Healthcare Leadership Lessons from the COVID-19 Pandemic

In part 1 of our leadership survey series, we discovered that 52% of healthcare executives say Agile Leadership was key to navigating the COVID-19 pandemic.

In part 1 of our leadership survey series, we discovered that 52% of healthcare executives say Agile Leadership was key to navigating the COVID-19 pandemic.

Our chairman, Bob Clarke, and principal, Tim Frischmon, gathered insights from healthcare executives to uncover their leadership lessons from the COVID-19 pandemic. 52% of healthcare executives say Agile Leadership was key to navigating the pandemic. In part one of this three-part series, we share meaningful insights from your peers and delve into the importance of agility in healthcare leadership during times of uncertainty and beyond.


As the anniversary of the COVID-19 pandemic passes, it is a time of deep reflection. We reached out to thousands of healthcare executives, inviting them to share what they learned about themselves during the COVID-19 pandemic. The results presented a unique guide for the future of healthcare leadership and how resilient teams are cultivated.

Pie chart displays 52% of healthcare executives think the need for agile leadership is most important of lessons from the COVID-19 pandemic.

While many may have expected the insights to center solely around improving technology and emergency preparedness, the results reflected the following standout themes:

•    Agile Leadership  
•    Communication and Trust  
•    Emotional Intelligence and Team Building  

In part one of this series, we will explore Agile Leadership and its role in the new healthcare leadership paradigm. 

What is Agile Leadership in Healthcare?

In the healthcare industry, where lives hang in balance, agility is a critical necessity. However, agility is a competency needed by leaders throughout the organization, from the front lines to the boardroom. Agile Leadership is the ability to respond to change rapidly, innovate on the go, learn, and pivot strategies based on emerging circumstances. It is about fostering a culture that encourages learning from failures, continuous improvement, curiosity, and empowering teams to make decisions. 

Across every industry and sector, agile leaders encourage innovation. They view losses as learning opportunities and adjust their approach based on barriers and obstacles that arise. Such competencies have defined success or lack thereof for organizations over recent years. 


The Importance of Agile Leadership 

The COVID-19 pandemic underscored the need for adaptability and responsiveness, testing the resilience of healthcare organizations worldwide. As the pandemic waned, many leaders emerged to spearhead teams during turbulent times, showing their capacity to swim with the tides of change. As we’ve witnessed, agile leadership in healthcare doesn't shy away from challenges but embraces them, using technological advancements to navigate, improve customer outcomes, and ensure high-quality care delivery and customer experience.

In the healthcare landscape, where innovation and regulations constantly reshape the terrain, agile leadership has emerged as a critical competency. Healthcare leaders who embrace agility are better equipped to navigate the complexities of this sector, ensuring the delivery of high-quality care, enhancing patient outcomes and consumer experiences, and fostering breakthroughs and improvements. In fact, as healthcare executive recruitment experts, we know that learning agility is a core competency that organizations must explore and identify during the candidate selection process. 

Four Traits of an Agile Healthcare Leader  

What are the characteristics of an agile leader in healthcare? To demonstrate, agile leaders possess the following competencies:

  1. Navigate Uncertainty - Agile leaders adapt promptly to policy alterations, ensuring their healthcare institutions remain compliant while innovatively delivering superior solutions amidst regulatory difficulties, including:

      -   Payer/provider interactions 
      -   Rising demand for patient and member contentment 
      -   Regulatory policies, reimbursement, staffing inadequacies 
      -   Quick growth of Medicare Advantage and Medicaid programs

  2. Adapt Quickly to New Tech - Agile leaders enable smooth integration of technology, AI (Artificial Intelligence), and data analytics into existing procedures and systems, ensuring their organization can provide services efficiently while remaining at the forefront of innovation.

  3. Team Empowerment - Agile leaders empower others, fostering a collaborative and transparent work setting. By recognizing their teams' expertise and involving them in decision-making, these leaders enhance morale, job satisfaction, and overall productivity.

