What Makes Catholic Healthcare Leadership Special

Witt/Kieffer Senior Partner Donna Padilla has worked with countless Catholic healthcare organizations to support their leadership needs. (And she and colleagues are on site in Chicago this week for the annual Catholic Health Assembly, learning more about these needs.) Catholic hospitals and providers are dealing with the same market reforms as other organizations, and yet their challenges and goals remain unique. In the interview below, Padilla shares thoughts on what defines Catholic health leadership, and what executive candidates need to know when considering positions within these faith- and mission-driven organizations.

You support many Catholic hospitals and healthcare organizations—what qualities define their leaders?

Donna Padilla

Donna Padilla

Padilla: First and foremost, there has to be a clear connection between the individual and the mission and values of the organization. This is true of all hospitals and health systems, but especially so in Catholic ones. Executives must have a sense of purpose, a real calling to this work, and an understanding of how they can advance the mission of their specific healthcare ministry. Mission is the “air we breathe” in Catholic healthcare – it is the north star guiding operations and strategy at any institution.

Catholic healthcare leaders must have an incredibly strong sense of accountability for their work, especially in regards to financial stewardship. You’ll often hear the phrase “no margin, no mission”; that is, without a strong balance sheet the organization cannot live out its fundamental purpose.

Is leadership changing within Catholic healthcare organizations? What trends are you seeing?

Padilla: Yes, changes are inevitable as the healthcare industry shifts dramatically. Out of necessity to find great leaders, there is a continued movement toward more lay leadership and lay governance. In addition, there is far more diversity in leadership teams, with many new executives being recruited directly from for-profit healthcare and other industries. There is also more attention being paid to leadership succession and “growing” leaders from within these Catholic organizations. These are just a few of the changes we’re seeing as reform continues and healthcare providers are adapting in their own ways.

What unique skills, experiences, and qualifications do Catholic institutions value the most in a job candidate?

Padilla: Catholic systems are no different than other organizations in wanting the best candidate for the job – but they want more. They want the person who is the right fit for the job, but through a lens of, “Can this person support and honor the ministry moving forward?”

You will often hear “servant leadership” as a key attribute. Catholic organizations want someone with a deep, unshakable belief that their work is, first and foremost, for the benefit of others.

What career advice do you have for executives looking to make the jump to a Catholic or other faith-based organization?

Padilla: First, do your homework about what makes faith-based institutions tick, especially how Catholic organizations are run and guided. Even if the job is appealing, make sure the environment is one that you’ll thrive in. Talk to industry colleagues about their experiences in Catholic organizations — especially the one you are considering joining — before expressing interest in a position.

When it comes time to interview, be able to demonstrate what draws you to the opportunity, what motivates you to make this career transition. In doing so, it is absolutely fine to get personal and discuss your own faith or belief system and how it influences your life and professional work. The Catholic organization making the hire will want to know the “real you” to verify that you’re aligned with its goals and mission.

By Paul Thomas, Senior Writer (@PaulWThomas)

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