Downloading Success: Executive Succession and Leadership Development – Part 2

Contributors: Bob Clarke and Joe Mazzenga
To learn more about Bob and Joe, click here.


image003.pngAs the Baby Boom generation continues to retire, healthcare organizations increasingly are looking to increase their bench strength and talent pipeline through leadership development. The goal is to identify successors not only for CEO roles but for other C-suite positions and even titles further down the organizational chart.

The hard truth is that healthcare organizations have talked a good game around this need for years without significant commitment to making it a reality. A bright spot in this dilemma is that more clinicians are looking for an opportunity to influence the organization as a whole, not merely their own division or department.

Some progressive healthcare organizations have created in-house leadership academies to groom the leaders of tomorrow, but their effectiveness has not been sufficiently studied. Yet the churn of the healthcare labor pool has companies realizing that working to retain top talent is inherently less problematic than continually shopping for new leaders – it takes four times the salary of a departed employee to replace him or her

Through our own decades of working with healthcare organizations, we have identified a number of competencies that can elevate an individual’s ability to lead, as well as some best practices for cultivating leaders for succession. Let’s look at some of them.


We believe it best to organize leadership traits into two categories: individual (character) and organizational. In our years of working with thousands of executives, we have found it is the softer skills that make the difference between a good leader and a great leader. While all of us are born with some leadership abilities, the best leaders are continually seeking to grow and evolve their capabilities, thus maximizing their potential in executive succession plans.


Humility: As a leader, it’s important for you to put aside your pride and rely on others. Listen to others, follow others – in short, be humble.

Patience: Being reactive isn’t the same as being proactive. Things don’t have to happen right away. Patience creates calm and improves decision-making.

Trust: Listen and lean into others. Allow yourself to trust others.  As a leader, you get the gift of input.

Collaboration: Our best work is the result of working with and encouraging one another. Value collaboration.

Integrity:  Do the right thing always, without fail. This is the foundation for who you are. Do not compromise.

Courage: What does it mean to have courage? It means to ask questions, to challenge the status quo and fight for what is right. Have the courage to lead – and the courage to fail, which all leaders will do at one point or another.

Love of learning: Seek out all that is new.  Ask, observe, question. Consume newness. Embrace “different.”

Tolerance: Be tolerant of ideas and the input of others. Be tolerant of thought, actions, and deeds.  People are essentially good.

Honesty: Honesty can never be overrated.  Honesty cannot be compromised. It is who you are, all the time. Let this never be a question that others have about your character.

Compassion: Leading people requires compassion.  Empathy, grace and kindness lead to a compassion that makes for a great leader.


Leadership agility: Becoming a leader requires an observant knowledge of how organizations work and an appreciation for how things get done in the workplace, both through formal channels and the informal network. A leader must be able to settle differences with minimal noise and build engagement. He or she can be direct and forceful if needed, as well as diplomatic.

Building engagement: Strong teams are pivotal, especially in healthcare. We can’t do this alone. A leader puts a premium on buy-in and employee engagement through communication and dialogue. We won’t always agree, but our teams need to be clear on our reasoning and assured their voices were heard and considered.

Decisiveness: All leaders will make mistakes. Bad decisions can be altered or reversed, but most organizations will find it difficult to overcome consistent delays on decisions. Worse, paralysis by analysis often proves to be contagious when it starts at the very top of an organization.

Reliability: There are times when an organization needs a shakeup, but most organizations will thrive financially and organizationally when the leader has a steady hand and a long-term view. 

Change management: This is not a cliché or a buzzword. The volatility of the business landscape demands that a leader continually prepares the organization for change by focusing on the organizational vision and openly addressing the obstacles to change. A good leader creates a coalition of change agents.


How, then, does an organization develop these traits in its leaders to ensure succession? A healthy organization ensures the recruitment, development, and retention of talent becomes an ongoing priority of the team and not something delegated to human resources or simply an annual event. Top leadership needs to provide the resources and the time for their talent to be developed through various tools and processes. Leadership needs to demonstrate and model this commitment to development; leaders go first

Team agreements: Leadership is not learned or cultivated in a vacuum. Leadership teams must come together regularly to establish goals and measure progress. 

The feedback loop: Part of the hard work of learning to communicate is realizing feedback is crucial for learning new skills and eliminating old habits. Leaders must realize feedback is for the good of the organization and that constructive criticism is delivered around behavior, not identity or personality.  

Getting beyond the classroom: It’s good for leaders to get out of their normal environments. But simply paying for your leaders to sit in a classroom for a week at a respected university is unlikely to bring the personal or systemic change you seek. Leadership teams must be given tangible projects, not merely simulations, that address current needs of the organization. 

Personal investment: Leaders must be invested in their leadership development; it can’t simply become a box to be checked off to please the hierarchy or to earn continuing education units. That is why we recommend that leaders, in concert with consultants or organizational psychologists, establish specific goals for themselves. 


Your succession plan is only as strong as your leadership team development plan – and the board and CEO who determine those elements.


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