Whether you are the CEO of a hospital or biotechnology startup, leadership skills are a must in order to do your job effectively and for your organization to achieve success. We hear time and again how important these skills are to those high-level positions, and while it is true that some leaders are born with these innate traits—it is equally true that with self-reflection and a process of self-improvement many of these skills can be learned. As a leader, you are ultimately responsible for the success or failure of your organization. However, a great leader knows how to assemble and get the most out of a great team. You don’t need to have all the answers but you need to know how to source them and how to execute.  This is why these top leadership skills are crucial to your position. 


Listening – At a high level, a leader needs to listen to his customers and to his staff.  It is the only way to make sure you have your finger on the pulse of what they need, what they see and what ideas they may have to solve the problems you are facing. There are many ways to solicit feedback or collect market research or conduct a survey.  But nothing beats sitting down face to face, one on one or in a small group to truly listen to not just what is said but how they say it. There are two kinds of listening: active and passive. Active listening is when the speaker is aware that you are listening through your body language and verbal back and forth. This type of listening makes the person feel heard and valued, which is vital in building relationships. Passive listening is when you may be listening to the other person but your head is in your phone or laptop and your mind is clearly elsewhere. This type of listening sends a message to the speaker that their opinions are not important and can lead to distrust and frustration. Healthcare leaders must be active listeners in order to achieve goals as well as to create healthy relationships with their teams. 


Planning — When you are planning a product launch or the opening of a new medical center, planning is key to ensuring all elements have been scheduled, communicated and implemented in a timely manner. Taken as a whole it can be overwhelming, so you should need to break it down into a series of smaller goals. Some steps dependent on successful completion of the one before and others moving in parallel. Decision making plays a large role in planning. To make an efficient decision, each problem must be analyzed, which includes breaking it down and identifying the facts, risks, and outcomes.  Not surprisingly, effective planning involves listening to and communicating effectively with your team. Once a plan is in place, every team needs that person who diligently, almost fanatically, keeps a watchful eye on the deadlines and cracks the whip to keep on schedule.


Communication — Providing clear communication is vital to achieving goals, whether organizational or personal. In a company, miscommunication can be costly and in a hospital, it could even be deadly. As a leader, communicating to individuals and groups should come naturally—but if it doesn’t it is certainly a skill that can be polished with practice. In presentations, facts and concepts are presented in a clear, concise and logical manner. Also, the way you communicate affects how others perform their tasks as well as how others perceive you. Do you come off as confident yet humble and caring? Is it your way or the highway or are you someone who values and gives credit to your team whenever possible? Successful healthcare leaders attract and build strong teams of talented people because those people are excited about the vision/mission, they have trust in the leader and believe that the team can execute successfully.


Flexibility — Being flexible in any business is mandatory; it helps you to adapt to changes in the market and handle any issues that inevitably arise. Flexibility for healthcare providers is sometimes at odds with a business anchored in SOPs and clinical practice guidelines geared towards consistency of care delivery. AI-based diagnostic tools coming into practice with greater frequency are ultimately using data-based analytics to reduce variability and flexibility presumably for more accuracy and better outcomes. However, whether it is a hospital administrator or healthcare IT startup, a successful healthcare leader recognizes that while consistency and structure are keys to success, you must be able to change course as new information becomes available. In what could have been a quote from Charles Darwin, but has become a popular phrase in business, leaders must “Evolve or Die.” 


Erik Halvorsen is the Chief Business & Strategy Officer at FAR Biotech. As a result of his industry experience, Erik is an often sought-after public speaker, and he has served as an advisor to various hospitals and start-ups. He is constantly looking for new ways to improve patients’ lives while changing the broader healthcare industry for the better. He has been referred to as a “translator,” in that he has the ability to speak science with businesspeople and speak business with science people.