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The Big Story: The C-Suite Skills That Matter Most Now

“Companies can no longer assume that leaders with traditional managerial pedigrees will succeed in the C-suite,” says Harvard Business Review, after reviewing 7,000 leadership job descriptions. So, what works now? “Leaders who are adept communicators, relationship builders, and people-oriented problem solvers.” 

What it Means for Providers

Your spreadsheet will not get you through the reversal of Roe v. Wade.

Or gun violence. Or health equity, staff burnout, a broken culture, a never-ending global pandemic or the myriad of other systemic outlier issues battering healthcare leaders today.

Make no mistake, traditional business acumen is fundamentally important for someone in a C-suite chair, especially as margins shrink and inflation rises.

But focusing on those skills above others, says HBR after reviewing the language of those thousands of job descriptions, “feels like ancient history.”

  • What’s out: “strength in managing financial and material resources,” down 40 percent since 2000.
  • What’s in: a desire for “strong social skills,” up nearly 30 percent.

Today’s required level of EQ is new. The issues we’re dealing with today have changed. Recent events have underlined the point.

Whether addressing mass shootings or stepping up to speak on the Supreme Court’s Dobbs reversal, we’ve seen the importance of strong communications skills and a steady, empathetic hand for leaders keeping their people banded together while guiding them through a morass of difficult news and substantial organizational change.

We call it being masterful in the “art” of leadership.

No Money, No Mission

Numbers matter to every healthcare organization. As Sister Generose Gervais famously said, no money, no mission.

The investment community is often a leading indicator of where the industry is headed. So, when investors start elevating the importance of people skills, top-shelf communications and mission-oriented operations when considering where to deploy their funds, it’s worth taking note – and we’ve heard this culture-first focus clearly at the private equity conferences we’ve attended this year. DEI is also rising as a priority.

The focus on talent and culture spans all of healthcare, from non-acute providers to complex tertiary health systems. Everyone recognizes that one of the greatest assets of a workforce in the delivery of care is the shared mission to make a positive impact. What comes next is the challenge of deploying new strategies that honor that mission and provide people with purpose.

Investors always recognized that talent is important. Who wouldn’t want the best people to drive an organization toward success? Now, because of the dynamics discussed above, investors see an even greater need for attracting and keeping top talent even as doing so becomes more competitive. Smart investors are increasingly working to support portfolio companies with resources and best practices to build a positive culture, which includes finding and equipping executives who can do the same.

Oh, and the other thing investors are looking for? The ability to present a compelling story and value proposition – because a clear story is key to recruiting talent. A CEO with those softer communications and interpersonal skills is perfectly positioned to deliver that message.

The art is in the balance

We celebrate the rise of “soft” skills. This is the glue that will bind and hold organizations together through the toughest times. As an industry, we’ve had a lot of tough times recently. It’s encouraging to see the pendulum swing.

But don’t confuse “strong social skills” and political savvy with the selling of sunshine and roses. It’s the combination of heart and head, vision and plans, empathy and facts and makes a great leader.

An extra note on numbers

If you’re looking to connect the dots more directly between soft skills and hard numbers, here are two more quick points:

  • Retention: It’s high on the list of challenges for every provider today because it costs more to re-hire than to keep a good employee. Part of retention is giving people a positive work environment. Leaders who can create that culture and foster a sense of purpose and connection will be at an advantage.
  • Margins: The business of healthcare has changed. Reimbursement is low, labor costs high, payer relationships fraught, care models evolved. Provider organizations are trying to find ways to run a more streamlined operation. Doing that requires someone who can look at the numbers, provide room for innovation, and align and rally the team to face the challenges together.

This piece was originally published over the weekend in our Sunday Quick Think newsletter. Fill out the form to get that in your inbox every week.

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