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Become an influential healthcare leader

May 22nd, 2014

by Darlene A. Cunha

Time magazine recently published the 2014 list of the 100 most influential people in the world. After I read the magazine cover to cover, I asked myself, "did I possess what it takes to be a key person of influence?"

The truth is you probably already posses many of the traits for which people of influence are known.

Many key business leaders will tell you there are five real components of becoming influential in your field:

  • Pitch yourself well: Being marketable is essential, regardless of your talent. If you can't "walk the talk," you won't be able to convince others you are capable.
  • Publish your ideas: Publishing builds credibility, authority and attracts opportunity. You need a framework for expressing your thought leadership.
  • Deliver on your value: Turn your skills and talents into deliverables, such as consulting.
  • Raise your profile: Stand out and be recognized.
  • Create great partnerships: Surround yourself with excellence to attract major opportunities. Collaborate and inject energy into everything you do.


I researched some of the most influential people in healthcare. There were the obvious names--Barack Obama; Stephen Hemsley, president and CEO of UnitedHealth Group; Marilyn Tavenner, Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services administrator; John Noseworthy, M.D., president and CEO of the Mayo Clinic; Delos "Toby" Cosgrove, M.D., president and CEO of the Cleveland Clinic; Maureen Bisognano, president and CEO of the Institute for Healthcare Improvement; and Gary Gottlieb, M.D., president and CEO of Partners HealthCare. The list could go on and on.

Just as I had suspected, many of the names on my list have appeared in several publications for their dedication and influence in health and human services.

What about the individuals who don't have the political clout of those mentioned above, but are equally influential, highly successful and accomplished in their field? Individuals such as physicians, nurse managers, directors, chief nursing and chief executive officers, of which many had influenced my career. Without their support, guidance and mentoring, I may have settled into a career of convenience, and not one of leadership with a fierce determination to never settle for the status quo. There is much to admire about leaders who mentor others and value their craft.

These are the people who now create history. I asked myself, "Am I one of them? Do I measure up to these folks who write the first chapter of the rest of our lives?" I would like to say yes! In my own small way, I believe I made a difference. I mentored, stood up for the underdog, and fought hard to change the status quo with passion, commitment and focused enthusiasm. I learned early on that no matter your age, if you have something to say, find someone to help you translate exactly what that something is.

It is my mission to help restore healthcare across the continuum from one of fragility, to one that is engaging, sustainable and strong. My colleagues define my leadership as authentic, a combination of courage, compassion, strength, vulnerability, passion, steely discipline and unfailing loyalty. My goal is to become an influential leader by closing achievement gaps in clinical leadership, and igniting the passion I feel in healthcare for generations to come. No matter our station in life, I firmly believe we are bound by a moral obligation to one another.

After reading the Time issue, I could easily add the following traits influential people possess. They:

  • Embody integrity, honesty, kindness and decency.
  • Surprise others and themselves with what they will do next.
  • Consider past achievements and failures as building blocks of great things to come.
  • Present a relentless work ethic, drive and discipline.
  • Are resourceful.
  • Act with humility, insight and cherish family and life.
  • Believe empathy is the most revolutionary emotion.

Many of us may not have the political platform or financial backing of world leaders, but each one of us is influential in our own way. I challenge you to make your mark! Be courageous, curious, inspired and creative. Never cease to give your best, for there are no second acts in life.

Keep in mind--becoming a person of influence is a journey; remember to take time to stop and smell the roses along the way.

Darlene A. Cunha, MMHC, BSN, RN, is an accomplished senior healthcare executive, who focuses on population health management and the patient caregiver experience.


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