Len Friedman is Director of the Master of Health Services Administration program and a Professor in the Department of Health Services Management and Leadership at George Washington University. He is an expert on the mechanisms of organizational change and strategic decision-making in health service organizations – and that’s exactly why I’m delighted to feature him in our latest installment of the Q&A Series.

Below, we’ll get some insight into his thoughts on why conversation and listening are so important in the healthcare setting, what makes healthcare management students tick, and why he’s chosen Meetings Matter as required reading this semester.


Paul: Thank you for taking a few minutes to speak with us about your students. Len, first tell us about the source of your passion for helping your students flourish in the Public Health sector.

Len: Thanks for this opportunity Paul. I have been involved in healthcare in one form or another since the summer of 1967. Having tried (and failed) to gain admission to medical school, I have wanted to try and make a difference to make healthcare better. For the past 24 years, that goal has been achieved through the efforts of my students who graduate and move into leadership roles in a whole variety of health sector organizations. I try to share my passion for organizational excellence with my students in the hope that they take that with them into the workplace.

Paul: What do you feel your students need to understand and practice to be successful?

Len: First and foremost, healthcare management students need to understand that this is a relationship-based business. While there is a significant investment made in buildings, technology and infrastructure, when all is said and done, successful healthcare leaders know that human relationships are at the heart of everything that happens in our organizations.

There is no question that graduates need to understand the functional areas of management including finance, policy, reimbursement, IT, economics, strategy, law, etc., but the differentiating competency for our students is relationship management. How do healthcare leaders grow and nurture relationships with all the various stakeholder groups including physicians, staff, patients, community members, regulators, payers, employer groups and others? We need to give our students the opportunity while in school to learn about best practices in this area and to build their own skill in relationship management. The core of relationship management lies in effective communication with the ability to effectively listen to others.

Paul: I know you are a big proponent of listening skills. Please tell us about the value of listening and what students/professionals need to learn.

Len: Listening perhaps the single most important competency any healthcare leader can possess. Earlier, I mentioned the plethora of stakeholders that make up the healthcare environment. Every one of those persons wants to know that their thoughts and concerns are being heard in an open and genuine manner. It is remarkable how much healthcare leaders can learn when they slow down and open themselves up to listen carefully to what others are telling them. I have found that unhappy patients, physicians or others just want someone to really hear what they have to say. Like any skill that needs to be developed, students and practitioners need to practice listening to others. Effective listening in healthcare includes not interrupting, ignoring distractions and displaying a genuine interest in what the other person is saying. Stated another way, this is listening with a purpose.

Paul: If you had to choose three to five ideas that seem to resonate most with today’s students, what would you choose?

Len: To provide a bit of context, I find healthcare management students extraordinarily passionate about wanting to make a positive difference in this field. They understand that in the healthcare delivery sector – including hospitals, clinics, long term care, etc. – that with the possible exception of moms coming in for the birth of their babies, few if anyone wants the services that are provided by our organizations and are with us only because of a clinical problem that must be addressed. Given this reality, I think the top five ideas that resonate with students today are:

  1. The only thing constant in healthcare is change – students must be prepared to be agents of change even when this is uncomfortable.
  2. EQ (Emotional intelligence) is more important than IQ – there are a lot of really smart people in healthcare, but that does not always translate to empathy, listening and care for others.
  3. Alignment of values – every organization has a stated and practiced set of values that drive the way in which they operate. Highly aware students know and understand their personal values and seek out organizations whose values that are in alignment with their own.
  4. The Healthcare Flywheel – this term was coined by Quint Studer and speaks to what is required for highly effective healthcare organizations and leaders. At the center of the flywheel is purpose, worthwhile work and making a difference. Surrounding the center is passion, specific activities to assure consistent results, and data-driven evidence to support organizational effectiveness.
  5. Real learning starts after graduation – the practice of healthcare management must take place in real time in organizations where the real work is done. It is great to learn the theories of management, participate in case studies and write scholarly papers. This is a necessary but not sufficient condition. It is only when the formal education is put into practice that real learning occurs. Students must be prepared to fail – and then learn from those failures.

Paul: What are your students looking for or most concerned about these days?

Len: The concerns of our students are a function of where they are in their career progression. Choosing healthcare management is an important commitment that is not made without a great deal of thought and reflection. For students early in the process, their primary concern is what part of the health sector is the best fit for them. Obtaining the first job in the field is always a stress-inducing time. Once they are employed, there are two simultaneous concerns. The first is work-life blend. Forty-hour work weeks are an infrequent luxury. How do you deal with the demands of work, family and friends all the while reserving time for yourself? The second concern is career progression and continuing professional education. Earning a BS or MHA degree is only the start of a healthcare leader’s education. While another formal degree is probably not needed (particularly for those who hold an MHA or equivalent), continuing education as a condition for career advancement is absolutely essential.

Paul: I’m pleased that you’ve chosen Meetings Matter as a text for you class. Thank you. Would you share your thinking behind this decision?

Len: My decision for choosing Meetings Matter is simple. The book captures much of what was discussed here. The thoughts, ideas and recommendations are essential for every healthcare leader regardless of where they are in their careers. While the title of the book is accurate in terms of holding worthwhile meetings, there is so much more. The book speaks to the value of human relationships and learning to have effective conversations. We rarely if ever teach students how to have effective conversations, and Meetings Matter elegantly meets this need.