A big part of what I do is executive matchmaking, helping hospices connect with leaders who can pilot them safely through the shifting seas to the future. For those of you who are knee-deep in the search process, or who foresee an executive search in your future, here are some of the things I’ve learned in the 30+ years I’ve spent as a hospice leader, consultant and recruiter.
- Today’s hospice CEO/ED must understand not only the clinical operations of the organization, but also the business end. That doesn’t mean that candidates must have an MBA, but it does mean they must understand financials, profit and loss statements, and gross returns on investment. Candidates must also understand what it takes to provide enlightened customer service, inspire a culture of caring and accountability, and have an unwavering focus on quality care, while being innovative and realistic.
- The CEO/ED must be a big picture visionary while understanding the demands of day-to-day operations. In programs with fewer than 75 people on staff, it is inevitable that the leader is closer to the day-to-day functions. But remember, if you want your program to grow, your CEO/ED must have the bigger picture in view, and always be asking how the organization fits into the larger community, how best to serve the citizens of the service area, and identifying customers and referral sources needs.
- The culture of your organization and service area is crucially important to understand when hiring a new leader. Whether it’s a CEO/ED or a vice president or director, the fit has to be right. It does not matter if he or she is a Harvard graduate with 20 years of experience in hospice care: If that person’s not a good fit in terms of culture and personality, is not going to work. If you’re in a conservative part of the country where people are more focused on home and family, your next CEO/ ED should reflect those values.
- Maturity matters, and it’s a quality you should look for in leadership. I’m not talking about maturity in terms age, but rather, in life wisdom. I’ve worked with 35-year-olds whose life experiences have deepened them and given them wisdom beyond their years. I’ve also met some surprisingly immature executives twice that age.
- In your interviews at this level, you must talk to people about death because that is the business they will be in. Ask questions such as:
- Have you experienced a loss of a loved one?
- How do you deal with stress?
- How do you deal with staff members who are facing their own challenges? Are you someone who holds everyone’s toes to the line without flexibility, or can you hold people accountable and still be understanding when life situations occur? Workers of the new generation are different from their parents. They want quality of life, they want flexible schedules, and they want time off to be with their friends and families. Leaders must understand the needs and concerns of the multiple generations of workers, from the baby boomers, generation X and Y, and the Millennials.
The new CEO/ED must be comfortable with a broad spectrum of responsibilities that comes with the complex business of hospice. Delivery of high quality professional care in a variety of settings, financial stability, fundraising, successful partnering with multiple organizations, local, state, and federal governmental regulations and oversight, policy reform, engaging volunteers at all levels, hiring and inspiring all levels of staff who will do this emotionally charged work well, day in and day out, are just some of the responsibilities of the hospice leader.
Most importantly, look for candidates who are passionate about this exquisite work, and who will balance the mission with the margin.
Art from a Hospice Leadership Team workshop