12/06/2013 10:26 am ET Updated Feb 05, 2014

How to Be a leader in Your Market... Wayne Gretzky Style

To be a truly exceptional leader, you must not only lead your employees and your company as a whole, but you must also be a leader in your market. Technically speaking, the key here is market differentiation, but I think hockey legend Wayne Gretzky said it best when he explained that the key to his success was his ability to "skate to where the puck is going to be."

When asked what it was that made him such an incredibly skillful player, Wayne Gretzky, arguably the most successful hockey player of all time, responded that while most players skate to where the puck is on the ice, he thinks ahead and skates to "where the puck is going to be." A play that closely resembles the business strategy referred to as 'market differentiation' that allows your company to become a leader in its respective market. This concept may seem like a no-brainer at first, but adhering to this mentality in a business setting can come with considerable criticism and scrutiny from others.

As we all know, this is an interesting time to be in the healthcare field, but times of change and uncertainty are often the perfect opportunities to differentiate. I have done this successfully throughout my career as demonstrated in starting the first and largest health plan for children, creating one of the largest pediatric networks in the country that is associated with a hospital and our latest expansion into maternal fetal medicine and OB/GYN services. I knew it would seem like an unorthodox idea when I suggested that Texas Children's Hospital, the pediatric institution that I lead, launch into women's care and indeed, many in our community were skeptical. Could a children's hospital really enter adult care successfully? The popular belief was that Texas Children's was preparing itself for a monumental waste of money and effort. But in the back of my head I remembered what Wayne Gretzky had said, "skate to where the puck is going to be" and I was doing just that.

Despite the push back we received, to us it made sense. With the advances in fetal medicine, we watched as maternal and pediatric care grew more closely linked every year. We were already caring for the baby inside a mother's womb in these unique situations with our Fetal Center patients. It became apparent to us that caring for children starts well before the child is born, it starts with the mother and her care. This led us to the development of our new Pavilion for Women which in its first year alone, brought over 4,300 babies into the world.

My experience from launching several innovative programs over my 25 years at Texas Children's Hospital has been invaluable. And, it is why I can share with everyone that if you suspect a trend, look into it. And if you have the right foundation in place and the determination to see it through, take the risk and skate to where the puck is going to be. More times than not, it will be a game-winning move.

For a more intensive study of this topic visit, "Mark A. Wallace Leadership Maxims"; a video series with a focus on leadership and my experiences as CEO of Texas Children's Hospital.