The CEO as Mentor

Kathryn Mackenzie, for HealthLeaders Magazine , July 10, 2008
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Richard Romero, senior manager at Crowe Chizek and Company, a public accounting and consulting firm in Nashville, helped create the Nashville Health Care Council's Leadership Health Care program that not only mentors the group's members, but also serves as an educational and networking initiative. The program includes three tracks, says Caroline Young, president of the Nashville Health Care Council, an association of healthcare industry leaders. The first is the "fundamental series," a lunch session in which expert speakers talk to groups of roughly 50 people about fundamental healthcare issues, Young says. The second portion breaks members into smaller groups of 20 that meet throughout the year to discuss challenges facing each of them and share best practices for addressing those challenges. The third track, set to roll out later this year, is a one-on-one mentoring program in which members are matched with each other in a more traditional mentoring setting.

According to Romero, this type of program allows for different parts of an organization to communicate with each other, creating a better understanding of the entire business. "If someone has been in healthcare for a year but has only worked in one business unit, and he or she wants to move to another business unit, this type of educational/mentoring program can help with that migration."

Teach, don't tell
Mentors are leaders. And because they are leaders, they are also generally problem solvers—which, Perrone says, can create an odd paradigm. When people get into a mentoring position, their first instinct as leaders is often to tell their protégés how to solve a problem. Perrone says the hallmark of an effective mentor is being able to shed the telling roll and don the roll of teacher.

"Leaders get where they are because they are very successful, technically, in their roles. Or they have accomplished something that has made them stand out. The trouble with that is, that the same skill set that made them good accomplishers and achievers, is not the skill set they use when they try to help someone else learn and grow," he says.

Mark Newton, president and CEO of Chicago's Swedish Covenant Hospital—which has had a mentoring program in place since Newton came on board in 2000—agrees that the key to mentoring is a management team that listens empathetically and fosters an environment in which both peers and subordinates feel safe to assume more risk.

"In some managers, there tends to be an attitude of, ‘Let me show you what to do.' That's not mentoring. Successful mentors will use empowering and investigative approaches that challenge people to think in new ways," he says.

Although mentoring has to start with a complete buy-in by the management team, the program's ultimate success can be judged by how many people in the organization are voluntarily participating, Newton says.

"You can't just say, ‘go out and mentor.' The CEO and the senior management team have to model those behaviors. If that doesn't happen, you will fall short, he says. Newton adds that since 334-licensed-bed Swedish Covenant has been involved in mentoring employees, the hospital has seen a " very clear enhancement in communication, and a sense that there is more risk taking going on."

"In healthcare many managers are risk adverse and healthcare organizations are risk adverse," he says. "There is naturally a cultural hierarchy or pecking order, but with a successful mentoring program, you'll find employees crossing those organizational lines."

Kathryn Mackenzie is editor of HealthLeaders Texas Healthflash. She may be reached at

What Makes A Good Mentor:
Strong mentors typically have three primary characteristics, according to Jim Perrone of Perrone-Ambrose Associates:


  • They listen like teachers, not problem solvers. "In that way you are able to determine the tools they need, versus saying, ‘Here's what you need to do to solve problem.'"
  • They make people think. Good mentors know how to ask the right discovery questions.
  • They hold up a mirror. "Here's what I'm seeing you do, here's what you do well, and here's what you can work on. It's fascinating to see how protégés and mentees really value the feedback they get from these exchanges," Perrone says.

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