There's no easy way to define leadership. While vision, strategic thinking and the ability to make tough decisions are essential skills, other less-obvious characteristics also are fundamental.
The ability to compromise and work with rivals to achieve goals, listen to subordinates and make altruistic decisions are three admirable strengths.
New York's recently enacted $9 billion healthcare finance law illustrates how traditional foes such as hospital management and labor can unite to forge a powerful political and public relations machine.
Over the business community's strong objections, Gov. George Pataki signed a bill that guarantees $1.3 billion in annual subsidies to hospitals for indigent care and graduate medical education. A $10 million advertising campaign funded by the Greater New York Hospital Association and Service Employees International Union Local 1199 helped shift the political tide to the provider side. GNYHA President Kenneth Raske and SEIU Local 1199 President Dennis Rivera did a nice job of working for the common good.
Management guru Peter Drucker offered an example of the importance of respect. In a Jan. 1 interview in the Wall Street Journal, Drucker discussed a hospital's managed-care-induced policy change, which altered the professional status of the nurses. The nurses believed the hospital administration shoved the policy down their throats without explanation. Drucker said the chief executive officer should have briefed a group of senior nurses and asked them for suggestions on handling the problem.
"They need to be treated as professionals who know their job," he said. Good leaders know that.
Sister Patricia Vandenberg showcased her leadership skills by quietly walking away from the new 44-hospital system created by the consolidation of Mercy Health Services, Farmington Hills, Mich., and Holy Cross Health System, South Bend, Ind. After being bypassed for the top job, Vandenberg said she will move on, but not before she spends a few months helping meld the two Roman Catholic organizations into Trinity Health.
Vandenberg, who ran the Holy Cross system for 11 years, knew there were no guarantees of a top role in the new organization. Yet her heart told her the merger was the right thing. She should be proud of her commitment.