Lisa Montman: Lessons on a journey to leadership in the nonprofit world

March 23, 2024 8:58 am
Lisa Montman

Having a diverse background in finance, with time spent working outside of healthcare, can give a healthcare CFO a unique perspective that is uncommon for the position. Such experience describes the journey of Lisa Montman, CPA, senior vice president and CFO at HonorHealth, a six-hospital, 1,372-bed, not-for-profit health system headquartered in Scottsdale, Ariz.

Montman’s career began almost 30 years ago in Arizona with stints as a staff auditor in the state’s Auditor General’s office, as a senior auditor for Ernst & Young, LLP, and as director of financial services at Sun Health, a health system in Sun City, acquired by Banner Health in 2008.

Montman then stepped off the traditional path to CFO, first to take an assistant controller position at Interact Commerce Corporation, an investor-owned software company later acquired by Sage Group, and then to run her own accounting firm. She returned to healthcare to assume executive finance positions at The CORE Institute, a large and growing orthopedic and spine specialist firm.

Nonprofit healthcare beckons

In 2015, she answered the call to return to hospital financial leadership.

“Nine years ago, I decided that the nonprofit hospital industry better suited my leadership skills, and I went to HonorHealth as associate vice president and controller, moving up from there to vice president of finance and ultimately to my current position,” Montman said.

“Having worked in an investor-owned company and in the nonprofit world gave me a better understanding of the intricacies of balancing the need to be profitable while having an honorable mission to serve our patients,” she said.

Montman emphasized that there is a balance required between margin and mission.

“To grow, you have to have a positive bottom line, but you want to make smart decisions within the budget to provide good access and care to the patients,” she said. “My experience on the investor-owned side has given me insight into issues around quarter-end reporting, which has always been so critical to investor-owned companies but also has become significantly vital to nonprofits as well, particularly for bond ratings and reporting.”

Lessons in leadership

Montman has strong feelings about some leadership qualities she has picked up over her career.

“I learned to be a leader by observing leaders I did not want to be,” she said. “I not only learned to give back, but I also enjoy giving back. It is primarily in response to seeing leaders who were too aggressive in their handling of staff, too involved with micromanagement and who would not rely on their own subject matter experts for advice. That’s led me to believe in leading with compassion and kindness, which is manifest in a leadership approach that embraces the idea of presumed benevolence.a It posits that everyone approaches their work with honesty and kindness and with no ulterior motives. I have become a big adherent of this approach.”

Montman also recalled what she learned from a former boss who guided her to “fill in the blanks” of the skills she was lacking while moving up the leadership ladder.

“He made it clear that leaders should always take their time and be thoughtful, while maintaining proper due diligence in all things,” Montman said. “He also was willing to bring me into board meetings so I could learn the processes that led to their decision-making, and he exposed me to confidential projects from the beginning, so that I could gain the necessary understanding for future projects.”

Driving cost effective health

“Educating all levels of staff on the co-dependency of financial performance and balance sheet strength enables them to understand our ability to fund programs, purchase equipment and grow into new locations so we can enhance our quality of care and improve patients’ access to care,” she said.
She noted that this idea is a corollary to the “no margin, no mission” concept in that it starts with ensuring an organization’s profitability.

Favorite HFMA memory

“My overriding HFMA memories involve the connections I have made and the people I have met,” Montman said. “They are very high-caliber people, and some have become exceptional mentors.”

Closing thought

Montman stressed that fiscal responsibility is not just the CFO’s job. It is everyone’s job.

“Teaching the concepts around healthcare financial management should be a priority for all healthcare finance managers,” she said. “The finance leaders should hold classes for clinical and operational managers in meeting rooms, conference centers or even one-on-ones. If appropriate, hold town hall meetings for the community. Get the message out.” 


a. The idea of presumed benevolence has been described in a leadership blog by Don McMinn, an author, teacher and inspirational speaker. (See “We judge ourselves by our intentions and others by their behavior,” Feb. 24, 2020.) McMinn also wrote and teaches a leadership development course titled “Lead Well.”

5 leadership tips from Lisa Montman

Montman had the following advice for her peers based on her experience.

1 Manage by walking around. It is easy to sit behind a desk and make financial-related judgements. Getting out in the field truly helps you to gain different perspectives. It can create “aha!” moments.

2 Lead with compassion and kindness. This is core to the presumed benevolence concept. Be genuine and let people see your heart. It can lead to much better results.

3 Be responsive to your team. Don’t just traffic in emails. Your teams need to be your priority. Give them the necessary guidance and support. Take the time to have regular one-on-one meetings with them.

4 Do not be afraid to ask questions. And then really listen to the answers. Sometimes someone can give you surprising answers to your questions that can lead to unexpected improvements.

5 Speak in everyday language. Even if you work in healthcare, not everyone understands industry jargon. Take the time to ensure your message is being properly received by your intended audience.


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