David Wildebrandt

Managing Director, Berkeley Research Group

By Topic: Leadership


Healthcare Executive: How would you describe your leadership style?

Wildebrandt: I would describe my leadership style as “tight, loose, tight.” By tight, I mean that our organization believes in clarity and unity so that our team feels like they’re all pulling in the same direction toward the same clearly defined goals with the same sense of purpose. Whether you’re in clinical care, security or accounting—everyone must connect back to the patient in everything they do. 

By loose, I mean that I also believe in engaging people’s entrepreneurial spirit and creativity rather than just handing them to-do lists. I believe in giving them the freedom to develop their own style and figure out their own way of getting something done. Micromanaging and creating insecurity amongst your team members is a performance killer.

On the back end, I emphasize “tight” accountability because we must drive towards results or outcomes. Ultimately this helps high performers by defining what success looks like. There should be positive or negative consequences based on results.

Leadership means putting yourself behind your team. It means knowing that your success is really your team’s success and that your job is to serve as a conduit for resources and support and then get out of the way. It’s natural at first to want to have your moment in the spotlight, but that doesn’t work in the long term. Leadership is about “we statements,” not “I” statements. With maturity, you realize that being a leader is about pride in the achievements of the team you’re leading.

HE: What are some of the most important lessons you’ve learned about leadership? 

Wildebrandt: I’m a people person. I believe in leadership visibility, whether it’s rounding with employees or traveling around the country to be in the team room with clients. Our model as a company is the same. We’re very much a boots-on-the-ground consulting firm. Before the pandemic, we did very little advisory work virtually. 

When the pandemic hit, suddenly that in-person contact disappeared. Everything we had been doing changed. Some of our clients pumped the brakes and paused engagements, while others canceled. Like a lot of other organizations, we experienced a total disconnect from our client base. 

The company—and I—reinvented our communication style and our way of working. We learned to have crucial conversations and connect meaningfully by video, communicating and building a sense of camarade¬rie and teamwork in a new way. 

It was awkward at first. But with virtual team-building retreats and other virtual activities, we’ve adjusted to the new normal. Now, we can have conversations with each other and with clients and feel like we’re sitting at the same table. 

HE: As you think about 2022 and beyond, what challenges are you facing and what resources are you using to address them?

Wildebrandt: In an environment in which forecasts are good for only 60 to 90 days, the need for agility and nimbleness is greater than ever. Many companies are not even doing long-term forecasts now. Instead, they’re having dynamic strategy sessions. There’s no True North for them. Before, you could make some predictions in a lin¬ear fashion. All that is gone. 

In addition to developing agility, the future is about having contin¬gency plans, and trying to keep some semblance of a norm. On top of the resurgence of the virus and the variants that are coming, we’re dealing with extreme hospital sensi¬tivity to fluctuations in inpatient volume, price transparency, growing out-of-pocket expenses for patients, and the dichotomy of the big store-centric hospital systems and the freestanding lower cost sys¬tems, among other issues. 

Every week, we’re rolling up our sleeves with our partner health systems and pivoting and changing. No one has any idea of how many variations of the pan¬demic we’ll see or when we’ll see them. That means leadership right now needs to be deliberate, thoughtful and calm, because the environment is not going to be any of those things.

HE: As you think about the future of healthcare, what do you believe should be top of mind for healthcare leaders, and what advice can you give?

Wildebrandt: The world is not going to settle down. I would not be searching for stasis. That means we need to work even harder to provide some consistency within our organizations. The external world is in flux. The internal world can’t also be in flux. 

We need to hardwire consistent tenets in our culture and double down on communication sessions, retreats, reward and recognition initiatives and upward feedback so that we stay connected to our employees.