest potential for health.

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Leadership Development in Health Care: Practical Strategies for Health Care Organizations

Ann Scheck McAlearney, ScD, Ohio State University

Practical information regarding the leadership development process for all levels of health care managers will help health care organizations identify, recruit, and retain future leaders.

Constant and rapid change within the $1.3 trillion health care industry demands strong leadership at all levels.  However, most health care organizations have not developed the size, resources, or organizational commitment necessary to pursue institutionalized leadership development initiatives.  The overall question of how to best foster leadership development in health care organizations remains largely unanswered.

Dr. McAlearney’s research identifies and explores practical strategies and best practices for leadership development in health care for managers at all levels. As part of the research, more than 150 interviews were conducted with nearly 35 experts and 50 organizations.  Also included in the study was a quantitative analysis of employee turnover data that estimated the cost-advantage of retaining high-performing leaders in health care organizations.

The study reveals that, as individuals grow and develop throughout their careers, the leadership development process changes from a micro-emphasis on essential technical and communications skills to a macro-emphasis on competencies that include building relationships with external constituencies, developing strategic vision, and dealing with complexity.

Existing and new leadership development programs should be designed to address the development competencies required to meet current needs, but should also focus on developing the skills required to meet future challenges in the health care industry.  To be effective leaders, managers at every level must progressively build their personal competency in such critical areas as ethics and values, information technology, managing diversity, building community relationships, and patient safety and error reduction.

McAlearney observes that leadership development strategies used by other industries can also be employed successfully to develop leaders in the health care industry.  However, it is important that senior management examine such program options to ensure that they are appropriate to their particular institution and to their organization’s goals.  Such critical elements as the placement of the leadership development function, budgetary commitment, whether to build or to buy a leadership program, and the selection of metrics for monitoring and evaluating the program are also important when determining the appropriate role for leadership development within a specific organization.

The study identifies 10 practical strategies for organizations interested in jump-starting their leadership development activities:

  • Start small while thinking big
  • Leverage existing investments in leadership development
  • Investigate formal mentoring program options
  • Consider collaboration
  • Initiate an organizational audit
  • Borrow innovative and exemplary practices from other organizations
  • Begin to foster a talent and development mindset
  • Select metrics and measure the impact of leadership development and leadership
  • Make a committed investment in future leadership development
  • Accept the business case for leadership development and move ahead

Finally, based on her findings, McAlearney cautions health care administrators to pay attention to the issue of leadership development in their own organizations: leadership development will not just happen and the need for it will not go away.  She also observes that responsibility for leadership development ultimately resides with the individual and urges managers at all levels to take responsibility for their own development and to maximize their chances of professional success by exploiting any available opportunities for leadership development.

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