This isn’t your mother or father’s CIO role. In fact, it’s not even your older sibling’s CIO role. Whether it’s learning to adapt to new payment models, or finding ways to incorporate digital health into the strategy, the roadmap has changed dramatically.
It may sound daunting, but to people like Liz Johnson, Daniel Barchi, and Marc Probst, it’s an opportunity to hone their leadership skills and help advance their organizations. It’s precisely that attitude — along with the ability to consistently deliver results — that has cemented their reputations as some of the most respected leaders in the industry.
The big question, however, is how they’ve been able to do that. According to Probst, who is CIO at Intermountain Healthcare, it starts by focusing less on technology itself, and more on how to “make that technology consumable, useable, and beneficial to our caregivers. It’s been an exciting journey.”
But it hasn’t been without its share of bumps – and detours, which is why health IT leadership is such a compelling topic. There are no easy answers on how to navigate the many challenges facing CIOs. There are, however, leaders who are willing to share best practices, and talk about the experiences that helped shape them as individuals. Recently, healthsystemCIO kicked off a new webinar series called “Deconstructing Leadership,” with a discussion on career development that featured Probst, along with Johnson (now Chief Innovation Officer at Tenet Health) and Daniel Barchi (CIO at NewYork-Presbyterian).
By reflecting on their own careers – and focusing both on their successes and failures – the panelists were able to shed some light on what it takes to provide the guidance organizations need to thrive in a complex, rapidly changing environment. [Click here to view the archived presentation.]
- Learn from every experience. For Johnson, working for an individual who was resistant to change and refused to be transparent taught her a lot about the type of environment she needed. “I took what I learned from that experience, and in my next role, I looked for someone who was transparent and willing to listen to ideas,” she said.
- Take responsibility. It’s critical, noted Probst, to find a leader whose interests align with your own, which is his case, was (and continues to be) innovation and business development. But it doesn’t stop there. Once you’ve landed in the right environment, you need to be accountable, which means meeting expectations and keeping others in the loop, he said. As the leader, you need to “establish a trusting relationship, then let people lead and do the jobs we’ve asked them to do.”
- Delegate. One of the key lessons Barchi learned was to be willing and able to delegate tasks. “You can’t run around trying to solve problems on your own. You need to get people involved, early.” It’s also important, he noted, to avoid assigning too many people to the same issue – a common mistake that’s made during a crisis situation. Johnson concurred, adding that leaders need to make sure they’re “keeping the home fires burning and the rest of the business running.”
- Provide feedback. When asked about negative experiences he had, Barchi talked about a manager who was intentionally vague with requests. “You’d work hard on something and bring it to him, and he’d say, ‘it’s not right. Do it again,’ with no input as to what improvements to make,” he noted. “You have to give people real feedback.”
- Listen. “You learn something from everyone you work with, good or bad. I learned that when someone comes to talk to you, give them your full attention,” Barchi said. “Even if there’s a burning issue, put your phone down, push away the papers, and concentrate on that person.”
- Communicate, don’t give orders. One of the most important lessons Barchi learned during his time as a Naval Officer was the importance of effectively communication a task. After several unsuccessful attempts at getting his reports to help clean a pier (in anticipation of a high-ranking official’s arrival), he realized he needed to demonstrate what had to be done – which meant demonstrating how to pull weeks, and conveyed its importance – which mean informing them that dinner would be delayed until the pier was clean. “To this day, that was one of my best learning experiences – you have to know what has to get done, and how to motivate people to get it done.”
- Look beyond the resume. During the hiring process, Probst makes it a point to hold panel interviews, rather than relying on one perspective. “Sometimes [his direct reports] see things I don’t,” he noted. “Being able to understand the person beyond the resume makes it more likely to be a successful hire.”
- Don’t get hung up on titles. Sometimes it isn’t the experience that matters, but rather, the person, said Barchi. When his organization lost the VP of Clinical Applications, it was a chief nurse with no technical experience who filled the role, and has done a “fantastic job,” he said. “When it comes to clinical applications, we often get too mired in the details of the technology; meeting the needs of the clinicians is what’s important.”
- Take risks. Throughout her career, Johnson has worked diligently to make sure “all ideas are considered with respect and honesty,” and placed a high value on “people with passion, vision, and a willingness to take risks.” This is particularly crucial, she noted, in an environment where what worked in the past won’t necessarily work in the future.
- Read between the lines. To Barchi, that means listening closely for hints that something is amiss. It’s “knowing when someone is trying to say something and pulling that thread. To me, that’s leadership. It’s not telling someone what to do; it’s coaxing those concerns out of them and getting them on the table.”
- Read leadership books. There’s a lot to learn from reading books by leaders inside and outside of healthcare, but remember – it’s one person’s perspective, and shouldn’t be treated as a script to follow. “You don’t read a book and instantly become a different type of leader,” noted Johnson. “You read a book and you begin to understand more about the people you work with and more about yourself, and how that exchange can become more powerful.”
- Keep evolving. This holds true for any role, but especially health IT leaders. “When we become CIOs early in our careers, it was because we understood computers and networks and programming,” said Probst. Eventually, the focus changed as leaders realized that “the value that comes from these systems isn’t in the technology; it’s in how you align that technology to support workflows and people.”
Finally, as all three panelists emphasized, the study of leadership is ongoing. There’s much to be learned through reading articles, attending events like CHIME, and participating in educational activities — but that learning never stops. And our panelists wouldn’t have it any other way.