A roadmap to influence and impact in healthcare

The rapid and ongoing changes in nearly every aspect of healthcare, from how care is delivered to how it is paid for, continue to shake up old models and open the door for influence from new areas.
“This is a prime time, to me the most opportune time, for women to lead through change,” says Patricia Maryland, DrPH, president, healthcare operations and chief operating officer of Ascension Health and a 2014 HBA Woman of the Year (WOTY). “There’s a tendency for women to be more collaborative, and when I think about the changes in the healthcare industry and what we’re seeing throughout this country, new relationships and partnerships are necessary.”

At the same time, organizations across healthcare continue to shift from traditional top-down hierarchies toward more matrixed, team-based models that encourage collaboration, nimbleness and a diversity of opinion. As Susan Tardanico puts it in her in ForbesWoman article on how to increase your influence, we’re moving from a business world in which “the person with the power has the influence” toward one in which “the person with the influence has the power.”

So how do you become a “person with influence?” We interviewed five influential women: four HBA WOTYs and the 2015 WOTY committee chair to find out. Based on their in- sights, we’ve put together a roadmap to influence and impact.

Step 1: Establish credibility

Successful leaders and research agree: in order to have influence, you must first have credibility. Dr. Maryland calls credibility foundational and says you must hold both yourself, and others around you, accountable. “You should be able to define and master your areas of expertise. And when you come into a role, you have to really focus on performance excellence. You have to be able to deliver and generate a proven track record of results because having that history gains you the credibility and the respect that you can work from,” she advises.

And it’s never too early to start. “Over time, it’s not that you’re necessarily working on the biggest projects, proposing some major shift or working on the most influential strategy, but just that in everything you do, you’re consistent, you collaborate and you do it well. It’s building that track record so when you have an idea to bring forth that will make a big im- pact, people will be more likely to listen,” says Jaime Marks Corvino, manager of digital strategy at Novo Nordisk. “It’s important to plant those seeds along the way.” Marks Corvino is also 2015 co-chair of HBA flagship events, including WOTY and the Annual Conference.

Step 2: Accept the difficult tasks

In a 2013 Harvard Business Review article titled “How Experts Gain Influence,” which studied the competencies that help functional leaders or groups increase their impact in their organizations, researchers identified “trailblazing” as one of four key competencies. The leaders we spoke to agree. When asked how those in nonexecutive positions can gain influence, Shideh Sedgh Bina, co-founder of Insigniam and a 2014 WOTY, says one way is to simply “step up to bat more frequently than other people, even if the opportunities are more complex or outside of your comfort zone.”

Maryland adds that she always encourages women to embrace whatever opportunities are presented to them, especially those difficult opportunities to manage through change and set the strategic direction for their areas of influence.

Step 3: Accept yourself

Perhaps one of the most difficult things to accept for many of us is ourselves. And yet, leaders say it’s critical to have what is often called executive presence, loosely defined as the blend of skills, personality and competencies that give the perception of a leader and pave the way to having influence. In a Center for Talent Innovation report on this topic, gravitas came out as the core characteristic of executive presence—a characteristic defined in part by exuding confidence and “grace under fire,” acting decisively and “showing teeth,” and having integrity and “speaking truth to power.”

For Denice Torres, co-lead of North America Consumer and president of McNeil Consumer Healthcare, Johnson & Johnson Consumer, and the 2015 WOTY, this gravitas comes in large part from being happy with ourselves for who we are and using the gifts we have. “It’s not just okay to be you,” she says. “It’s essential to be you. If you turn into something you’re not, you may get to the next level, you may get to the next goal, but will you be happy? And I know if you’re not true to your principles and your values, there’s no way to be happy. If you lose that, you lose everything.”

Torres often advises women to leverage the strongest version of themselves in any situation. “As a woman, you’re wearing all these hats, and sometimes you’ve got to pull out a different hat for a different situation.” When she herself is faced with having to find the confidence, or gravitas, to deal with difficult business issues, she thinks of her fierce commitment to ensuring the best for her daughter Sierra, who has cerebral palsy, epilepsy, cognitive impairment and is nonverbal. She asks herself, “How would I want my daughter to see me?” and builds her own confidence by telling herself, “Sierra’s mom’s got this.”

Step 4: Formulate and communicate your vision

In addition to knowing yourself, you must also know your goals if you want to get people behind them. “There is no substitute for a clear and compelling vision,” Torres says. “If you want to make a difference, make sure you know what that difference looks like.” Though that may sound simple, Torres explains, it’s not. You must look inside and wrestle with all the aspects of your vision so that you know what success looks and feels like—in order to be able to make your vision and its success tangible to others.

Step 5: Get your stakeholders onboard

Research shows that getting the support of top management goes a long way in gaining influence in your organization. Dr. Annalisa Jenkins, CEO of Dimension Therapeutics and a 2014 WOTY, agrees. “It is critical to ensure that you have sponsors who will advocate for you and open doors and unlock opportunities.”

But leaders also say it’s equally important to look beyond your superiors. “I think it’s better that people don’t think in terms of senior management,” Sedgh Bina says. “Rather, for any decision, there are stakeholders who will be affected by that decision and there are stakeholders who will make that decision. Leaders need to develop the agility to speak to different perspectives and connect what they are proposing to the different stakeholder groups, what’s in it for them, what’s going to be required from them, and then request action.”

Step 6: Influence the next generation

Finally, all of the leaders we spoke to noted that influence cannot end with your own impact. You must be willing to mentor others to ensure that the next generation of leaders will also be able to make a meaningful impact. Speaking of the importance of mentors in her own career, Maryland says it’s the confidence that her mentors had in her that allowed her to take on difficult tasks and be an agent for change. “When you’re looking at new and increasing responsibility that may be a challenge and brings a lot of risk, having the sounding board of your mentors is very important.”

Marks Corvino recalls her own recent experience of mentoring a colleague who is just a few years behind her in her career track. “For me, it’s imagining the possibility of people taking influence to mean not only am I going to gain influence myself, but helping other women and men who are starting on their career journey to learn how to make an impact, so that we all become the best professionals we can be to get to that ultimate goal of making a better healthcare landscape for everyone.”

How the HBA helps bring influencers together for maximum impact

The HBA offers numerous opportunities for professionals to learn how to cultivate their own executive presence and to increase their credibility in the industry through both knowledge-based learning at the more than 400 chapter events a year and volunteer roles.

The HBA connects young leaders with the mentors they need to build their confidence and take bold steps. And it gives senior leaders the chance to broaden their impact beyond their organizations.

“I have been deeply aware of the platform that being a WOTY has provide me to share my voice of experience and offer insights as a gift to the next generation of women leaders,” Jenkins says.

“The HBA is a convener of some pretty amazing women and men in seats of influence who already—or will in the future—make an impact,” Marks Corvino says. “The association makes an impact by bringing together people of influence from different parts of the healthcare industry and helping us to organize and become stronger as individuals and as an industry.”

She concludes: “Imagine if we had women in seats of influence throughout the healthcare industry? What would that mean? Just imagine the power of having women who have a similar vision of influence—from all different sectors—come together. Imagine the possibilities.” •