Are you a Transformational Leader

By: Keith C. Southerland


Anyone who has attempted to learn a new language has probably been told that you’re not really “fluent”
in the language until you think in the new language. In other words, you can’t truly be fluent if you must
translate everything back to your primary language.

When we think about the type of leader who is really capable of transforming provider systems to survive
and prosper in this constantly evolving healthcare environment, this analogy is very fitting. Healthcare
leaders often mouth the words of the new “language” of healthcare delivery - community focus, continuum
of care, quality, value-based, outcomes, etc. All of these are laudable and aspirational goals.

However, beyond the platitudes, what does a leader’s actions reveal about their true comprehension of
what is required to successfully guide tomorrow’s provider organization. What is their willingness and
desire to do what is necessary to effect such change? Are they truly focused on helping their organization
become the value and outcomes-based system providing the highest possible level of quality care? Or, are
they falling back on the defensive strategies of the past, -- growth for growth sake, ill-advised mergers and
acquisitions, non-strategic purchasing of physician practices, etc.?

A prime example of a fluent healthcare leader is Marc Harrison, MD, who in 2015, became CEO of
Intermountain Healthcare, one of the most respected and successful healthcare systems in the world.
Dr. Harrison realized that even a successful system like Intermountain, lauded even by the President of the
United States for delivering the highest level of quality care, must continue to improve and evolve. He has
led the charge toward delivering the highest level of quality and affordability, through innovation that aligns
with the Intermountain Mission, Vision and Values and by changing the focus from “sick care” to wellness.

Intermountain is pursuing an aggressive Telehealth initiative that will incentivize patients to seek care in the
most efficient and cost-effective setting. Telehealth visits are less expensive than physician office visits, which
are less expensive than hospital stays. The Intermountain EMR system permits physicians to directly
schedule Telehealth visits with their patients.

As another example of “thinking in the new language”, Dr. Harrison and Intermountain have joined with
other progressive health systems, such as Ascension, SSM and Trinity Health to create the Generic Rx
Company, which will focus on attacking the unwarranted shortages and high costs of life-saving generic
drugs. This new, not-for-profit generic drug company will focus on the manufacture and distribution of a
select number of these generic drugs, to not only lower costs for their patients, but to also make available
drugs which could save lives.

In recent years, much has been made about how size matters when it comes to the survival of
healthcare delivery systems in the future. Many articles have been written about how a healthcare
delivery system needs to be a certain size in financial terms, ($3B+ Net Revenue, etc.) and we have
witnessed the seemingly endless parade of mergers, acquisitions and even closures. This is not to say
that mergers, acquisitions and growth in general are bad, but someone who is truly a Transformational
leader will ask, “Why am I recommending this merger or acquisition? Is it truly in the best interests of
the organization and the communities we serve or am I translating back through the old language of
defensive strategies focused on maintaining status quo rather than transformation?”

Virginia Mason of Seattle is a prime example of an organization that did not get caught up in the pack
mentality of “Bigger is Better”, choosing instead to focus upon, “Pursuit of the Perfect Patient
Experience”. Under the leadership of Gary Kaplan, MD, Virginia Mason embarked upon what has
become a decade-long journey to achieve this goal. Through implementation of the Toyota Lean
Management philosophy and creation of the Virginia Mason Institute in 2008, Virginia Mason has
established a global reputation for being on the forefront of change through for a relentless pursuit of
perfection, elimination of waste and inefficiency and innovation.

Virginia Mason has achieved this success without overtly focusing on acquisitions to achieve top or
bottom-line growth. Their approach proves that instead of “Bigger is Better”, maybe “Better is Better”?

These examples are not intended to proclaim that Intermountain or Virginia Mason’s business
strategies are perfect or even ideal for every healthcare delivery system. The point is that the leaders of
these organizations took bold and assertive actions to transform from “Old Language” systems,
focused on growth, size, market dominance, etc., to “New Language” systems that practice what they
preach and are constantly striving to improve the health of the communities they serve.

When Boards of Directors ask us to help them identify CEO leadership, the focus increasingly is to
identify the type of leader described here. If your desire is to lead the progressive delivery system of
the future, a healthy introspection to determine if you believe the direction healthcare is taking is right
for you and just how “fluent” you are.

Keith Southerland, with over three decades of experience conducting executive search for healthcare provider
organizations, serves as Board Chair of HealthSearch Partners. He can be reached at (469) 296-4477 and at

HealthSearch Partners is most eager to assist you in finding the best candidate to fill your next leadership
position. With a foundation of more than 100 years’ combined experience, HealthSearch principals are adept
at matching leaders with clients. We focus on individuals whose skill-set and track record demonstrates
performance in all areas of importance to healthcare organizations: high quality care, customer satisfaction,
operational improvement and financial success. We understand what is necessary to determine fit and find
transformational leaders for your organization.

We urge you to visit our website: and contact Keith or any of the
principals to assist you in your next search needs.


O. 469-236-4477
M. 214-697-3479