By Carolyn Guyton-Ringbloom, MBA, CAE
Strengthening leadership skills is an important undertaking for health information management (HIM) professionals that will help advance the profession in the healthcare industry. From learning about leadership roles to developing leadership skills, pursuing growth as leaders can help accelerate opportunities for professional advancement as well as raise the profile of the HIM profession in healthcare.
Leadership is multifaceted; just as there is more than one way to be a leader, there are multiple definitions for it. Author and business consultant Ken Blanchard defines leadership as “the capacity to influence others by unleashing the potential and power of people and organizations for the greater good.”1 Key elements of this definition that embody leadership include:
- Influencing others, not telling them what to do. Having influence allows one to have an effect on the character, behavior, or development of colleagues, which gives them the potential to guide others
- Others listen to and respect what a leader has to say
- Leaders support others by helping them grow and reach their own potential
- Leaders help their colleagues and their organization to grow and succeed; they are not focused solely on accomplishing their own agenda, but instead focus their efforts outwardly for the benefit of others
Transformational leadership, a concept first introduced in 1973, “is the process whereby a person engages with others and creates a connection that raises the level of motivation and morality in both the leader and the follower.”2 There are four factors outlined in the book Leadership Theory and Practice that describe transformational leadership:3
- Idealized influence—characterized by “walking the talk” as a leader
- Inspiration motivation—characterized by the ability to inspire others
- Individualized consideration—characterized by a genuine concern for the needs of others
- Intellectual stimulation—characterized by challenging others to be innovative and creative
Leaders inspire trust, create loyalty, have a vision, and support others. In particular, trust—the firm belief in the reliability, truth, and ability in someone—is a cornerstone of effective leadership.
According to Neysa Noreen, MS, RHIA, inpatient coding and CDI manager at Children’s Hospitals and Clinics in Minneapolis, MN, and co-chair of the AHIMA House Envisioning Collaborative Team, “a leader is someone others can turn to for help with direction, does not always have the answers, but is able to listen and assist in finding the answers, as well as surrounding him/herself with others who have the answers.”
Leaders also strive for lifelong learning and seek to continuously better themselves and those around them.
Developing Leadership Skills
People are not necessarily born as leaders. Rather, leaders are made by what they do every day—learning, gaining experience, and developing skills. Motivational speaker Gordon Tredgold suggests nine questions for great leaders to ask of themselves daily:4
- Am I engaged and excited about the work we do?
- Do I listen to my team enough?
- Am I open to feedback?
- How could I improve the quality of the feedback I provide?
- Am I giving my team the support they need?
- How could I better develop my team?
- Am I a good role model for my team?
- How could I be a better leader?
- Am I accountable?
Evolving as a leader takes time and effort. In his book Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap and Others Don’t,5 Jim Collins outlines different levels of leadership:
- Level 1: Highly Capable Individual—makes productive contributions with their talent, knowledge, skills, and good work habits
- Level 2: Contributing Team Member—contributes to the achievement of group objectives and works effectively with others
- Level 3: Competent Leader—organizes people and performance to effectively pursue predetermined objectives
- Level 4: Effective Leader—catalyzes commitment to the pursuit of a compelling vision and stimulates people to perform at a high level
- Level 5: Executive—builds enduring greatness with a combination of personal humility and professional will
HIM professionals need to learn to lead and transition to a higher level of leadership at their organizations. Jeannine Pugh Cain, MSHI, RHIA, CPHI, co-chair of the AHIMA House of Delegates Leadership Team, says she shows her value in any situation by “exhibiting skills of awareness, flexibility, and adaptivity to ensure successful interaction and direction.” She also practices reflection in order to learn from her experience, focusing on what she could have done differently, identifying opportunities to improve, and formulating a plan to make any necessary corrections. This practice of self-assessment, although at times difficult, is an important part of the process for growing as a leader.
The August 2014 Journal of AHIMA article “Taking Your Seat (At the Head of the Table)” offers several tips for how HIM professionals can strengthen their leadership skills and demonstrate how their role and the health information they work with are integral to their organization. The article recommends HIM leaders start setting small, incremental goals in order to achieve the level of leadership they desire.
Leading AHIMA and Industry in Transition
One of the outcomes outlined in AHIMA’s 2020–2023 Strategic Plan is to shape the health information profession by growing the influence and competitiveness of health information skillsets. One of the three multi-year strategies to achieve this outcome is to align professional development and educational programs with shifting market needs to advance hard and soft skill sets and support rebranding of the profession.6
The concepts represented in transformational leadership are particularly relevant for AHIMA members as the association continues to transform along with the profession. It is imperative that today’s HIM professionals respond to today’s healthcare ecosystem.
Christine Williams, RHIA, document integrity manager at UW Health and speaker of the House of Delegates at AHIMA, discussed leading the association and its members through this environment. “When I think about leading through transformation, I look at the new opportunities with an open mind to ensure I am not a barrier for growth and progress,” Williams says. “That doesn’t mean it is easy or that I roll over to changes, but that my thought process has evolved to be more purposeful to ensure positive outcomes.”
Recognizing the need to help AHIMA’s members develop leadership skills, AHIMA will be offering the Blanchard Leadership modules in 2020 to support members in their professional development. More information will be coming in the second quarter of 2020.
HIM professionals just starting to strengthen leadership skills can start by assessing their current competencies with AHIMA’s volunteer leadership competencies self-assessment, available at www.ahima.org/volunteers?tabid=assessment. The assessment identifies ideal skills for leaders in several key areas and tracks progress toward acquiring and strengthening those skills. Though the tool was designed to help volunteers identify skills needed for volunteer roles, these same competencies pertain to the HIM profession.
