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The Key Ingredient in Change: Leadership

March 20, 2015
by Tim Tolan
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If you were to analyze this year’s winners of the Healthcare Informatics Innovator Awards Program, you would likely see similarities in the leaders of all of the organizations that are being recognized. While their styles may differ, the common thread and key ingredient you will find in each organization is leadership. Leadership requires the vision and passion of the person at the helm to direct and guide their team on a common path to ensure the mission is accomplished. Many leaders are met with resistance as they chart the course for their organization with their belief on what is the most intelligent path to take, and what they feel it is also the right path. Their vision may not be popular with their teams; but that’s where true leadership comes into play.
There are many different styles of leadership, and when your vision requires you to make difficult choices, like many healthcare leaders, you have to be able to articulate the value to each individual stakeholder that you need to have onboard. This can be more than tricky. 
I know during my own career I’ve had leaders that mandated a new course for the organization without getting the necessary buy-in for the very people that had to execute against the new vision or business model without a lot of discussion. This sort of “my way or the highway” leadership approach is old school and very problematic for today’s workforce. It’s really bad leadership in so many ways. The traditional leadership style of top down management is slowly changing into a more cooperative approach that empowers employees to openly share their ideas and engage in the conversation instead of adopting the mandate. 
As more organizations embrace this new way of management a new style of leadership is beginning to emerge. Collaborative leaders take a more open approach in the workplace. Out with the old and in with the new. Traditional corporate hierarchies are being replaced with a more team oriented approach. Those employees that never had a seat at the table are being asked to share their thoughts and ideas. What a fresh approach! This style is not only inclusive but it also builds loyalty in replaces dissatisfaction with a more vibrant and positive workforce that can more easily take on the challenge of the big vision because their ideas matter—before they never had a chance to participate. To execute a big vision you have to rally the troops to get the job done. If employees are empowered and invited to be a part of shaping the leaders vision, there is no end to what an organization can accomplish. 
I often reflect on a more traditional (non-healthcare) company and leader and his life’s mantra. Robert Woodruff was an accomplished businessman and philanthropist. He became president of The Coca-Cola Company in 1923 and guided the company until his death in 1985. Under his leadership, he helped shape the company from a local soft drink business into the world’s best-known brand. In his private life, Mr. Woodruff preferred to remain in the background, making anonymous gifts that greatly enriched the city of Atlanta. His philanthropy transformed the small, bustling railroad town into a world-class city, and he made significant gifts to Atlanta’s health, education and cultural institutions.
Whatever he gave to the city or to various charities he did so anonomysly. On his desk sat a quote embodying his life’s creed: “There is no limit to what a man can do or where he can go if he doesn’t mind who gets the credit.” Now that says it all.
Congratulations to this year’s winners of the Healthcare Informatics Innovation Awards Program. You may not realize it, but you’ve already made a big impact on healthcare by your innovative vision, and for that, we thank you and your team. 
Tim Tolan is senior partner at Sanford Rose Associates-Healthcare IT Practice. He can be reached at or (904) 875-4787. His blog can be found at