You Have a Vision. Now What?

Carrie Vaughan, for HealthLeaders Media , February 27, 2009

The No. 1 trait people want in a leader is honesty. The No. 2 trait is the ability to look ahead, according to an ongoing project by the Harvard Business Review that's surveying thousands of workers worldwide. The project asked workers, "What do you look for and admire in a leader (defined as someone whose direction you would willingly follow)?" Then it asked, "What do you look for and admire in a colleague (defined as someone you'd like to have on your team)?" Seventy-two percent of respondents wanted a leader to be forward-looking, whereas only 27% looked for that characteristic in a colleague.

Healthcare CEOs must be doing a fairly decent job portraying the image of someone who is forward looking, because 48% of senior leaders surveyed in the HealthLeaders Media Industry Survey 2009 described their CEO as a visionary. We also asked CEOs to list three words that describe their leadership style, and "visionary" ranked second. The top five traits were:

  • Collaborative (includes collegial, inclusive, team)—21.16%
  • Visionary (includes progressive, innovative, entrepreneurial)—10.17%
  • Fair (includes honest, consistent, ethical)—8.44%
  • Open (includes open-door, transparent)—8.32%
  • Results-oriented (includes goal- and data-driven, accountability)—8.09%

Given the number of healthcare institutions that are still struggling to improve quality, customer satisfaction, and the bottom line, one could argue that CEOs aren't really all that visionary. But perhaps the vision is there—it's the execution of that vision that's lacking.

Only 15.7% of CEOs rated their long-term planning as very strong, and 40% rated it as slightly strong, according to the HealthLeaders Media survey. Given the myriad outside factors that can impact healthcare institutions, it's understandable that long-term planning is hard to execute with any degree of accuracy. But that's one of the CEO's core responsibilities—to be looking ahead and asking, "What's new? What's next? What's better?" and then positioning their organization accordingly. CEOs need to ensure that every employee—security, housekeeping, business staff, and clinicians, etc.—understands the vision and, perhaps most importantly, their role in making that vision a reality.

One way CEOs can establish a shared vision is by explaining to staff members and physicians how they got that vision in the first place, says an article in the Harvard Business Review. The majority of the hospital staff doesn't read the same materials or attend the same conferences as the senior leadership team. So that motivating speech or presentation that helped inspire the CEO's vision is often not shared by the rest of the staff. CEOs should look for ways to include staff members in creating the goals and vision of the organization. Having a common understanding and view of the current external environment can also help senior executives align the organization around a shared vision of the future.

After all, what good is a vision, if it never takes hold?

Carrie Vaughan is leadership editor with HealthLeaders magazine. She can be reached at
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