We work with leaders in health care marketing and strategy for a living. We get to see firsthand their challenges and have the privilege of helping them achieve their goals. I’ve had the personal good fortune of working with some of the brightest and best leaders in health care for 20 years. I’ve studied what separates an effective leader from an ineffective leader. The reason surprised me and it may surprise you too.

Great leaders not only write great plans … they have a plan for managing their plan.

It’s one thing to create compelling strategies to grow market share or position your brand as the best and only real choice in your category or market.

It’s another thing to deliver on that plan. And the differentiator that separates outstanding results from mediocre returns is a system and methodology for managing the plan.

Here are 5 tools and techniques that the most effective leaders use to execute effective plans.

1. Use a Simple Project Plan

I love project management software and Hailey Sault uses many tools to maintain a clean flow of all the projects we’re working on in our three offices across the country.

But as a leader, you need a bird’s eye view of all the key projects you and your team and outside partners work on. Most project management software is designed to capture micro details—great for your team but often unhelpful for you.

The tool I use most often is a simple Excel spreadsheet inspired by former Ford CEO,  Alan Mulally, who created a project planning system for his key executives during their stunning turnaround success after the 2008 economy crash.

I’ve since adapted Mulally’s project planning tool. Here are the categories I use for each project I oversee:

Here are the basic elements of the Project Plan:

  • Name of Project
  • Priority Level
  • Project Lead: The person I know to go to for accountability.
  • Goals: What are we seeking to achieve?
  • Purpose/Why: It’s easy to forget when we’re knee-deep in a project the reasons we’re doing the project in the first place. That’s often when projects go off the rails.
  • Key Deliverables: What are the outcomes of the project?
  • Key Milestones: What are we working toward and how do we know when we get off track?
  • Areas of Special Attention: This could be problems, opportunities or bottlenecks that should be addressed.
  • Next Actions: What is the very next thing we must do to keep the project progressing?
  • Color system: On Track (Green), Off Track (Red), Caution (Yellow)

Here’s a screenshot of my template.

Project plan screen shot

2. Time Blocking

A common characteristic of the health care marketing and strategy leaders we work with is a lack of time to do “deep work,” the work author Cal Newport says is both “rare and valuable.”

Time blocking is one strategy highly effective leaders use to ensure they make time for the work that is rare, valuable and necessary to move their organizations forward.

There are many methodologies for time blocking, along with plenty of apps to help. But the cleanest way I find to time block is to simply block time on my calendar each week for the work that requires absolute focus.

A client of mine keeps one day of her week clear of meetings. That way she has a focused day to tackle those assignments and priorities that require uninterrupted time and focus.

Bonus resource: If you’re an app person, check out this article for 3 apps that make time blocking simple.

3. Reading and Reflection

Every study I’ve read of the most accomplished and effective leaders points to a common characteristic: each leader commits time every week to reading, studying and reflecting.

Great leaders have a natural curiosity and don’t ever believe they “have it figured out.” They study, read, ask questions and make time to reflect. The irony is that as you achieve and accomplish more you end up having “better” problems to solve, which perpetuates the need to be a constant student.

Recently I asked one of my colleagues, Mardy, how much time she tries to commit to reading and studying each week. Her goal is to commit 20% of her week to studying, reading and reflecting. 20% of your time spent reading may feel too hard to achieve, so start by giving yourself 1 hour each week to read, watch a TED Talk or have a deep conversation with a colleague. Over time you can grow the number of hours you commit to improving and advancing your knowledge and insights.

4. Use a Capture System

Great leaders live in a constant state of idea generation and problem-solving. But not every problem can be solved at once and not every idea can be executed on the fly.

Great leaders rely on a simple system for capturing ideas, insights and things they want to accomplish.

David Allen, the Godfather of Productivity, teaches his Getting Things Done methodology so that, as he says, your mind can be “like water”: you’re present on what you’re working on and not distracted by trying to retain all your ideas and To Dos.

My preferred method for capturing ideas is Evernote. I create notebooks like Work, Home and Health and add notes to these notebooks. I use Allen’s category of Someday/Maybe for wild hair ideas of things I’d like to do and create that don’t fit a clear category.

5. Celebrate the Wins

If you work in health care—or any industry these days—you know the roller coaster of emotions you experience each day. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed and that you’re not making progress. I like to keep a gratitude journal where I note each day things I’m most grateful for.

Dan Sullivan, founder of Strategic Coach, recommends tracking three wins you achieve each day. In fact, he created an app called WinStreak to help keep track of daily wins big and small.

Over time, you may find by tracking your wins you feel like you’re making meaningful progress, which is the recipe to a life of achievement and fulfillment.


I love this quote by Winston Churchill:

“Plans are of little importance but planning is essential.”

Old Winston knew a thing or two about planning. He also knew that the moment you execute a plan to be prepared to be derailed by what you couldn’t plan for.

That’s why effective health care leaders have a plan for managing their plans. You can’t pivot if you don’t have a home base to manage your plans and teams.

Let us know in the Comments what derails you most often from executing your plans.