Listen to understand. We are currently engaged in a search for a CEO for a non-profit human service company in the Washington, D.C. area. We have completed many CEO projects for acute care hospitals. So, as we started this process, we had to be a little more focused on listening to the details and nuances of the kind of leader they need. Business success is defined differently for this organization and we could not assume it would be similar to the definition of success for our acute care clients.

We are living in the Renaissance of Work. Just like great artists know that an empty canvas can become anything, great leaders know that an entire organization — and the people inside it — can become anything, too. Master Artists and Mastering the Art of Leadership draw from the same source: creation. In this series, we’ll meet masters who are creating the future of work and painting a portrait of lasting leadership. As part of this series, we had the pleasure of interviewing Ivan Bartolome.

Ivan Bartolome is president and CEO of HealthSearch Partners, a national leader in healthcare executive search. Since 2008 he has partnered with some of the top leaders in the healthcare industry, participating in the successful completion of hundreds of executive search assignments for medical centers, health systems and academic programs. Prior to entering executive search, Ivan served as an executive leader for hospital operations and in various marketing leadership roles at several prominent healthcare organizations. He is based in Dallas, Texas.

Thank you for joining us. Our readers would enjoy discovering something interesting about you. What are you in the middle of right now that you’re excited about personally or professionally?

HealthSearch Partners organized as a firm just a year before the pandemic started. Now that we are exiting the pandemic, we have a chance to position ourselves with hospitals and health systems as a deliberate and mission -oriented consultant partner. We help them find, in a tailored way, executive leadership that will propel them to greater clinical, quality and financial success.

We all get by with a little help from our friends. Who is the leader that has influenced you the most, and how?

Bill Robertson is the CEO of MultiCare Health System in Tacoma, Washington. He and I have had a trajectory of professional and personal interaction for more than three decades. For various reasons, the universe keeps connecting us. Early on, he saw the leadership potential in me and created multiple environments where I could flourish professionally. Even as I transitioned to a search consulting practice 15 years ago, he continued to be a sounding board for me at various crossroads and junctures in my life and career. He also became a client. Regardless of the nature of our relationship we have never stopped our unvarnished conversations about leadership.

Sometimes our biggest mistakes lead to our biggest discoveries. What’s the biggest mistake you’ve made as a leader, and what did you discover as a result?

Early in my career I was sometimes quiet or silent. I felt that as the junior leader I should defer to the senior leader. There were times and events when I should have spoken up and used my leadership and insight to redirect or push forward a little harder. At the time, I did not fully understand how persuasive I can be. I could have more fully advocated for myself and my team and thus, the organization. I believe the teams I have led have been very successful, but I sometimes reflect and wonder if we couldn’t have been even more successful. Now, I use those lessons as guides to speak up and speak concisely to make sure I am understood.

How has your definition of leadership changed or evolved over time? What does it mean to be a leader now?

My definition of leadership has not changed much over time. Instead, I’m catching up with my own definition of leadership. Early in our careers we talk in theory about leadership. But as we evolve, we learn what it means to truly implement leadership and harness the energy and wisdom of leaders who surround and support us. I have also learned that it’s not enough to have smart people in the room. Leadership can only be defined as true leadership when excellent results can be seen and clearly measured.

Success is as often as much about what we stop as what we start. What is one legacy leadership behavior you stopped because you discovered it was no longer valuable or relevant?

Because I grew my leadership muscle in complex organizations, I learned to wait for consensus approval before moving forward with an idea or a strategy. I have not stopped this completely because it is important to have agreement and understanding to move an organization forward. But there are ways to significantly speed up consensus building if you have strong relationships inside the organization. So instead of waiting and wringing my hands, I now know I can leverage my ability to forge great relationships and move us forward faster. What matters is that we lead to move forward to great results. Time is short and we could fritter away our opportunities because we are caught in organizational group think instead of quick, measured progress that leaves no one behind.

What is one lasting leadership behavior you started or are cultivating because you believe it is valuable or relevant?

My continuing challenge is to delegate and harness the strength, power and effectiveness of the team that supports me and our entire organization. I need to continue to share some of the “in the weeds” details so I have mental, physical, and imaginative capacity to help us “reach for the sky.”

What advice would you offer to other leaders who are stuck in past playbooks and patterns and may be having a hard time letting go of what made them successful in the past?

