Successful Health Care Leaders Need a Deep Understanding of the Ecosystem

Mastering health care leadership in a complex industry

A health care provider with several icons surrounding them on a blue background.
The health care industry is the most complex industry on Earth.

I know this is a bold statement. It is also a true statement.  While science-based industries by nature are complex and unpredictable, it is even more so when the health and very lives of others are at the center. And many factors are at play. For example:

  • Complicated economics: The economics of health care vary from country to country and are often opaque. Simply understanding how prices are set, and who profits, is the source of countless academic research papers and the focus of a recentHMS Corporate Learning blog: Health Care Economics: 5 Facts Business Leaders Should Know.
  • Highly regulated: Many businesses in the industry --like biopharma and medical device companies--are highly regulated with nuanced and evolving requirements.
  • Need for autonomy: Clinicians demand the independence and the support to do what is right for their patients. Scientists must be given the space to experiment without the fear of failure. Teams must be allowed to self-organize and self-direct. But this autonomy cannot be unlimited or without boundaries.
  • Dynamic and uncertain: The practice of medicine is constantly evolving as new evidence emerges and innovations are put into practice. Additionally, the practice of medicine is full of uncertainty, and decisions must be made with limited and imperfect information.
  • Stakes are high: Almost every decision a leader takes in health care can directly impact the health and well-being of patients, sometimes millions of patients. And these decisions must be made in the face of constant financial pressures.

All this means that health care leaders must demonstrate deeply informed courage in order to make context-rich decisions and set the tone for the rest of their organizations. 

Leading health care professionals is challenging.

The skilled health care leader knows how to ask the right questions, how and when to coach, and understands those critical occasions when a leadership intervention is required. They must invest time in mastering a complex and constantly evolving landscape. It’s not enough to rely on osmosis and experience. It requires an intentional and deliberate approach. 

Even the most seasoned health care leaders can benefit from formal professional development. Decision-making improves through exploring complicated and challenging issues with like-minded leaders in the safe space of a classroom that brings industry context to the experience in thoughtful ways. 

When done well, you can almost feel the magic of engaged learners taking their leadership to a new level.