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by Deborah Bowen
Published on November 8, 2016

Deborah J. Bowen, President and CEO of Cerner industry partner American College of Healthcare Executives (ACHE), shares her thoughts on what it means to lead with intent.

Leadership comes in many forms, but what unites every leader is purpose—a strong and clear answer to the question: Why do we do this work? Healthcare leaders choose their profession because they care deeply about making a difference and improving health. It is their calling.

These leaders know that their work is about more than the business of healthcare. They believe in a healthcare system that is rooted in equity and ensures access to high-quality, affordable care for all communities. They are committed to common goals grounded in healthcare management excellence and supported by lifelong learning, strong partnerships and active engagement. They are raising the bar for excellence every day with their pursuit of knowledge, insight and tools.

Intentional Leadership

ACHE has a strong history of leading. We know that the most effective leaders are intentional in their approach to leadership.  They are active, facilitate momentum and take intentional steps to make a difference in the areas that matter to them. They are focused on what they do and say and on how they model the behaviors they seek. For them, leadership is a choice. At ACHE, we call this “leading with intent.”

For us, intentional leadership and purpose go hand in hand. A critical first step in becoming better at intentional leadership is clarifying your purpose and articulating what you stand for. This is crystal clear for us at ACHE. Our vision is to be the preeminent professional society for healthcare executives dedicated to improving health. 

At the heart of our purpose are the questions we ask ourselves and others about excellence, about advancing safe, effective and efficient healthcare and about serving our communities: How do we ensure that our hospitals are safe and delivering high-quality care? How do we wrestle with and eliminate healthcare disparities?  Who are the right partners to help?

Skill and Will

Through the years, we’ve learned that “leading with intent” is equal parts SKILL and WILL. It is dynamic, adaptive leadership that does not occur by happenstance.  It requires us to be grounded in our core tenets and values yet nimble and able to adapt to new situations, contexts and environments to effect meaningful change.

For example, leadership is fundamental to developing and – more importantly – sustaining a culture of safety, but there is a real need for practical knowledge around how to lead and sustain culture change.  ACHE has undertaken a promising initiative with the National Patient Safety Foundation to address this need.  By combining NPSF’s safety expertise with ACHE’s leadership development expertise, we are working to develop a strategic and tactical plan to operationalize solutions that will make a meaningful difference inside healthcare organizations and – ultimately – for patients. The real value of the collaboration will come from providing to the field all the insight we learn about how to ensure a highly reliable care delivery system. 

Diversity and Inclusion 

Another area that matters to ACHE is diversity and inclusion. Healthcare is continually changing.  The growth in the diversity of disciplines, gender, race, geography and career stage is well-reflected in ACHE, enabling us to benefit from the vibrancy in thought and approaches to problem solving that are so critical during times of transformation. 

And yet, research continues to confirm disparities in care in the healthcare system. Formal studies—as well as many of our own experiences—indicate diversifying the healthcare leadership ranks will reduce disparities in care. 

Last year, the ACHE board sharpened its strategic focus and directed the organization to take a more intentional and explicit role in diversifying healthcare’s leadership ranks.  To that end, our strategic plan features a leadership initiative on advancing executive leadership diversity to increase the pipeline, pool and prevalence of diverse executives in the C-suite. To do that well, ACHE is strengthening its relationships with our diverse partner groups.  

We have formalized an agreement with the Institute for Diversity in Health Management and the individual groups serving Latino, Asian, African-American, and LGBT healthcare executives. Our first collaborative initiative will be development of an executive diversity “roadmap” as an online portal of tools to help diverse healthcare executives navigate a path to the C-suite.  

We believe this work positions ACHE to play a leading role in diversifying healthcare leadership.  A diverse workforce will be best equipped to recognize and address existing gaps in care, effectively improving health for all. 

Partnership with Cerner

ACHE’s work depends on successful partnerships of all kinds. Take for example, the relationship we have with our 11 premier corporate partners, one of which is Cerner. These corporations are an essential part of our community and help advance our knowledge of healthcare’s changing needs. 

Cerner’s own commitment to ACHE’s FACHE program is a prime demonstration of your actions to lead with intent toward healthcare management excellence. All of us at ACHE appreciate the confidence you place in our organization’s leadership and in the FACHE credential.  We are proud to count 119 Cerner associates as ACHE Members and Fellows and look forward to welcoming to our ranks President Zane Burke, who is on the path to attaining the Fellow credential.  And thank you for sharing our commitment to lifelong learning by bringing ACHE face-to-face education programs to the Cerner Health Conference.  We appreciate these and all the other actions you take in support of our Fellow advancement programs.

Delivering better care and improving the health of the communities we serve requires leaders who are energized by solving the challenges we all face. When we lead we accept responsibility for these goals. When we lead with intent we commit to act and to take a stand to advance our work and honor our values. 

Pictured above: Ed Lamb, FACHE (ACHE Board of Governors Chairman/IASIS Western Division President), Ben Hilmes (Senior Vice President, Cerner Corporation), Eva Karp (Senior Vice President, Cerner Corporation), Michelle Roseman (Senior Director, Cerner Corporation), and Deborah Bowen prior to the New Fellows Convocation Ceremony at ACHE’s Annual Congress on Healthcare Leadership. 

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