Advice to CEOs – stay humble

Keith A. Hovan | Southcoast Health System Inc. CEO and president

My career in health care management started in a busy hospital emergency department, which I was chosen to lead when I was still in my early 20s. Because I was a young nurse manager, I knew I had a lot to learn from others more experienced than I.

It was the 1980s and a nursing shortage was on, so I worked nursing clinical shifts at other hospitals where I could gather ideas and bring them back to my department to improve how we delivered care. (I have to admit, the extra money also came in handy for my young family.)

Humility of that sort can be easy to sustain when you are young, and life reminds you daily of your relative inexperience. It is much harder when you are the CEO and people look to you for answers to problems. But I believe that humility is one of the most important traits that a leader can cultivate. It allows you to surround yourself with people who are smarter than you in their areas of expertise and who will challenge your points of view.

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These days, no organization can reach its full potential unless it is a learning organization, ready to adapt to advancing technology, recognize shifting customer expectations and seizing on opportunities as they arise. That vital culture of learning starts at the top, with a unit leader, a division head or a CEO who realizes he or she still has a lot to learn.