  4. Embrace Change - Agile leaders excel at guiding their teams through change. They instill resilience within their organizations, allowing them to rebound stronger following setbacks and challenges.

Survey Responses: Examples of Agile Leadership

The respondents highlighted the many improvements made within their organizations due to an increase in leadership capacity for change: 

I am self-aware, innovative, and I easily adapt to change. I did not maximize these strengths before 2020. ~ Tommye Austin, Senior Vice President Patient Care Systems and Chief Nurse Executive – BJC

The pandemic has been pivotal in my leadership experience. It has taught me that ANYTHING is possible and that despite setbacks, we need to think creatively and practically. I have learned that I am calm under adversity and that I am able to successfully lead my team under challenging situations. It has also been a great reminder to me that life is about much more than work; it’s fleeting and fragile--- these are things we quickly forget. ~ Gaurov Dayal, CEO – Axia Women’s Health

Stay focused on the most important elements of patient care. Put the patient at the center of our conversations and business approaches. Leadership is essential and important to create a balanced strategy to deal with the immediate and the ongoing long-term needs of our organizations. ~ Corwin Harper, CEO – Ochsner LSU Health

I learned that the best results, in a crisis situation as well as day-to-day, come when all stakeholders are given a voice. I also learned that decision-making does not need to be perfect – decide and move on, fail fast, and correct course. ~ Michelle Hood, EVP/COO – American Hospital Association (AHA)

Agility was a key competence during the pandemic. Decisions were being made daily and sometimes pivoting from the decisions from the day before. Clear communication with transparency while being agile truly helped navigate this journey. ~ Shibu Varghese, SVP, People, Culture & Infrastructure/ CHRO – MD Anderson Cancer Center.

Not a new learning, but a reinforced learning. How we nurture and grow future leaders through good times and challenging times, always relying on the strength and capabilities of the team, creates the resilience and creativity needed to perform in new and extremely difficult situations. ~ Kimberly Comer Mulqueen, Board Chair – Breast Cancer Prevention Partners 

Resilience, flexibility, the importance of relationships, and being adaptable. In the aftermath of the pandemic, the financial situations of health systems have suffered immensely, so to continue in a mission forward way, be supremely patient-focused, innovative, and value-oriented. Think like a start-up and be prepared to stop doing what doesn’t work and leave no stones unturned. ~ Vandna Chaudhari, Director, Value-Based Care & Population Health – UW Medicine

Lessons from the COVID-19 Pandemic in Healthcare Leadership 

The Evolution of Healthcare Leadership

Agile leadership is more than a management philosophy; it’s a crucial mindset for success. By embracing agile methodologies, healthcare leaders can navigate challenges, harness technology, improve consumer experiences and patient outcomes, and build resilient, people-centered healthcare systems and solutions. As the industry evolves, agile leadership ensures that organizations that can adapt and innovate will continue to thrive and achieve sustainable forward momentum. 

Tools for Improving Agile Leadership Competencies

Leadership experts at our companion company, NuBrick Partners, equip healthcare executives with practical tools to increase their personal and learning agility during crises. 

Two such tools they designed are: 

1.    Above-the-line tool
2.    Five Drivers Tool

Likewise, in our discussions with leaders during the pandemic, we witnessed their openness in sharing experiences and challenges. This exchange fostered resilience, allowing us to learn from each other and share valuable tools and tactics. Access the Leadership Agility Webinar and the Equip Your Team to Persevere Webinar on-demand and build strong teams that thrive even in the most dynamic and challenging times.

Read more for part two of our leadership lessons series, where we will explore the theme of Communication and Trust. Respondents share how competencies in this area have evolved during and post-pandemic to reshape the future of leadership in healthcare. 


* Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in direct quotes are solely those of the respondents and not necessarily those of their respective organizations, Furst Group, or NuBrick Partners.

Published by Furst Group