Every once in a while I get involved in discussions regarding the competence of healthcare chief executives. Some argue that healthcare executives don't measure up to CEOs in other businesses. But I've never bought into that thesis. It's always been my contention that healthcare executives are probably more capable and entrepreneurial than those in other industries. That's because on a day-to-day basis they're continually confronted with challenges other CEOs don't have to deal with. DRGs, PHOs and HMOs are just a few of the acronyms that have to be addressed every day, along with the unpredictability of the Medicare and Medicaid programs. Not to mention the waves of consolidation and integration, all of which make it a tough and sophisticated managing environment. So when I was sent a copy of an article that appeared in the spring issue of Health Care Management Review, I was more than a little interested. The article, "Personality Patterns of Healthcare and Industry CEOs: Similarities and Differences," was co-authored by Donald F. Van Eynde and Stephen L. Tucker, both professors at Trinity University in San Antonio.
Right off the bat the study discovered that a group of 30 hospital CEOs and a group of 32 general business CEOs shared similar work-related personality traits. In fact, out of 20 traits, the authors found key differences in only two. They determined hospital CEOs were significantly less interested in working with details and had a lesser need for rules and supervision.
In a previous study published in Hospitals magazine in February 1990, healthcare executives didn't seem to fare too well when compared with other executives. That study concluded that "healthcare executives, when compared with their counterparts in other industries, tended to display fewer of the attributes associated with leadership ability, showed a lower level of personal adjustment, a higher level of stress and anxiety, and appeared to be significantly less extroverted." However, a quite different picture emerged in a study of 12 outstanding healthcare executives published in a June 1990 issue of Modern Healthcare. That study found healthcare executives possessed strong leadership qualities and that "their profile compares quite favorably to similar industry leadership."
In the Van Eynde and Tucker study, the personality measurement tool chosen was something called the Kosdick Perception and Preference Inventory. The authors used this yardstick because it was specifically designed to measure personality traits considered important to leadership inside work organizations. Both groups of CEOs, by the way, were overwhelmingly male, with only one woman in each. Probably the most significant difference between the groups was that all the healthcare CEOs had postgraduate degrees, compared with only 56% of the general business CEOs.
The authors were somewhat surprised by their results, expecting more differences to emerge. That's because over the years hospital CEO positions often have been considered less complex than those of CEOs in other industries. But they say this is no longer the case, citing ongoing changes in healthcare. The authors wrote: "Hospitals clustering into multi-institutional groupings, the growth of investor-owned hospitals and capitation resulting in hospitals being treated as cost centers rather than profit centers are having a turbulent effect on the jobs of hospital CEOs and greatly increasing the complexity of what needs to be done."
If hospital CEOs are less interested in working with details, the authors suggest this may be a way for the executives to keep their sanity in a very complex environment. And regarding healthcare executives scoring lower on the need for rules and supervision, the researchers suggest this may be a strength when independent thinking and decisionmaking are necessary. But Van Eynde and Tucker also caution that there are flip sides to both those tendencies. All in all, however, healthcare CEOs stack up well with their counterparts, and I for one am not surprised at those findings.Business is business,Charles S. Lauer