If a leader wants to update himself or herself, and update his or her leadership, then it starts with the individual. Do you feel well physically, emotionally, and spiritually? Have you updated your approach to how you live and work? Your office? Your image? The team that supports you? Have you updated what you are reading and watching? Have you updated your social media? I believe leadership must evolve, otherwise it isn’t leadership and simply becomes managing. Push yourself to be contemporary in all things and your leadership will mirror your efforts.

Many of our readers can relate to the challenge of leading people for the first time. What advice would you offer to new and emerging leaders?

Take every opportunity to lead even if it is in small settings or outside of work. Every opportunity to lead is an exercise for your leadership muscle. Whether that leadership opportunity is at work, church, your kid’s school, your neighborhood, or your service club, you should take it. Over time, the cumulative exercise of your leadership muscle will train you for when you have a heavy leadership lift in the most stressful of leadership times.

Based on your experience or research, what are the top five traits effective leaders exemplify now? Please share a story or an example for each.

Listen to understand. We are currently engaged in a search for a CEO for a non-profit human service company in the Washington, D.C. area. We have completed many CEO projects for acute care hospitals. So, as we started this process, we had to be a little more focused on listening to the details and nuances of the kind of leader they need. Business success is defined differently for this organization and we could not assume it would be similar to the definition of success for our acute care clients.

Be present and accessible. I try hard to be accessible to everyone in our firm and all our clients. To me that means being responsive to their messages and phone calls. The board chairman of one of my past clients will sometimes call me out of the blue, which I enjoy. If I’m able, thanks to caller-ID, I answer his calls and address him by name. Perhaps I can’t answer his full question at that exact moment. But I can let him know I am interested in him at that exact moment. It’s a small but meaningful way to express that he is important to me.

Act quickly, with purpose, but with reasonable buy in. It’s easy to fall into the trap of ‘group think’ when leading a group of any size. There is a time and place for taking the time to build group consensus. There is also a time and place to make quick decisions that can be ratified later. If we are selected to lead, then it is our duty to understand the culture and desire of the organization so we can take measured, fast action. Early in my career, I found myself waiting days or even weeks to talk with every stakeholder. In retrospect, I probably paralyzed decision making. Now I know that time is always of the essence and if I can make a decision in the moment, without risking complete failure, I should make it.

Don’t stop learning and seeking. Some of us learn by reading and some by watching or listening. Others learn by doing. Whatever your learning style is, don’t stop consuming information. Leadership and health care is very different today than just three years ago. If you make up your mind that your experience has completely informed you about how to lead, then you are no longer contemporary. I have several news feeds and industry publications that I have set up to send me daily and weekly messages about the news and evolution of the health care industry. But I also try to take time to speak with CEOs and CHROs about their experience and emerging views. I speak with them with a willingness to change my mind about leadership and industry ‘truths.’

Guard your health and well being. This should be second nature to us now as the pandemic made us all think hard about personal health. But many of us have reverted to previous bad work habits and workaholic behaviors. In fact, it’s even easier to be a workaholic because we can, if needed, work from home and speed up the pace of work through video meetings. I have learned that my nearly daily walks with my dogs are non-negotiable. I have also learned to, if possible, give myself 15–20 minutes of silence and non-activity mid-afternoon to rest my brain briefly. Not only does it help make me more productive, it helps make my work more accurate.

American Basketball Coach John Wooden said, “Make each day your masterpiece.” How do you embody that quote? We welcome a story or example.

Every day is a gift. So, every day deserves to be explored to discover why you are here, to express yourself and your leadership gifts. In a heavily scheduled day or a particularly stressful day, are you aware enough of your surroundings and yourself to take the extra five minutes to listen, coach or mentor, and be present for someone in your trajectory?

Both my parents died before I turned 35 years old. I’ve also had a near-death experience. Those kinds of experiences wake you up to the reality that each day you are alive is an opportunity to inspire someone else. You can produce something lasting for someone you care about personally or professionally. You can move an organization even further to success.

What is the legacy you aspire to leave as a leader?

I would be pleased if organizations and executives remember that we guided them to find the leader that made their organization the best in their community. I would also be pleased if executive leaders remember that I helped them find the job that allowed them to be the best leader they could be.

How can our readers connect with you to continue the conversation?

[email protected]

Thank you for giving us the opportunity to experience a leadership master at work. We wish you continued success and good health!