Healthcare Musings March 2011

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CEO Wanted: Read Before Applying

By Jim Gibson

Jim Gibson

March 2011

Position: Chief Executive Officer
Location: Anywhere in US
Compensation: A lot … if you succeed

Early stage health IT company looking for experienced executive to lead firm to fulfillment of its promise. He or she must be able to quickly:  

    • Determine with certainty and complete accuracy what the US healthcare system will look like in three to seven years, including the most profitable HIT solution opportunities and who the competition will be
    • Determine with same certainty and accuracy technology developments and trends over the same three to seven years
    • Steer Company and its products to a dominant market position in this yet-to-evolve market by
        •  Formulating winning solution strategy
        •  Motivating employees to develop, deliver, and support first-class product solutions to seize the described opportunity
        •  Ensuring solutions are timed perfectly to hit the market when their value is most apparent
        •  Selling this vision of ultimate market evolution and Company’s inescapable value proposition to investors, employees, customers, prospects, and business partners
    • Raise capital as needed, when needed, regardless of capital market conditions and fluctuations, while minimizing dilution of shareholder equity
    • Always exhibit calm, unshakeable confidence in the face of trials, set-backs, and surprises, which may come from any direction (e.g., competitors, the government, Company employees, customers, technological impediments, etc.)
    • Achieve this in a highly competitive, volatile environment, which is impacted by many variables beyond one’s control

Would you apply to this job posting? Not me. No thanks. I like a challenge, but come on! This job seems impossible. Yet it’s an apt description of today’s job requirements of a CEO of an HIT vendor.

Nobody’s perfect, but the CEO had better be pretty close. Some reading this might smirk and nod in agreement and maybe even think, “I wish I was as confident as I need to appear to everyone.”

Impossible as it seems, some are able to pull it off – if not entirely, at least enough to win the business of customers, trust of the Board, admiration of peers, and respect of employees.

Dealing regularly with senior leaders allows us to see up close some elite managers leading high performing companies. Unfortunately, we also get to see many that struggle. At the risk of placing too much credit or blame on one person, the CEO (or GM in a larger company) often does make the difference between success and unfulfilled promise.

With few exceptions, the elite leader brings to the job a combination of hard skills, soft skills, and self-awareness.

The hard skills are the obvious ones: brains; eloquence; confidence; experience; passion; and so on. The soft skills are less obvious but just as important. The effective leader is typically:

  • Secure enough to build an empowered team and an open environment, which invites the free exchange of ideas and constructive debate
  • Humble enough to admit mistakes and change course as needed
  • Mature in a way that leads to thoughtful, rationale decisions based on business logic rather than emotion
  • Open-minded, yet able to make a decision
  • Enlightened to the value of others’ ideas and contributions
  • Savvy enough to manage both up and down (few things are less inspiring than a leader with great vision that can’t get approval to execute)

The presence of these hard skills and soft skills is a good foundation, but the way they are applied is how the magic happens. The best managers seem to have a well developed self-awareness of their limitations. It’s as though they’ve gotten a brutally honest assessment of their talents and performance that other CEOs have been denied (perhaps they’ve surrounded themselves with “yes men?”).

For the leader of an HIT company, self–awareness reveals a blind spot needing to be addressed. Those lacking self–awareness either don’t recognize the blind spot or don’t know how to compensate for it.

Maybe the CEO doesn’t have deep roots in delivery and wonders why clients aren’t as happy as they should be, and why implementations take longer than expected, eating up more resources than budgeted…and why the next implementation goes no better than the previous one.

Perhaps technology isn’t the leader’s strongest suit. Maybe it’s a black box requiring almost complete trust in the heads of development and engineering, with no reliable reality checking.

A common scenario is the CEO who never “carried a bag” as a quota bearing salesperson. The customary complaint underscores frustration and vulnerability about a business function that evades their grasp, “Why can’t we just find good salespeople that can sell this stuff?”

The elite leader is aware of the blind spot and addresses it head on. Recognizing it is half the battle and, in most cases, the more difficult half. It can be mitigated in a number of ways, usually involving the development of a strong, complementary team.

None of this is new. Volumes have been written about leadership. Before getting to the top job, most CEOs have had ample management training to know about hard skills, soft skills, and self-awareness, even if known by other terms. But sometimes the most valuable lessons are the ones we need to learn over and over again.

Most companies, even early stage companies, use business plans to assess the company’s progress relative to goals and performance appraisals to assess employees’ development. The enlightened CEO knows the value of honest self assessments and reverse performance appraisals. Without them, succeeding in the top job would be impossible.

About the Author  

Gibson Consultants is a search firm specializing in executive and management level hires for healthcare IT companies. Most clients also ask for help finding sales resources, given the challenges of making a good sales hire.

Jim Gibson founded Gibson Consultants in 2002 after careers in healthcare IT and group health insurance. At Dictaphone Healthcare he was responsible for sales of speech recognition solutions to providers in the northeast. Working with the product management group, he also helped position Dictaphone's automated coding, NLP, and handheld charge capture solutions. As vice president of sales for HSS (now part of Ingenix), Jim was responsible for nationwide direct and third party sales of coding, case mix classification, and prospective payment system (PPS) software to hospitals and payers. Before HSS, Jim sold the DIAMOND payer administration system for Health System Design and clinical guidelines and administrative services for Health Risk Management. Prior to his healthcare IT career, he spent nine years with Prudential Healthcare in sales, sales management, and hospital contracting. 

You can reach Jim directly at (203) 431-1536 or email jim@gibson-consultants.com

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