The self-assessment includes five core competencies:
- Adheres to and advocates for the AHIMA code of ethics
- Demonstrates commitment to the association
- Acts as a team player/collaborator
- Respects diversity and fosters inclusion
- Presents a positive professional image
Each competency is key for success in all professional roles. Beyond these five core competencies, there are nine additional competencies with sub-competencies for members to use to assess their skills and experience. HIM professionals can use the tool to determine their skill level and identify areas for improvement, as well as develop goals to help gain the skills needed to either become leaders or improve as leaders.
For HIM professionals not in leadership positions, stepping up as a volunteer for a component state association (CSA), AHIMA, or other volunteer organization can provide opportunities to gain valuable experience that will help them grow as leaders.
“Being a leader means to expect failure and conflict but to know that it just takes re-framing and a new perspective to learn from failed attempts and mistakes,” says Aurae Beidler, MHA, RHIA, CHPS, CHC, compliance and privacy officer at Linn County Health Services in Albany, OR, speaker-elect of the AHIMA House of Delegates, who has volunteered at her local CSA and now serves as a volunteer at the national level. She has learned these principles of leadership through her volunteer experience. “There is usually another way to do things, especially when we work collaboratively and listen to all ideas,” Beidler says.
From managing a budget to planning a meeting or taking a governance role, there are myriad opportunities to grow your skillset as a volunteer with AHIMA or your local CSA. Members who serve at AHIMA’s national level with the board of directors, the Commission on Certification for Health Informatics and Information Management (CCHIIM), and the Council for Excellence in Education (CEE) have achieved level 5 in Collins’s leadership level model. These leaders are visionary, strategic thinkers with the business acumen needed to manage a multi-million-dollar business, and they are comfortable making tough decisions. For members interested in pursuing a board of directors role, the 2021 AHIMA Board of Directors Competencies self-assessment is available online at www.ahima.org/volunteers.
These documents are vital for each potential candidate to review, says Ginna Evans, MBA, RHIA, CPC, CRC, FAHIMA, coding educator, internal medicine specialties division at Emory Clinic, Emory Healthcare and president of the AHIMA Board of Directors.
Serving on AHIMA’s Board requires individuals to be committed and understanding of the time, energy, and work needed to succeed in the position, Evans says. The online application to serve includes the Volunteer Leadership Competencies Self Assessment as well as the 2021 AHIMA Board of Directors Competencies.
Evans cites her abilities to think strategically, participate in discussions as a change transformation leader, and focus on governance as just a few of the attributes that have proven essential as a member of the board.
Ethics in Leadership
AHIMA’s Code of Ethics (Code) provides a guideline for members, credential holders, and students to follow to ensure they are leading by example when it comes to ethical behavior in the workplace. Each of the thirteen principles included in the document includes examples of ethical and unethical behavior, which assist with proper interpretation of the Code. All leaders must consistently demonstrate this high standard of behavior.
Beidler encourages leaders to ask themselves “Are you doing the right thing when no one is looking, and do you live the values of a leader throughout all facets of your life?”
The ethics self-assessment helps HIM professionals determine how well they adhere to the Code and to identify areas where improvement is needed. These materials are available online in the Ethics section of the AHIMA website. HIM professionals should also determine whether their organization has a Code of Ethics. It is essential to be familiar with these guidelines.
Leading Through Change
The only constant is change. As AHIMA moves forward with its mission, vision, and strategic plan to help its members and the HIM profession achieve success in the rapidly changing healthcare landscape, leadership skill development is key for HIM professionals to advance and become influencers—not followers—in the industry.
AHIMA members are an important part of a movement to transform healthcare. Realizing our potential as leaders is the first step.
- The Ken Blanchard Companies. www.kenblanchard.com.
- Northouse, Peter G. Leadership Theory and Practice, Seventh Edition. SAGE Publications, 2015.
- Tredgold, Gordon. “9 Questions Great Leaders Ask of Themselves.” Thrive Global. January 12, 2020. https://thriveglobal.com/stories/9-questions-great-leaders-ask-of-themselves.
- Collins, James. Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap and Others Don’t. HarperCollins Publishers, 2001.
- AHIMA. 2020–2023 Enterprise Strategic Plan. 2019. http://bok.ahima.org/PdfView?oid=302888.
Andersen, Erika. “What Leading with Vision Really Means.” Fast Company. November 21, 2012. www.fastcompany.com/3003293/what-leading-vision-really-means.
Eramo, Lisa A. “Taking Your Seat (at the Head of the Table): How to Become a Leader and Decision-Maker in Healthcare.” Journal of AHIMA 85, no.8 (August 2014): 14-21.
Kruse, Kevin. “What Is Leadership?” Forbes. April 9, 2012. www.forbes.com/sites/kevinkruse/2013/04/09/what-is-leadership.
Mancilla, Desla, Carolyn Guyton-Ringbloom, and Michelle Dougherty. “Ten Skills That Make a Great Leader.” Journal of AHIMA 86, no.6 (June 2015): 38-41.
Stoker, John R. “Do people trust you? Advice for building trust and inspiring confidence.” SmartBrief. January 13, 2020. www.smartbrief.com/original/2020/01/do-people-trust-you-advice-building-trust-and-inspiring-confidence.
Carolyn Guyton-Ringbloom (firstname.lastname@example.org) is senior director, governance and board operations at AHIMA.