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Leadership development programs for health care middle managers

An exploration of the top management team member perspective

Whaley, Alan; Gillis, William E.

doi: 10.1097/HMR.0000000000000131

Background: Hospitals throughout the United States establish leadership and management programs for their middle managers. Despite their pervasiveness and an increased emphasis on physician leadership, there is limited research regarding the development programs designed for clinical and nonclinical health care middle managers.

Purpose: Using two theoretical lenses, signaling and institutional theory, this exploratory study investigates mid-sized hospital development programs from the perspective of top management team (TMT) members. Our objective is to find out what types of programs hospitals have, how they are developed, and how they are evaluated.

Methodology/Approach: We conducted semistructured interviews with 13 TMT members in six purposefully selected hospitals and matched these interviews with program curricula. Careful coding of the data allowed us not only to show our data in a meaningful visual representation but also to show the progression of the data from raw form to aggregate themes in the qualitative research process.

Findings: We identified four types of development programs used in the selected hospitals: (a) ongoing series, (b) curriculum-based, (c) management orientation, and (d) mentoring. Challenges existed in aligning the need for the program with program content. Communication occurred both through direct messaging regarding policies and procedures and through hidden signals. TMT members referenced other programs for guidance but were not always clear about what it is they wanted the programs to accomplish. Finally, there was limited program outcome measurement.

Practice Implications: Our small sample indicates that specific, structured, and comprehensive programs perform best. The better programs were always trying to improve but that most needed better accountability of tracking outcomes. In setting up a program, a collaborative approach among TMT members to establish what the needs are and how to measure outcomes worked well. Successful programs also tied in their leadership development with overall employee development.

Alan Whaley, DBA, is Chief Strategy Officer, University of South Alabama Health System, Mobile.

William E. Gillis, PhD, is Associate Professor, Department of Management, Mitchell College of Business, University of South Alabama, Mobile. E-mail:

The authors have disclosed that they have no significant relationship with or financial interest in any commercial companies pertaining to this article.

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