The ‘Great Retirement’: A Thought Leadership Opportunity

The “Great Resignation” that was ignited by the COVID-19 pandemic continues with a historic number of workers leaving their jobs. CEOs, and healthcare CEOs in particular, are among them. In 2021, 56 hospital CEOs announced their planned retirement, and a recent report shows that the trend has continued as 36 hospital CEOs and 10 pharmaceutical company CEOs left their jobs between January and April 2022. This has created a domino effect across the industry as organizations seek to replace departing leaders.

What does all this mean other than a booming business for outplacement firms? There’s a gaping hole in terms of industry thought leadership as the usual suspects retire and make way for others to participate in media opportunities, speak at industry conferences, testify at congressional hearings and drive support for important issues and causes.

A golden opportunity for new and existing leaders? Yes! But organizations must look before they leap. At Padilla, we believe in three key tenets to introducing a new leader and formulating an effective thought leadership platform.

Cast a vision

True thought leadership challenges the status quo and paints a picture of where the world is headed. It addresses industry pain points—topics like health equity, staffing challenges and price transparency. It shouldn’t necessarily feel comfortable or be easy because thought leadership requires having a compelling perspective that isn’t currently “owned” and must be backed by action that demonstrates commitment and credibility.

Where do you even begin? We recommend starting with an audit to identify the “white space” that’s the convergence of an organization’s purpose, its stakeholders’ beliefs and their point of view. Communications leaders can build trust with new CEOs by working with them during this process and helping translate their vision into a platform that articulates the problem, the solution and the role their organization plays in helping to drive that solution.

Everyone has a type—find yours

A strong platform provides a critical foundation for thought leadership, but action is what drives interest and credibility among stakeholders. There’s not one specific playbook for thought leadership, but at Padilla, we believe there are three distinct types of thought leaders who all act in different ways.

The Sage: The Sage is typically a company with a long history that can put change into context. The Sage will often question its own status quo because it realizes that if it doesn’t, someone else will. In healthcare, an example of a Sage is CVS Health, which last year announced that it was closing 900 pharmacies to reconceive its locations as sites for more comprehensive healthcare services.

The Convener: Conveners step forward and bring disparate groups together to solve a common problem, putting the cause before their own visibility. An example in healthcare is the More in Common Alliance, a collaboration between CommonSpirit Health and the Morehouse School of Medicine to help address the underlying causes of health inequities by increasing cultural competency and expanding representation in medicine.

The Disruptor: A Disruptor is often a new upstart that challenges the way that things are being done today. To be credible, they must back their words up with specific actions. An example is Tia, a women’s healthcare platform that was created to help address the fragmented nature of women’s care by creating a hybrid care model that blends OB/GYN, primary care, mental health and wellness services.

Move from the inside out

While many new CEOs are eager to seek thought leadership opportunities, it’s important to focus first on garnering the confidence and faith of internal audiences who will ultimately drive success. The first two to four months on the job are about maintaining predictability and establishing trust. External communications may be necessary to show progress and momentum, but new CEOs must remember that any disclosure made in the first few months is often seen as a signal of their priorities and direction.

Following several months “on the job,” a new CEO can credibly go out with their vision as part of a comprehensive thought leadership strategy that helps build internal and external communities that are engaged and eager to contribute. We recommend starting with internal audiences to ensure engagement and buy-in at the outset, followed by industry influencers, and then more mainstream media and opportunities, if appropriate. One size doesn’t fit all, and it’s important to work with the new leader to align opportunities with their specific interests and platform.

Capitalizing on a unique time

Cultivating thought leadership is a time-intensive process and it requires a concerted, ongoing effort from both the executive and their communications team. The current environment creates a unique opportunity for greater results in an accelerated timeframe as the healthcare industry is hungry for new voices to fill gaps that were left by longtime leaders. Executives who step forward with new ways of thinking that inspire others to act will be rewarded with ongoing visibility opportunities that support stakeholder engagement and advance the reputation of their organization.

This piece originally appeared in partnership with O’Dwyer’s.


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