The Best Leadership Style: Authenticity Helps Diverse Executives

A Research Brief by Aaron Hopkins

March 23, 2017

AaronHAuthentic leadership for healthcare executives is becoming synonymous with successful minority executives. A professional organization for Black health services executives is leading a movement to educate its membership on the benefits of this leadership style.

Have you ever heard of a successful healthcare CEO without leadership skills? Very few people have a ready answer. So, when it came time for the Collaborative to write about traits and characteristics commonly seen in a successful minority healthcare executive...the results were surprising. There are a few characteristics worth mentioning upfront. Data driven skills to understand market trends are important. Financial acumen is another that becomes essential to growth and strategic planning. It does not hurt to have a professional degree from an esteemed institution of higher learning. And another favorite is an awareness for risk-taking and self-promotion. (wardlow blog)

An additional question that quickly comes up is whether any of these characteristics are especially important to minority professionals with career aspirations for C-suite positions. Representatives at the National Association of Health Services Executives (NAHSE) as well as Dr. Ebbin Dotson and his research team at the University of Michigan's Health Equity Leadership Pipeline Collaborative (The Collaborative) set out to answer this question. An impetus for their motivations is the fact that African Americans are very underrepresented in these C-suite positions. With a membership of over 2500 professionals, NAHSE has a long list of reasons for this lack of representation as well as creative solutions for correcting this issue. Dr. Dotson's research team at the Collaborative posited a link to a newer leadership style, Authentic Leadership, as a potential reasoning in answering this question.

According to a study by Forbes magazine in 2013, it defined Authentic Leaders as those who are" self-actualized individuals aware of their strengths, their limitations, and their emotions. They always make sure to show their real selves to their followers." From an organizational standpoint effective Authentic leaders are adept at creating a foundation or culture that fosters deeper connections with employees and their customers to maximize productivity.
Authentic leaders create a foundation or culture that fosters deeper connections with employees and their customers. The more filters there are between the leader's values, and team members' understanding of them the more uncertain the direction and performance of the team. Authentic leaders help limit these barriers to ensure the success of the organization.

In this way, our research reveals several interesting connections to Authentic leadership and successful minority healthcare leaders in NAHSE. One way African Americans can enhance authenticity and engagement is to examine the workspace design and verify the effectiveness of employee work processes. By bringing their real self to the table this will allow authenticity to be the heart of their power as well as instituting succession planning for African Americans. African American leaders in healthcare need to let go of the "Crab in the barrel mentality," and focus on interdependence as well as the sustainment and improvement of minority ascension in healthcare. Interdependence in the workplace is the way in which employees interact with one another, and draw from each person's contribution so the greater goal is achieved. In terms of leadership cultures, leaders who are interdependent have a direct linkage to being an authentic leader. "Interdependence enables them and provides the ability to work effectively across organizational boundaries, with openness and candor, have multi- faceted standards of success, and synergies being sought across the organization." The most successful African Americans in NAHSE focus less on independence, and more on being interdependent in the workplace to secure minority ascension in healthcare.

We also learned that these leaders take responsibility for their subordinates' developmental needs, career aspirations, and consciously build learning objectives into their work. They believe that non-minorities should actively develop working relationships with minority professionals in order to be prepared to fill key business leadership positions when they arise. To truly change the face of healthcare leadership, a leader should always have a mentor and mentee relationship with someone of color in healthcare. Conversely, a mid-careerist should have a C-suite mentor to call for advice to get to next level, and an early careerist should have a mid-careerist mentor. The Collaborative believes this pipeline is essential for healthcare professionals.

Authentic leadership, black succession planning, and executive mentorship are viable solutions to bridging the diversity gap in the C-suite. Based on 2012 data from the Institute for Diversity in Health Management, an affiliate of the American Hospital Association, minorities now make up 14% of hospital C-suite positions. While this is a 5% increase from the previous year, this number still isn't a reflection of the diversity and population of those qualified to hold executive level positions. The existing literature, in addition to the aforementioned research still in progress at The Collaborative and will be used to stress the importance of authentic leadership. There is more research being conducted by Dr. Dotson and his team, and this study is only one of more to come.

**Aaron Hopkins is a Research Assistant in the Health Equity Leadership Pipeline Collaborative at the University of Michigan's School of Public Health. For more updates about the ongoing research, events, and news from the collaborative, follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram!**