A Conversation About Leadership: Fireside Chat With Mark Hertling and Stephen Beeson

A few weeks ago, we witnessed a spirited conversation between two great leaders in medicine. Coming from entirely different backgrounds, Mark Hertling, DBA and Stephen Beeson, MD shared their thoughts on what it takes to lead and the importance of leadership in healthcare.


Speaker profiles:

  • Mark Hertling, DBA | Retired US Army Lieutenant General, Former Commander of US Army Europe, and Faculty Member of Practicing Excellence’s Leadership Program
  • Stephen Beeson, MD | Founder & CEO of Practicing Excellence | Family Medicine Physician


SB: Let’s talk about leadership approaches in the military and medicine. Are there similarities? 

MH: “Only the military and medicine deal with life and death on a daily basis – which is a similarity in terms of our professional outlook. Over the last 18 months or so, health care workers went to battle. The way leaders build teams is so much more complex, especially when battling a pandemic. Leadership has always been about mobilizing and supporting people to do profoundly difficult work.

During a crisis, in both military and medicine, it is imperative for leaders to know how to build strong teams. They must understand that their role in a crisis is to support each other in a shared purpose, utilize current conditions to shift where necessary, and not wait for what is happening to come to them. Leaders need to be visible, approachable, clear, and deeply committed to their people and the mission to drive through a conflict.”


SB: We’ve talked about leadership a lot – I’d like to get your perspective on how health care leaders evolve as they go through a development process?

MH: “[One thing I’ve seen is that] They transition from seeing themselves as an individual. We focus primarily on leader behaviors, leader attributes, how a leader influences people, and the context in which they are leading. These are all geared towards mobilizing those you lead to help the organization achieve its goals.”


SB: Health care workers are facing profound levels of stress and burnout [when trying to support the organization as well as achieve its goals]. From a leadership perspective, what do you think leaders should do to help?

MH: “Leading isn’t something that you jump into and say – okay, I’m going to lead! You must also understand the elements of leadership. How do other people see you? What are your values? Do you understand that humility is a big part of being a leader? Much like soldiers, you have to have competency, intellect, and character to render influence when this work is so overwhelmingly hard. Communication is more than you talking, it’s also understanding what people hear, what your team needs, and supporting them to be their best. Leadership colors the experience of teams and individuals in profound ways, and leadership effectiveness is more important now than at any other time.”

As we move through the coming years, healthcare leadership will have a more profound role in helping organizations and health systems recover from the stress and trauma that the pandemic has brought. Whether it’s managing the needs of individual staff or supporting organizational goals, highly effective leaders should be able to build high-performing teams and individuals with the leadership skills, behaviors, and competencies that support, develop, and honor those they lead.

If you’ve enjoyed this conversation, expect more from Mark Hertling as he shares experience-based tips on leading and the importance of effective leadership amid a health care crisis as a faculty member for Practicing Excellence’s Leadership Program. How are your clinical teams collaborating to achieve your goals? We’d love to hear from you! Let us know in the comments below or interact with us on Twitter or LinkedIn.

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