As a nurse, Cathy Barr cared for patients in hospital, rehabilitation and home care settings. Although she liked clinical work, she found herself drawn to leadership and administration.

"I enjoy advancing the situation and finding positive ways to deal with challenges and difficulties," she says. "I like being able to create an environment where people can do their best work and find real job satisfaction. That's the gift of leadership."

As her career unfolded, Barr went back to school and completed an MBA at the University of St. Thomas. "I love the business aspects of healthcare, and I wanted to learn from people in other industries," she says.

This month Barr, who has served as vice president of HealthEast Community Based Services since 2007, became CEO of Bethesda Hospital, a facility with 262 licensed beds, more than 700 employees and 2007 revenue of $66.9 million.

Everyone A Leader

Few healthcare professionals will move from bedside to boardroom over the course of their career. But Barr believes that "each of us can be a leader everyday in some facet of our life."

Every organization offers opportunities to develop and practice leadership skills. "Participate in committees and work groups, or volunteer to help with activities like heart walks and health fairs," Barr says. "All you have to do is show up and enter into dialogue. Offer your ideas and feedback."

Healthcare also offers many opportunities for formal leadership at all organizational levels. For example, experienced clinicians can move into new roles as team and project leaders, shift supervisors, clinic managers and program directors.

Respect And Trust

According to Barr, effective leadership is grounded in relationships based on mutual respect and trust. In addition, good leaders:

  • Create a vision for their team and articulate each member's role.
  • Ask for and expect full participation from every member of the team.
  • Set up clear expectations including timelines, individual accountability and measurement criteria.
  • Create a good work environment by staying positive and always looking for win-win solutions.
  • Listen and get feedback from both individuals and the entire group.
  • Train and coach team members so they can be successful.

A Note of Thanks

It has been said, "gratitude is the parent of all other virtues."

According to Cathy Barr, CEO of Bethesda Hospital, gratitude is also an essential ingredient of good leadership. "Effective leaders always make an effort to recognize and thank team members and staff for their contributions."

Nancy Giguere is a freelance writer from St. Paul who has written about healthcare since 1995.