There are essentially two types of healthcare leaders.  Those who leave behind memories and those who build a legacy. 

Memories – good and bad – fade from consciousness.  Legacies are forever.  They are not formed by good executives.  They are built by dynamic leaders who are not afraid to take risks with big, transformational ideas.

Great leaders are like works of art.  They build a solid, patient/customer focused culture that is the organization’s heart and soul.  They develop centers of clinical and wellness excellence that are an integral part of the communities they serve.

Bad leaders – who are tragedies – leave behind second-class, dangerous hospitals, or abandoned buildings or, worse yet, a vacant lot where a hospital once stood. (Think Pittsburgh.)

A savvy Chief Executive, who engineered a stunningly successful turnaround of a New York hospital, once said that hospital boards and their CEOs lose money because they choose to.  Yes, they have a myriad of reasons/explanations why they lose, but more often than not those explanations amount to little more than lame excuses, he reasoned.  In the end, it was a matter of choice and the legacy they will leave behind – an inability to make the hard choices or to successfully execute — that will be a tragedy for their communities

This nation’s hospital CEOs have one of the hardest jobs in all of business.  They run complex businesses that are highly regulated under the silly guise of being a free-market business model.  They have long struggled to balance reimbursement with the rising costs of doing business.  Now it is going to get tougher as Congress, whether its members want to or not, moves to reduce federal spending, which means that the reimbursement we receive from Medicare today is the most we will ever see in our lifetime.  But all is not lost.

As I travel around the country, I periodically lecture to healthcare management graduate students.  This new generation of future healthcare leaders is one of the best.  They “get” the grave challenges and the extent of the nation’s financial crisis, but they are eager to build a lasting legacy – with a radically transformed healthcare business model. 

They are works of art waiting in the wings.

© 2012 John Gregory Self