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Health tech leadership 2024: Top traits for leadership success

By Odgers Berndtson’s Chris Hamilton and Mike Drew

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Odgers Berndtson’s Chris Hamilton and Mike Drew, discuss the top traits health tech leaders need to attract talent, unite their organisations, and drive productivity in 2024.

Chris and Mike are lead members of the Scale-Up Collective, Odgers Berndtson’s platform for investors and portfolio companies, helping to identify leaders with skillsets for value creation and growth.

Health tech has been dogged by a slower investment pace and downward pressure on valuations.

Companies face greater scrutiny from investors and heightened demand for strong unit economics and paths to profitability.

Nor are they immune to broader cultural forces.

Increasingly atomised workforces drive demand for connection and purpose, combined with novel and continuous crises that weaken organisational resilience and productivity.

At the same time, health tech is at the spear tip of AI disruption, with companies rapidly shifting strategies to AI and upping spending.

Such an environment demands an evolved leadership paradigm in health tech – one capable of navigating disruption with resilience, creativity and speed.

Underpinning this paradigm, is human leadership – the ability to connect, unite, and inspire through authenticity, vulnerability, and purpose.

Based on Odgers Berndtson’s psychometric leadership assessment methodology and combined with industry insights, these are the top traits we believe health tech leaders need in 2024.

Purpose-orientated 

Health tech leaders should create a purpose beyond their organisation, underpinned by an outcomes-oriented approach to care.

This purpose should inform everything from portfolio strategy, products, people and culture, to processes, performance metrics, and engagement.

While the majority of health tech companies are naturally purpose-led, purpose-orientated health tech leaders go a step beyond, embedding the mission and values in every aspect of the organisation.

They ensure operational processes meet purpose-related targets, while behaviours up and down the value chain align with the company’s mission.

Likewise, targets and metrics measuring desired outcomes, how the company progresses, and the way incentives are created are designed to realise the organisation’s purpose.

The most successful health tech leaders will also help, guide, and encourage their employees to find their purpose within the core values and goals of the business.

Importantly, purpose is not static, and health tech leaders can and should reflect on the organisation’s purpose and adapt if necessary.

In addition to fostering unity and engagement, employees within purpose-driven companies are 47 per cent more likely to promote their company — making purpose indispensable in attracting talent.

People-centric 

Successful health tech leaders embody authenticity, empathy, and adaptability.

They act purposefully and enable true self-expression for themselves and their teams.

Showing genuine care, respect, and concern for their employees’ well-being comes naturally, as does allowing flexibility and support to meet individual needs.

Much of this is about creating psychological safety to ensure employees feel empowered to speak up without fear of scrutiny or recrimination.

As a leader, this means learning when to hold back and make space for others to contribute.

It also means developing the social sensitivity to draw out the introverts or those less inclined to speak up.

Psychological safety does not mean withholding (critical) feedback, but is about transparency and being forthcoming about areas of improvement.

Health tech leaders with these human-centric traits spend more time on coaching and recognition, and finding and developing people for roles, instead of roles for people.

High performing talent is scarce, and health tech leaders should be more focused on retention than selection and leveraging the in-house skills most effectively, rather than trying to fit people into boxes.

Tellingly, employees report a 37 per cent increase in engagement if they consider their leader to be a ‘people-centric leader’.

Progress-driven 

Today’s digitally disrupted healthcare landscape requires health tech leaders with creativity, speed, and accountability.

Traditional, hierarchal businesses encourage uniformity, bureaucracy, and control, whereas health tech leaders should aim for flat, non-hierarchical organisations built for initiative-taking and innovation.

Progress-driven health tech leaders are resilient, and output-driven. Their aim is not to modify old models but to replace them with something radically better.

They focus on thriving, not just surviving, and are comfortable with setbacks or mistakes and recover quickly by identifying learnings when these mistakes occur.

By being agile, they are curious, actively broaden their thinking, and are unencumbered by old mindsets if they’re proven not to work.

What’s more, they are more likely to take on stretch assignments to build new skills and provide additional input and ideas to grow the business.

Perspective-led 

Health tech leaders who crosscut their networks and build more heterogeneous contacts have access to diverse knowledge and expertise.

This gives them greater visibility of emerging trends, challenges, and international opportunities.

As a result, they enjoy benefits like higher quality patents, more successful mergers and acquisitions, and better stock evaluation.

Moreover, they serve clients in a more flexible, client-focused way, instead of focusing on outperforming the competition.

Perspective-led health tech leaders actively try to build ‘bridges’ by developing an interconnected worldview and thinking in co-creation to serve clients and drive purpose.

They build fractal companies of diverse talent, maximising interactions and connections across hierarchical levels.

According to a 2023 VC study, the most successful health tech companies have multi-disciplinary teams that marry industry and technical knowledge, to create best-in-class products.

The healthcare systems in most countries are fractured and unconnected, and so perspective-led health tech leaders can capitalise on untapped collaboration and partnership opportunities.

Leaders of these types of health tech companies design their delivery models around a network of dynamic, continuously evolving capabilities — their own and those of their partners.

These capabilities can be deployed quickly at local and micro market levels and to target new value pools.

Principal-powered  

Successful health tech leaders are inherently authentic and moral individuals. They are capable of honest self-reflection and have a clear vision of who they are.

This translates into being a role model for the changes or direction they aim for – they embody the ideal that a leader doesn’t deliver the message; a leader is the message.

Authenticity means being humble enough to acknowledge strengths and weaknesses and vulnerable enough to know how these impact the business.

Health tech leaders who possess these traits know what they are good at and where they might need help, in order to serve results and purpose.

Ultimately, they are role models for those they lead.

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