Entrepreneurial Leadership In Driving Innovation In Healthcare

Dr Claudine Kearney
Dr Claudine Kearney

While healthcare is recognised to be one of the most challenging and complex sectors globally – change is needed through leadership and innovation that can maximize the benefits for healthcare organisations, patients and society at large, writes Dr Claudine Kearney (Senior Lecturer and Programme Director) RCSI Graduate School of Healthcare Management.

Organisational success is strongly influenced by the style of leadership. Entrepreneurial leadership is not confined to any one sector or industry, and can make a significant contribution in driving innovation in healthcare globally.  Entrepreneurial leadership in healthcare has been defined as; “the leader’s ability to be entrepreneurial in exploring and exploiting viable opportunities with their team and demonstrating an open, flexible and strategic approach to work with the team to drive change that will lead to the delivery of better patient care” (Kearney, 2022: 91). The exploration and exploitation of innovative solutions is imperative for the advancement of healthcare treatment and services globally. In healthcare entrepreneurial leadership is characterised as, authentic, charismatic, transformational and a compassionate style of leadership (Kearney, 2022). Innovation in healthcare needs entrepreneurial leadership that can effectively orchestrate and facilitate innovations to develop and be sustainable. 

The conceptual model in figure 1 below proposed by Kearney (2022: 92) asserts that entrepreneurial leadership has a significant impact on the degree and success of innovation in healthcare.

Fundamentally, the proposed model suggests that; “successful entrepreneurial leadership in healthcare is achieved through an entrepreneurial vision, drive and passion for the exploration and exploitation of viable innovative opportunities; and the appropriate leadership skills to inspire, motivate, and support followers to achieve the entrepreneurial vision for the betterment of healthcare” (Kearney, 2022: 92).

Entrepreneurial Leadership in healthcare can and will:

  • Increase satisfaction/ motivation among staff at all levels;
  • Increase innovative thinking within and across all specialisms;
  • Increase staff wellbeing and resilience by feeling respected and part of a team;
  • Increase and facilitate compassion towards oneself, each other and patients’ – improving staff recruitment and retention;
  • Decrease overall stress and burnout among staff;
  • Decrease absenteeism and staff turnover.

In 2024, the Government in Ireland allocated the HSE a budget of €23.5 billion. How can this budget be better utilised to address the ongoing crisis with recruitment and retention of healthcare professionals; long waiting lists resulting in delayed diagnosis; ever growing trolley crisis; and the continuous challenges in accessing mental health services, to name but a few. A more entrepreneurial leadership style can help address these issues by delayering the bureaucracy and silos that currently exist within and across healthcare and in doing so utilise the diverse knowledge, skills and abilities of the excellent staff at all levels to bring about change and innovation where it is most needed. Leaders must recognise the value of their team in the innovation process and understand that the most innovative members of staff are generally not at the top level of the organisational hierarchy. Therefore, creativity, innovation and entrepreneurship can be developed through the right leadership, teamwork and collaboration combined with time and resources in order to achieve and sustain optimal patient care.

While some innovations are the result of one or two individuals, more frequently innovations emerge from many contributions with diverse expertise and skills. The innovations from frontline staff are invaluable as they have the day-to-day experience of the system, and need to be given the opportunity and support to delve into their creative expertise. Leaders can further enhance this diversity by going beyond the internal organisation to external sources nationally and internationally to advance and develop innovations, and learn from best practice. It is also important to learn from other sectors and industries, for example the airline industry.  Healthcare organisations need to create a healthy work environment that staff are proud to be part of and feel valued and supported in delivering the highest standard of patient care. Innovation in healthcare is a key requirement to meet the major and potentially unprecedented challenges facing today’s healthcare organisations.

Entrepreneurial leadership provides adaptability and flexibility with a willingness to take risks, and challenge assumptions in the best interest of patients’. There are many opportunities for meaningful incremental (also referred to as continuous or ordinary innovations), technological (also referred to as dynamically continuous innovations) and/or breakthrough (also referred to as radical, discontinuous or transformational innovations) innovations, which can substantially save and enhance patient’s lives and wellbeing. Healthcare professionals and leaders need to be transformational, charismatic, authentic, compassionate, creative, innovative, and entrepreneurial to generate greater patient value, experience and outcomes. Such an entrepreneurial approach to leadership can develop innovations that go beyond the current healthcare system and create a more integrated healthcare system that can maximize the benefit to patients and staff indefinitely.

Thought provoking questions for Healthcare Professional Leaders and Managers to consider:

  • Are you the leader you would want to follow?
  • Do you support individual and team innovations?
  • Do you utilise the core competencies of your team?
  • Do you challenge the status quo?
  • Are you part of a healthy healthcare organisation?


Note: Further development can be found in the following book:

Kearney, C. (2022) Leading Innovation and entrepreneurship in Healthcare: A Global Perspective, Edward Elgar Publishing.