Oct. 31, 2019

Role Models in Healthcare

What top-performing Medical and Health Services Managers do differently than their peers[1]

Creating a custom learning solution is a complex undertaking and requires a significant amount of data to make informed design decisions. In 2018, Haskayne Executive Education and Foothills Medical Centre (FMC) established a collaborative partnership to co-create a learning solution for patient care managers and unit managers from across various departments. As part of the learning needs assessment, Haskayne Executive Education connected with The Hayward Group to map out the leadership competencies for the manager roles, administer assessments and 1:1 participant debriefs, and identify developmental trends for the group. The collated data from the individual assessments influenced the data-driven design of FMC’s custom leadership development program and ultimately helped in the creation of more relevant and impactful resources and support.

The assessments were useful for identifying each learner’s strengths and developmental opportunities while enabling interesting comparisons and analysis across the cohort. In turn, the participants could better target their efforts and FMC could explore developmental themes and trends that applied to the whole leadership team.

The results were also comparable with assessments of thousands of managers in other organizations to help uncover the qualities that best predicted leadership success in this particular environment. This led to some engaging discussion about job performance and what it takes to succeed to such a level that others aspire to be like you – in other words, how one could become a ‘Role Model’ leader in healthcare.

The fact is that Role Models are more than just high performers – they set an example. Role models foster a healthy and successful work environment and consistently act in the best interests of the organization, team, customers, and other stakeholders. Most importantly, they provide a guide or template for our own behavior and actions.

However, while we know they’re successful, it’s not always clear how they do so or how they’ve reached the point of becoming Role Models. Yes, they’re ‘strong leaders’, ‘nice people’, and ‘have great ideas’, but we need to be more specific if we’re to understand how to train and imitate these qualities.

To date, 63 Medical and Health Services Managers have participated in the FMC Leadership Development Program, including completing a series of behavioral questionnaires and 360° feedback surveys that collected comments from managers, peers, direct reports, and others. Twelve participants received exceptionally-high ratings from their 128 raters and would be considered Role Models for the group.

How Others See Them

The first thing we did was review comments that raters provided to Role Model participants in the 360° feedback survey, to figure out what they do to garner such a high level of performance and respect. This led to useful insights about what others feel is critical to success, and the impact that top-performers have on the people who work with them.

For example, raters feel that ‘Role Model’ Medical and Health Services Managers are people-oriented. They empathize, collaborate, and are accessible and approachable. Strong verbal communication skills help as well, ensuring that others clearly understand and appreciate their points of view. Sample comments included:

  • Displays compassion.
  • Cares about the job and the impact it has on staff.
  • Engages all areas and teams to reach common goals.
  • Includes staff in the planning and decision making wherever possible.
  • Present on the unit; involved and hands on.
  • Stays closely involved with the unit, groups, and events.
  • Communicates clearly and articulately.
  • Leaves very little open to interpretation.

They are also hard working and improvement-oriented. They get things done and find ways to improve the unit’s effectiveness and efficiency, considering the needs of staff, patients, families and other stakeholders:

  • Self directed and self motivated.
  • Terrific work ethic and sincere commitment to the role, team and organization.
  • Continuously looks for ways to improve patient and family-centered care.
  • Always trying to think of things we can do to help the unit run smoothly.

Finally, raters indicated that Role Models remain calm and resilient in an environment that requires them to deal with serious issues that directly impact people’s lives, health and wellbeing. They handle the pressure well (or seem to) and take an objective, balanced approach to problems:

  • Maintains controlled disposition.
  • Remains calm and objective.
  • Balanced and level-headed approach to handling any problem.
  • Calm demeanor creates space for dialogue when people are upset.

How They See Themselves

In addition to comments from the 360° feedback survey, we also had access to results from a behavioral styles questionnaire that participants completed themselves. It allowed us to see how their self-perceptions compared to those of 62,270 managers and professionals across a range of organizations and industries, who had previously completed the instrument.

Most of these results line up with comments from the 360° feedback survey. For example, the questionnaire indicated that Role Models collaborate and cooperate, and focus on others’ needs and concerns. They are humble and team-oriented, and are much more interested in finding ‘win-win’ solutions than having others agree with them.

Other scores align well while offering deeper insights. For instance, Role Models see themselves as improvement-oriented (as do their 360 raters), but more practical than creative. In other words, they challenge conventional practices, but are not ‘blue sky’ thinkers - they focus on what is realistic and achievable.

They are also much more comfortable relying on their experience when coming up with ideas and solutions, than analyzing numbers and statistics. Not that it negatively impacted their judgement - although not in the ‘Top Five’ comments, quite a few raters indicated that these Role Models are excellent problem-solvers and technical experts, who are intelligent, thoughtful, and examine situations from many different angles to come up with the best solutions.

Interestingly, despite their cool demeanour (360 raters indicated that Role Models seem very calm and resilient), top-performers worry quite a bit about things going wrong. This makes sense, considering the consequences of mistakes in a high-pressure medical setting – they care, so they feel nervous, but they hide that stress well.


Of course, as with any good leadership development program, these results are most impactful when they lead to practical resources and actions steps. Based on these findings, here are a few suggestions that would be helpful for training and helping others perform to the same high level as these Role Model healthcare leaders:

  • Improve your verbal communication skills. Speak clearly, concisely, and directly. Tailor your message to your audience. Ensure that others understand and agree.
  • Express care and compassion for staff, patients, and their families. Follow-up. Encourage them to come to you with problems, even if not related to work. Listen to them and empathize.
  • Be visible and accessible, and foster an ‘open door’ policy. Interact regularly with patients, families, staff and physicians. Attend events.
  • Support change and innovation. Come up with ideas to improve unit performance and efficiency, and patient care. Encourage others to do so as well. At the same time, focus on ideas that are practical and realistic. Practice quality and process improvement.
  • Seek out opportunities to collaborate with patients, families, staff, physicians, and other teams. Check in with them regularly. Treat them like partners and try to find solutions that meet everyone’s needs.
  • Be persistent and work hard to get things done. Make sure you understand goals and complete tasks to expectations. Find ways to motivate yourself and persist through obstacles.  
  • Stay calm and keep your emotions in check, but take problems seriously. Consider issues from an objective, balanced standpoint.

Our approach to custom programming

The pre-program activities undertaken with FMC for their Leadership Development Program were not unique to this client. With all of our custom programs we complete detailed analysis with a variety of stakeholders across the organization to better understand the specific learning objectives to design relevant learning that can be directly applied in day to day situations.

Haskayne faculty have diverse specialities and are able to customize their research to meet the needs of a breadth of organizations. We have designed custom programs for a range of industries beyond healthcare including police services, telecommunications, engineering, oil and gas extraction and field services, education, legal, government, not-for-profit, and professional associations. View some of our client success stories on our website: https://haskayne.ucalgary.ca/future-students/executive-education/programs-organizations

If your organization has a leadership or business learning need, please get in touch. Through our tailored service, a learning solution can be deliberately designed to align with your organization’s goals to deliver real-world results. Contact execed@haskayne.ucalgary.ca for further information.

[1] An earlier version of this article was originally published by Chad Hayward, President of The Hayward Group, on LinkedIn in July 2019. For the full article series see: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/role-models-healthcare-what-top-performing-medical-health-hayward/