Advice for new leaders from Steve Markovich: Don't get trapped behind your desk

Katy Smith
Dr. Steve Markovich, president and CEO, OhioHealth

New people are stepping into leadership roles everywhere you look in the Columbus region. The first year in the role can be a whirlwind—learning about the company or organization, either for the first time or learning about it from a different vantage point; getting to know lots of new names and faces if you came from outside; and perhaps finding some things you would like to do differently.

Columbus CEO's April 2020 cover package, "The Great Leadershift," featured advice from six leaders in their first few years. Here is what they shared.

Dr. Steve Markovich

President and CEO, OhioHealth

Establishing your style: How you present yourself, your style, is important but whatever your style is, my advice is to be true to yourself. Don’t try to be someone you’re not. The characteristics that got you here are the things that are going to help keep you grounded and be successful in the new job.

How do you role model behavior: One huge thing I’ve learned, and I can’t stress this enough, is that everybody is watching you every day. Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “An institution is but the lengthened shadow of one person.” It’s true. People take cues from you, what you say, how you say it and how you carry yourself so be sure to cast the very best shadow you can, every day. 

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Choosing your team: The most important quality I look for in any new potential team member is whether or not they are a servant leader. Do they really care about people and demonstrate empathy? Do they come to work and to every relationship wanting to help? Are they willing to put the organization and others before themselves? If you’re going to be a member of my team, given our commitments to the community and our patients and to our associates, that is non-negotiable. 

Building team confidence: I am a huge believer that the foundational element of leadership and of building team confidence is trust. It’s key to everything we do as leaders and, frankly, as human beings. Trust in your skills to get the job done. Trust that you will do the right thing when no one is watching. Trust that you will be honest with me, always. And, ultimately, trust that we will have each other’s backs in tough times. When you have that with each member of your team and they have it for each other, you’re unstoppable.

How to stay connected: One of the most important pieces of advice I can offer a new CEO is don’t get trapped behind your desk. You learn a ton when you get out where the work is done and where your people are. Management by walking around. That re-energizes me every time.

How to use time: You have to protect your time, guard it jealously, because you don’t have enough of it. I’m still trying to figure it all out. Delegate what you can so you can focus on the right things for you in your new role: setting the strategy, maintaining the brand and commitment to the community, and staying connected to people on the front lines on a regular basis. 

What surprised you? One of the things I underestimated was the role of the CEO in the community. As the second largest employer in central Ohio, and the largest health care system, the role of the OhioHealth CEO with the community, civic and business leaders, is enormous. 

I watched how my predecessor, Dave Blom, handled it but I didn’t fully understand it. Now I do. It’s a big responsibility and also a great honor to be able to contribute to our entire community in this way.

Initiating change: To create change, you have to first create a compelling vision for the future and engage people around you to contribute to it because you can’t be the lone driver of it. Only after everyone feels like they’ve contributed to it can you actually start the change process. With their help, and enthusiasm and buy-in, momentum builds and the organization will begin to move.

Seeking outside counsel and advice, talking to the guy you replaced: Give yourself permission to not know every answer. Find people you can reach out to. The CEO job can get a little lonely because the people who you may have once asked for advice, possibly your peers then, are not your peers anymore and it may not be appropriate to go to them in the same way you used to.

I am comfortable calling my predecessor and former boss, Dave Blom for his opinion. And I’m developing a network of others in the community who I can call if I have an issue I’m dealing with. I’m a big believer in picking people’s brains and then “borrowing” shamelessly.

Transitioning from another role in the same organization: If you’re the successful internal candidate, on one hand it’s great because you have a lot of built- in familiarity, support and accolades. But at the same time, people may still relate to you in the role you were in before and you need to be aware of that.

You’re in a different job and people who were your peers now work for you and sometimes there may be challenging conversations about expectations and relationships. It’s a real change but it can be managed simply and effectively with open communication and trust in each other.

Leaning on your assistant: You have to have a great assistant. They not only help protect your time and keep you organized but they keep you informed about unofficial buzz in the organization. If your assistant has a deep network across the organization, they are, literally, another set of eyes and ears for you. I have a great one!

Balancing your personal life with work: It’s a challenge. You’ve got your kids and your family and you want to make time to hit the gym and keep some level of fitness. There are a lot of business social events with trays of wonderful appetizers and adult beverages and you can put on a few pounds very quickly. 

Carve out time for yourself. Make it a priority, just like you would a meeting. Find what your passion is outside the job and go do it. 

I’m a pilot, so for me, it’s flying. My wife says I’m a completely different guy after I come home after flying a plane around Central Ohio for a couple of hours. She says I’m actually giggly. I think that’s good.

Enjoying it along the way: Enjoy it. You made it. But just like you have to find things that energize you outside of work, you also have to find the things that keep your batteries charged at work.  It’s an exciting new role – don’t lose sight of what an incredible opportunity that is. 

For me, I love meeting with our associates to hear about what they’re doing, how they’re feeling. I truly enjoy reconnecting with the core reason we’re here, taking care of people. And there’s no better way to reconnect to that than by talking with the people who do it every day. 

Extra question: Are you enjoying it? Four days out of five. Haha. It’s something new every day, that’s for sure. 

Advice from other new leaders:

Kirt Walker, CEO, Nationwide

Jonathan Moody, CEO, Moody Nolan

Lori Gillett, CEO, Corna Kokosing

David Holladay, president, CoverMyMeds

Lisa Courtice, CEO, United Way of Central Ohio