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The coronavirus pandemic forced the CEOs of some of the country’s biggest payers to rethink their approaches to leadership.
Mark Ganz, CEO of Cambia Health Solutions, said during a panel at America’s Health Insurance Plans’ annual Institute & Expo on Thursday that COVID-19 pushed him to step into the role of a “wartime general,” especially as the plan’s home base in the Pacific Northwest was one of the first to see the virus.
To navigate the challenges brought on by the pandemic, the insurer’s employees needed a “different kind of leadership,” he said.
That includes both critical decision-making and an empathetic understanding of what the workers are experiencing, Ganz said.
“Isn’t it odd that in a time of ‘social distancing’ that I feel a closer bond and a more personal engagement with the 5,000 employees of Cambia than ever?” he said.
Ganz was joined on the panel by Gregory Adams, CEO of Kaiser Permanente, and Karen Ignagni, CEO of EmblemHealth. Adams said the integrated delivery system’s needs forced him to step into situations he might not ordinarily handle.
For instance, he met personally with a local garment manufacturer in hopes of mitigating dwindling supplies of masks and protective equipment. Adams also said he mandated temperature checks at the door of Kaiser Permanente facilities—despite pushback from some clinicians who noted the science backing such screenings was imperfect.
These challenges arose as the healthcare giant’s workers, especially front-line clinicians, worked longer and longer hours and faced concerns about their own health, he said.
“I think one of the takeaways for me is this: really, really kind of owning our ability to be courageous leaders,” he said.
Ignagni emphasized the importance of executives putting themselves in the shoes of their workforce and understanding more directly how the pandemic is affecting them, their families and their work.
That can start with simply asking front-line team members how they’re doing and checking in with teams that are stretched thin, she said. Further, it’s critical to empower them to be honest about how they’re feeling.
“Sometimes in the softer side of things makes some people think or associate it with weakness. But this is power if we can, as leaders, both lead well and lead strongly, but also give people a sense of empathy and support,” Ignagni said.