What It Takes

June 24, 2011
There have been many books written on what it takes to be an effective leader, with most using profiles to identify the characteristics that foster
There have been many books written on what it takes to be an effective leader, with most using profiles to identify the characteristics that foster success. Since we've done nine profiles of excellence for this issue, I've decided to do a mini-study in excellence by pulling out common qualities shared by our winners.

Passion for the job

If you don't care about doing an exceptional job, you might as well pack it in and go home. Your CIO counterparts at the competing hospitals across town live for their jobs, care deeply about patients and truly believe they play a big part in clinical outcomes. Thus, they work harder, longer and more intensely. If you are just going through the motions, why bother? There is no substitute for intense pride in your work.

Salient Quotes

“I love working with our doctors and nurses and hospital administrators. It's something I totally enjoy. And I love to dialogue with the doctors in terms of how they're using technology, what their suggestions are. I think that how you feel about what you're doing shows.” — Patricia Skarulis

“I have tremendous passion for what we do.” — Marc Probst

“If we can't do good patient care, it's not worth getting up in the morning.” — Daniel Mingle, M.D.

“… it's been so refreshing to feel like I can make a difference at a patient level.” — Donna Staton

“We can make a difference, whether we're in a 50-bed hospital or a 10-hospital system. We can take technology and make doctors' and patients' lives easier.” — Harry Lukens


No one knows everything. That's why an open-door policy with both staff and clinicians is so important. For one, your staff will feel more respected and engaged in their work. Secondly, and more importantly, they will bring perspectives to the table that you can't possibly have. Let your whole organization know that you're a sponge for ideas, then close the door and morph into a filter that only gives the good ones legs (and funding).

Salient Quotes

“I seek, process, and appreciate input, and not just from my next layer down of management reports.” — Lynn Witherspoon, M.D.

“The whole idea behind the ‘Wild Idea Team’ is that no idea is too dumb.” — Harry Lukens

“You had people who had never been out on the floor, out talking with nurses and doctors and respiratory therapists and whatnot. I think that that did a tremendous amount for everyone.” — David Bernard, M.D., Ph.D.

“ … one of the neat things about that was the way in which we were able to engage the clinicians on that strategy.” — Ken Lawonn

Take calculated risks

If you ever want to be recognized as an innovator, by definition you have to take risks. By that, I mean do things that you have not seen done before. This requires real “thinking outside the box,” and necessarily involves accepting the chance of failure (see definition of “risk”), but never taking risks means slogging through an average and boring career. Risk-taking should be exhilarating and fun, but well thought out. There is no substitute.

Salient Quote

“When you're right, you have to be a risk-taker and do things others haven't done yet. I'd say I very much match our organizational culture. I'd also say that you have to be willing to be bold and take a lead.” — Ken Lawonn


I love reading historical biographies and, to a man (and woman), every great historical figure has been down and out at some point, most more than once. This probably goes back to the risk issue — those looking to excel naturally take more chances. Though failing slowed their journey to the top, the lessons learned in the process played a large part in their eventual success. When you hit a wall, go over, under or around it, but never let the wall define you.

Salient Quotes

“The simple answer is we don't take no for an answer. You have to get at the root cause of the reluctance.” — Daniel Mingle, M.D.

“You've just got to persevere. You've just got to work through it. There are going to be ups and downs, and it's trite and everyone says it, but there are going to be good days and bad days. There are going to be things that you mess up, there are going to be things that are messed up for you, and there are going to be times when your car doesn't start and you still have got to get up and get it going.” — David Bernard, M.D., Ph.D.

Anthony Guerra, Editor-in-Chief