Surviving change is not enough

The next-generation leaders will emerge as drivers of the change process in new ways, with 'synaptic leadership' capabilities.
By Pamela Dixon
12:00 AM

Change was the one constant in healthcare in 2013. 

Most of our clients voiced a need for leadership that can facilitate change faster. We took note that all key leadership roles were under pressure, from the chief information officer to the chief executive officer. 

We have seen new leadership dyads emerge since HITECH, such as the chief information officer and the chief medical information officer. New roles are emerging, such as chief quality information officer, chief research information officer, chief data officer and chief accountable care officer.

We have also seen some of the greatest turnover in the industry. According to a study by Challenger, Gray & Christmas, healthcare led all industries in CEO turnover in 2013. Each leader in the healthcare industry has had to learn how to help his or her organization thrive in a new world of change.  

The SSi-SEARCH annual Top Ten Leadership Skill List in 2013 was driven by change in the industry and the ability to lead change effectively, dynamically, and more quickly.

This is the starting point for 2014, and we have boiled our Top 10 List down to a single concept we call "synaptic leadership." That is, those leaders who know how to engage in the flow of information and who can engineer the right connections between the right individuals at the right time to not only cope with change, but successfully lead change.

We heard three attributes emerge on the healthcare horizon as priority skills for leadership. These skills are building blocks of synaptic leadership.

First, organizational intelligence, or what we would describe as an understanding of the flow of information in an organization and how to engage at the appropriate points within the organization to get things done.

Time is at such a premium leaders can no longer wait to understand what has taken place but they need to understand what is taking place. We consider those leaders who understand how to engage nimbly within complex organizations and who can navigate successfully as an organization morphs, as 'organizationally intelligent'. Organizations are becoming more dynamic in an era of mergers and acquisitions, new ventures and matrix partnerships. Individuals adept at navigating a dynamic terrain will become more valuable.

Second is innovation. All healthcare leaders are being challenged to think in new ways to create new solutions. The request for innovation as a proven skill began to surface in our clients' list of leadership needs in a clear way at the start of 2013. If innovation is the key to transforming healthcare, creating a culture that fosters innovation will become a core objective for leadership in 2014 and beyond. We are always focused on identifying leaders who can think strategically and draw on dynamic environments to solve problems within and across teams. Sometimes these leaders can be found creating 'labs of innovation' within their organization. Others may be leading new initiatives and crossing new boundaries at home and abroad.

Third is communication. Great leaders have always relied on strong communication skills. Moving to a data driven culture will create new demands on healthcare leaders' communication skills. This is not a new skill but finding new and better ways to communicate greater amounts of data and information will become increasingly important. Those leaders who can decipher complex information into more easily digestible information and ensure that is relayed to the appropriate leaders and teams will be able to facilitate and create change faster.

The convergence of these abilities is apparent in synaptic leaders. Like the synapse in the central nervous system, these individuals can connect the vast resources working across the organization and enable greater accomplishments. They do this by aligning, connecting, and sharing information to help create a culture that embraces change and looks for new, innovative solutions.

SSi-SEARCH is a national, retained, executive search firm that partners with leading healthcare organizations to identify and recruit transformational healthcare leadership, at the intersection of strategy and technology.