Humbitious: Why low-ego and high-drive is the way to lead through healthcare challenges

August 8, 2023 |  CIO, Industry Leaders, C-level, Healthcare IT


With all of the challenges that today’s healthcare leaders must navigate— staffing shortages, provider burnout, mergers and consolidations, and the continuing evolution of digital technologies — one of the most consequential decisions they face is what type of leader they want to be.

As an executive coach, I work with many healthcare leaders. Some of the leaders I coach are too humble, but not ambitious enough. They are the type of people who are very nice and who get along well with everyone else. However, they rarely speak up in meetings, they don’t take risks, and they don’t get much done. I call this type of leader the “selfless pushover.” They are not that effective. 

Other leaders that I coach are too ambitious, but not humble enough. In my opinion, that is the most dangerous combination. You know the type: Frequently wrong, but never in doubt. They set bold visions, and they have big plans. But they don’t involve others, they don’t listen and they don’t give credit. It’s all about “me, myself and I.” I call this type of leader the “bulldozing jerk.” They may get some results in the short-term through fear, intimidation, charm, or a combination of all three, but they are not that effective in the long-run. 

There are obviously people that are low on both humility and ambition (the “selfish slackers”). But these rarely get the chance to become leaders and therefore I don’t encounter many of them in my coaching work. 

The best way to lead, especially during difficult times, is to combine humility and ambition, to be a humbitious leader. The research shows that leading with low-ego and high-drive is one of the best ways to achieve high performance, especially in difficult times. 

A survey asked more than 500 business people at the height of the pandemic what traits they are looking for in a leader to guide them in such an uncertain work environment. More than 83% said that they are looking for — among other things — a “humble hero.” They wanted a leader that has the confidence to make difficult decisions, and the humility to admit mistakes. 

In leadership, humility is not a weakness. It is actually a strength. And it can be a superpower when combined with ambition. 

Learn and share healthcare leadership strategies at MEDITECH LIVE

We’re all aware of the profound changes happening in healthcare — and the need for effective leadership at all levels to navigate them. 

That’s why I’m looking forward to further exploring the concept of humbitious leadership as part of MEDITECH LIVE, Sept. 20 through 22 in Foxborough, MA.

On Sept. 21, I'll be delivering the keynote address and focusing on tangible take-home behaviors that healthcare leaders can implement right away, which aligns very well with this year’s MEDITECH LIVE theme, “Value-driven Strategies for Actionable Innovation.” 

Especially amid the shifts in digital healthcare toward reducing the burden on providers, developing new care delivery models, and handling patient data responsibly, it’s imperative that everyone involved — from the physicians and nurses on the clinic floor to executives — contributes to the success of their organization.

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Written by Amer Kaissi, Ph.D. National Speaker, Author, Executive Coach

Dr. Kaissi is an award-winning professor of healthcare administration at Trinity University, a faculty member with the American College of Healthcare Executives, and author of the 2019 ACHE Book of the Year Intangibles: The Unexpected Traits of High-Performing Healthcare Leaders. His most recent book is Humbitious: The Power of Low-Ego, High-Drive Leadership.
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