By Matt Schlossberg
What is leadership?
It’s a deceptively simple question when you think about it. Leadership presents itself in countless ways. It can be benevolent and imperious. It can be intuitive and innate. Leadership can be forged in moments of crisis and doubt or honed from a position of strength and confidence.
Specific skills, like decisiveness and empathy, appear to be important, and certain personality types (self-assurance, a history of success) seems to mesh well with the burdens of leadership, but there are notable exceptions. Abraham Lincoln, for example, endured crushing self-doubt and a lifetime of failed political runs and business ventures before navigating the country through its gravest crisis as president of the United States.
With so many variables to consider, leadership may be undefinable beyond the recognition that you know it when you see it. Leaders demonstrate an ability to know where they’re most effective.
Proving Ground
Disease, civil unrest, and economic morass have been a proving ground for many of the leaders who have emerged from the misery of the past year. Few industries have been as tested by these crises as healthcare.
The physical and mental health of clinicians and other frontline staff has certainly suffered in the face of an uncontrolled pandemic. Many saw their colleagues and friends fall victim to painful and widespread layoffs. Those that remained soldiered on with the herculean task of keeping their patients informed and healthy from a distance, combatting disinformation, and watching basic health protocols become political hot potatoes.
It seemed that every card was stacked in favor of failure. Still, we continue to see leaders step up and make incredible progress on numerous fronts. Virtual healthcare services sprang up across the country and scaled to meet the needs of patients. Hard truths regarding health inequities and the historical shortcomings of public health have been acknowledged. And today, healthcare workers are gearing up to enable one of the largest—and certainly most rapid—vaccination programs in history.
More Than A Lived Experience
Sustainable leadership, however, requires more than the raw materials of experience. Leadership requires constant reassessment and revision.
Recognizing this, AHIMA is proud to introduce two new platforms to help health information management (HIM) professionals surface their best leadership traits.
First, in January, the Journal of AHIMA launched Voices in HIM, a new leadership column written for and by HIM professionals. As part of its launch, a new column will publish every week in February, and thereafter in each issue of the Journal.
Our goal with this column is to give HIM professionals the opportunity to talk about leadership as a lived experience—to discuss the tools and sources of inspiration they use to lead a team, navigate turbulent initiatives, and effect lasting change at their organizations.
In the first column, “Kindness as a Leadership Principle,” published in our January issue, Rebecca Harmon, MPM, RHIA, CCA, explores why kindness is an often-overlooked tool in a leader’s arsenal.
“The concepts of choosing kindness as our default response and understanding that what we put out comes back to us, are at the foundation of my leadership perspective, and both have helped me find success in my role as an HIM leader,” writes Harmon, who leads the HIM department at the VA Pittsburgh Healthcare System. “As I think about this new year, and the many changes we saw in our profession prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, I know that my use and application of the principles of kindness in leadership will be even more important as we navigate the future.”
This week we hear from Jenifer Leaf Jaeger, MD, MPH, senior medical director of HealthEC, in her essay “Public Health Leadership During the COVID-19 Pandemic.” “As the health of the country is ultimately dependent upon the success of our emergency preparedness and response efforts, it is imperative that our public health leaders are not just informed during the pandemic, but also serve as effective leaders,” Jaeger writes.
Jaeger’s column is filled with practical and directed advice to teams balancing pandemic mitigation with the leadership qualities—exceptional communication, partnership and trust, fear management, and focus—required to keep the public informed.
Second, AHIMA and the AHIMA Foundation are preparing for the launch of the Mark Dietz Leadership Series. This exciting program draws support from the Mark S. Dietz Memorial Fund, which was established to support strong leadership and educational initiatives.
Starting this month, instructors from the Kellogg School Center for Nonprofit Management will lead three live webinars that explore the unique intersection of leadership and management within healthcare.
Registration is open for the first session, “Challenges for Healthcare Leaders.” Presented by Harry Kraemer, former CEO Baxter Healthcare, adjunct faculty at the Kellogg School of Management, and board member, NorthShore University Health System, this session will show attendees how to better understand their role as leaders as they manage an array of challenging situations amidst a changing landscape.
“People at every level and with any job title can and should become values-based leaders—those who lead with principles and live by example,” says Kraemer. “This is particularly true in the healthcare sector. Through your actions, words, and support, you can become a values-based leader.”
This session is scheduled for Tuesday, February 23, at 11 a.m. CT. Attendees will earn two CEUs. Future sessions will focus on data-driven decision-making and persuasion and influence.
Learn more and register for the series here. If you are interested in submitting a Voices in HIM leadership essay, please contact us via email.
Matt Schlossberg ( is managing editor of the Journal of AHIMA.

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