Transformational Leadership

Columbia’s EMPH program has a decided leadership focus.  We’ve addressed the topic directly, in our first semester leadership class with Tom D’Aunno where we analyzed multiple facets of the leader’s role.  Don Ashkenase took a different approach, asking us to grapple with the hard choices that health care leaders must make in these uncertain, ever-changing times.  Other teachers honed in on nonprofit leadership or global health leadership or they shared with us the tools that leaders use to achieve success. In month 15, Prof Ference hammers us with the essence of strategic leadership (the most difficult, elusive kind of all).

Earlier this fall, we heard Jack Rowe describe his own leadership journey at Aetna, which The Washington Post just featured in a piece called, “Case In Point: To go from worst to first, alter the business model.”  Dr. Rowe is currently a Professor in the Department of Health Policy and Management and Chairman of the Board for the Mailman School of Public Health.

The article cited his successes at the helm of Aetna between 2000 and 2006. When he joined the company it was mired in class-action lawsuits and losing $1 million a day. Dr. Rowe’s approach was to re-focus Aetna on quality in order to better serve its members, improve relationships with physicians, and build a new portfolio of public interest programs.  He took the industry’s Orwellian “medical loss ratio” concept and turned it into a measure of health care value that Aetna delivered to its subscribers.  By redefining Aetna’s purpose around health care quality, he effectively transformed and reinvigorated its business.

The article reminded me of Dr. Rowe’s admonition to us to “Lead – not manage.”  These are  different things.  A leader must create, sustain, embody, and invoke the mission, vision, and values across the organization – be it large or small – at every opportunity.  I think this takes courage.  You have to stand for something.  You have to connect with a deeper purpose in yourself and you can’t be afraid to try and inspire it in others.

U.S. health care cries out for transformational leaders.  If ever there was a time to cultivate the transformational leader in yourself – it is now.







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