Have you got what it takes?

A closer look at the core competencies required in leadership

By: Patricia A. Hoffmeir

Senior Vice President
Tyler & Company, a member of Signium International 
+1 610 558 6100 (T) 
phoffmeir@tylerandco.com (E)

As published in The Leadership Journal of Women Executives in Science & Healthcare, Summer 2012, Vol. 3, No. 1

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Several of the professional healthcare organizations and associations have developed their own competency models. So how does a physician leader know which competencies to adopt? You could seek to improve your skills to be in alignment with the competencies published by any of these major associations – the American College of Healthcare Executives (ACHE), the National Center for Healthcare Leadership (NCHL), the Medical Group Management Association (MGMA), or the writings of the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC).

Rather than chase a moving bus, I recommend you take a broader approach to developing your core competencies by focusing on the skills all healthcare executives need today.

Core Competencies

A core competency is defined as an underlying characteristic of an individual that is related to superior performance in a job or situation.Naturally, hiring organizations expect every job candidate to have certain core competencies. This is because, in practical terms, they determine who will be particularly effective in any given job.

J. Larry Tyler, Chairman and CEO of Tyler & Company, and Andrew N. Garman, PsyD, MS, of Rush University, worked with ACHE on a one-year research project to develop a job-relevant multisource feedback survey. The seven competency clusters defined below were born from this research as a set of criteria to develop leadership talent in healthcare administration. Adopting these seven competencies provides senior healthcare executives with the skills they need to lead their organizations, grow professionally and mentor “up and comers.” The seven clusters are:

  • Charting the course,
  • Developing work relationships,
  • Using broad influence,
  • Structuring the work environment,
  • Inspiring commitment,
  • Communication, and
  • Self-management.

Let’s look more closely at each.

  1. Charting the Course: includes strategic vision, innovativeness, systems-thinking and flexibility / adaptability.To master this competency cluster, you’ll need to demonstrate a solid feel for the organization’s purpose and keep track of important changes in the external environment. Effectively visualize the organization’s future and create a clear, appealing vision that all employees can subscribe to. You’ll need to think “outside the box." Anticipate the way changes in one department may affect other departments, and integrate all departments. Also, be open to new ideas and courses of action, and be skillful and creative in your problem-solving.

  2. Developing Work Relationships: includes individual understanding, mentoring, and physician / clinical relations. Improving your skills in this competency cluster requires that you understand employees; you know which motivational factors help them reach their goals. You must view clinicians as partners rather than employees, understand their professional objectives, and be sensitive to their needs.

  3. Using Broad Influence: includes consensus-building, persuasiveness, political skills and collaboration / team building. This can be a difficult competency cluster for anyone to master, but to do so, you’ll need to understand all parties’ agendas and use that knowledge to generate compromises. You’ll want to influence others to get on board in the face of change. Develop your political instincts and know when to be proactive. Create coalitions among employees around broader goals and bring groups to consensus on team goals that satisfy everyone.

  4. Structuring the Work Environment:includes work design and coordination, giving feedback / managing performance,effectively using meeting time and making decisions.To master this competency cluster, work on delegating, multi-tasking effectively and setting clear and measurable objectives. You’ll also want to communicate a clear and consistent message about expected results and address performance issues in a timely manner. Learn to make tough decisions without hesitating, and understand when the organization is and is not ready for change.

  5. Inspiring Commitment: includes building trust, listening / receiving feedback, tenacity and self-presentation. Seek to communicate truthfully about and follow through on promises and decisions. Know when to listen and when to speak, and show interest in others’ opinions. Showing courage of your convictions is important to build this competency cluster. Also, present yourself in a manner that puts others at ease.

  6. Communicating: includes energizing, crafting messages, writing, speaking and availability. This arguably is the most important competency cluster. To master it, communicate and act in ways that energize others and get people invigorated and excited about their work. Deliver clear, concise and articulate messages. Always take care to write messages that are clear and coherent. Develop good podium skills and speak clearly. Of course, it’s hard to communicate if your door is always closed. 

  7. Self-management: includes managing limits, balance; resilience / self-restraint. The final competency cluster we’ll focus on requires that you show awareness of limits in knowledge and abilities and seek input from others with those strengths. Show respect for ideas and opinions, and address concerns in positive and constructive ways. Try to pursue interests outside of the organization to achieve a healthy work and family life balance.

Action Steps to Improve Your Skills

Now that we’ve defined the core competencies healthcare executives need, how do you develop them? Ideally, the first step is to measure your current proficiency level in each of the seven areas above. From there, you can prioritize which areas need attention and set out a plan to improve your skills. Many of us received our healthcare education decades ago, so a practical way to build your competency base is to seek opportunities for direct experience, as well as look for educational sources.

Networking and mentorship opportunities are great ways to gain direct experience from your more seasoned peers. In addition to attending WESH conferences,join other professional societies and professional associations, attend their conferences and earn their professional designations. These are all ways to improve your body of knowledge, and subsequently, your skill set. If you’re planning a long and successful career in medicine, master the core competencies defined above. They will serve you well and help you stay ahead of the pack as an exceptional, highly respected leader.