The HCI Group was pleased to welcome former Cleveland Clinic CEO, Dr. Toby Cosgrove and Russ Branzell, CEO of College of Healthcare Information Executives (CHIME). as part of our live interactive webinar series, Leadership Insights. Our host, digital health expert and former Cleveland Clinic CIO, Ed Marx moderated the thirty-minute exchange between these two titans of the industry, and listened in as Russ and Toby dug deep to tease out some key leadership insights about the evolution of leadership during the COVID-19 health crisis, gave some key advice to senior C-suite leadership, and provided commentary on how leadership must adapt to seismic shift to virtual care.
“Sometimes you just must make decisions and then work to make those decisions great. If you wait to make great decisions, then you will never get there. The people who are doing well today just made decisions at the very beginning [of the COVID-19 crisis] and have tried to adjust and make them go as well as possible.”
The Evolution of Leadership during the COVID-19 Crisis
Ed Marx: Do you think of leadership differently today, then you did three months ago? Has COVID-19 shifted the leadership equation? Dr. Cosgrove, we will start with you.
Dr. Toby Cosgrove: First, I think leadership is not changed. I think the requisites the same. I just think they are emphasized. I think the importance of communication from a leader is much more important than before, and I think that is always true in times of crisis. Leaders must step up, must communicate, and must communicate by any manual way, and by any media by which they possibly can.
Russ Branzell: It’s easy to lead during good times, and I’m reminded of one of my mentors for many years reminded me, when I first stepped into a CEO position, he said: ‘Russ I don’t pay you to lead during the good times, I pay to you lead during the difficult teams and to make difficult decisions.’ Difficult times really do delineate the good leaders who can make good decisions on scant information. Leadership principles have not changed at all, but I do think that currently there are unique stressors on leaders which will help some rise to the top.
Sometimes you just must make decisions and then work to make those decisions great. If you wait to make great decisions, then you will never get there. The people who are doing well today just made decisions at the very beginning [of the COVID-19 crisis] and have tried to adjust and make them go as well as possible.
Advice to C-suites of Health Systems and Hospitals during the COVID-19 Crisis
Ed Marx: What advice would you go give to CEO of a large health system or small hospital [during the COVID-19 crisis]?
Dr. Toby Cosgrove: You must speak truths and reality to people. Sometimes the news is good, sometimes the news is bad, but it must be true. If the news is bad, then you must give them hope for managing the bad news going forward. I think one of the other important things is, and I learned this the hard way from previous experience, you must be humble. People will listen more if you are not arrogant and you are humble. People do not expect you to be perfectly sanguine about all these things, people just will not believe you.
Russell Branzell: I agree with the concept of humility. The position of CEO is one of the loneliest jobs in the world. You often feel very vulnerable in that position. So first, you need to lean on your people—leaders who you work with every day and try to pull the best out of them, sometimes to the point of stress, where you are pushing them to the very edge of what of what they are capable.
Secondly, you must have the ability to lean on peer-to-peer relationships and networks within the industry. These types of relationships and interactions allow you to have vulnerability and frank discussions about issues confronting us today. You should be cultivating these types of relationships years in advance of a crisis like this. I get phone calls from frontline leaders everyday asking for advice about dealing with extreme situations. That comes with a lot of pressure to help somebody dealing with some of the most difficult things they have every dealt with.
The Evolution of Virtual Care during the COVID-19 Crisis
Ed Marx: What new skill, or skillset do, C-suite leaders need to emphasize to lead during this new age of virtual care? Is leadership the same, or has it fundamentally changed because of digital transformation?
Dr. Toby Cosgrove: [Virtual Care] has been a huge point of emphasis since even before COVID-19. However, prior to the start of the crisis, virtual care visits only accounted for two percent of all encounters. Now, because of COVID-19, they make up 75% of all encounters. It took a huge change in society to make this happen and now we, as leaders, must take advantage of it. It is important that we provide the technology and support to facilitate this type of interaction between doctors and patients. While [the principles] of leadership have not fundamentally changed, we are learning new techniques and technologies, and we must remain open to change. Furthermore, as leaders, we must have enough understanding to guide people to tools that are appropriate for virtual care.