Bright healthcare leaders are in high demand.

As hospitals and health systems navigate a rapidly changing industry, competition for top executives is keen. A recent SullivanCotter survey found executive salaries are rising as health systems know they face stiff competition to recruit and retain leaders.

Sonia Millsom, the CEO of Oxeon, a firm that works with health systems on executive searches, says leaders pursuing new opportunities should consider their goals and what makes them excited.

When talking with executives looking for new positions, Millsom says, “I always ask them to step back and think about what it is that really gives them energy.”

In an interview with Chief Healthcare Executive®, Millsom says she tells executives who are seeking new positions, “Life begins at the end of your comfort zone.” (See part of our conversation in this video. The story continues below.)

‘Go bigger’

Millson is a vocal advocate for pushing for more diversity in healthcare leadership. Oxeon runs a program, “Break into the Boardroom,” to help women get into healthcare boards.

She says she tells clients, particularly women and members of minority groups, that they should not be afraid to pursue positions where they can grow and challenge themselves.

Women and members from minority groups often “look to check all the boxes before they apply for something,” Millsom says.

She urges clients who have experience to pursue a dream job, even if they’re not sure they are ready or have every attribute employers are seeking.

“Go bigger, because you’ll learn and grow and stretch,” Millsom says. “And if you’re in the right environment, it can be a tremendous opportunity for you to make a big impact.”

During a session on women leaders in healthcare at the American Hospital Association Leadership Summit, Dana Weston Graves, the president of Sentara Princess Anne Hospital in Virginia Beach, Va., urged women to pursue executive positions. She pointed out that men will apply for leadership posts, even if they have less experience or are lacking a few qualities organizations say they are seeking in a candidate.

“Apply. Apply for the leadership roles, apply for the stretch roles,” Graves said at the conference. “I have one main rule in life and that is: Make somebody else tell me ‘No.’ I’m not the person telling myself, ‘No.’”

Consider what you want

Oxeon receives inquiries from leaders that are seeking new positions, and Millsom says she talks to them about focusing on their expertise and where they can bring sought-after skills to an organization.

She says she’ll ask leaders a host of questions, such as, “What’s the value creation that you are bringing to a company? Are you a growth person? Are you a strategy person? Are you finance?”

Millsom also says candidates have to be honest about what they want personally. They need to consider whether they want to take a position that may require a lot of travel, or if they are looking for some freedom to work remotely.

Leaders also need to think about if they want to relocate for a new opportunity. Depending on the stage of life, such as a candidate with children in school, a move to another state may be less desirable, while it may be less of an issue for a leader who is single or whose children have left the house.

It’s also important to consider tolerance for risk, Millsom notes. With a larger company, executives may see more stability and more generous compensation.

If an executive is looking to work with a smaller company, there is a higher risk but potentially a promising payoff in leading a firm of modest size to bigger and better days, she says. But in going for a smaller firm, candidates will likely have to be willing to accept a more modest salary package.

“Larger companies, less risk,” Millsom says. “The smaller you go, the higher risk-reward you are taking on. That also has an impact on compensation.”


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