Healthcare CIOs Should Become 'Servant Leaders' - InformationWeek

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Government // Leadership

Healthcare CIOs Should Become 'Servant Leaders'

Author and consultant Ken Blanchard advises healthcare CIOs at HIMSS12 to lead their teams with a clear vision and respect for others' ideas.

Health IT On Display: HIMSS12 Preview
Health IT On Display: HIMSS12 Preview
(click image for larger view and for slideshow)

No one doubts that healthcare CIOs and their teams are under great pressure these days. But CIOs attending the CHIME CIO forum in Las Vegas this week got some tips in how to rejuvenate their leadership skills with hope, vision, and respect for the talent in their organizations.

"What's the mental image you provide your people?" asked Ken Blanchard, an author and co-founder of consulting firm the Ken Blanchard Companies, of several hundred healthcare IT leaders attending his CHIME CIO Forum keynote address, "Full Steam Ahead, Unleash The Power of Vision in Your Work and Life."

"As a leader of an operation, you need to be a bearer of hope," he said. That means not only having a can-do attitude, but knowing how to manage other people's energy, solicit their ideas, and help manage change, he said.

[ The most effective leaders are often the ones who think outside the box. Read more at Healthcare IT Needs More Crazy CIOs. ]

Much of that boils down to being a "servant leader," according to Blanchard. "Being a servant leader is the only way to get great results and satisfaction," he said. That means providing your team with a compelling vision of where you're going--including who you are, the business that you're in, where you're going and how you want to get there, and the goals you have, he said.

Blanchard offered up examples of successful companies that have servant leadership, including retailer Nordstrom, grocery chain Wegmans, and Southwest Airlines, each of which has well-defined values that focus on customer satisfaction and employee loyalty.

"Southwest says 'we're in the customer service business, but we happen to fly,'" he said. For healthcare CIOs, "you're in the healthcare business, but you happen to fly information," he said.

For healthcare CIOs, that doesn't just mean providing clinicians with the data that's needed for them to do their jobs. It's also about communicating with your own team about your vision for the organization and then treating those employees as valued players in that journey.

"You need to share that information with your people, and treat them as business partners with brains," including soliciting them for ideas in good and bad times, Blanchard said. That could include soliciting their suggestions for growing revenue as well as cutting costs. And in these days when healthcare CIOs have so much on their to-do list, more than ever they should make sure staff understand the vision and encourage them in implementing change.

When organizations undergo change, leaders should "use your people as business partners to make these changes; don't think you can do it yourself," he said.

Still, when leaders ask people in their organizations to undergo change, it's important to remember that "people can only handle so much change at once. You immobilize people when you there's too much change at once," he said. And when you make changes, try to be creative in getting resources to help, he said. Servant leaders should not see the people as order-takers or "moveable parts" in the aim for your business to make money, he said. "That doesn’t build trust or a great organization, that's trading room leadership," he said.

Still, once there's momentum in change and the journey to reaching a goal, it's important to "keep moving forward," he said. "Once you take the pressure off people, they'll go back to doing what they did before," he said.

Finally, leaders need to guide by example. "If you want people in your organization to do something difficult, you need to do it too."

The CHIME CIO Forum was one of the events taking place this week at HIMSS 12.

Healthcare providers must collect all sorts of performance data to meet emerging standards. The new Pay For Performance issue of InformationWeek Healthcare delves into the huge task ahead. Also in this issue: Why personal health records have flopped. (Free registration required.)

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