Chief Operating Officer at Sacred Heart shares leadership lessons

Justin Labrato shares what he has learned while serving as the Chief Operating Officer at Ascension Sacred Heart Medical Group in Pensacola, FL.
Newspaper clipping about Justin Labrato

A former track athlete and avid sports fan, Ascension Sacred Heart Medical Group Chief Operating Officer Justin Labrato naturally embodies the leader-as-coach mentality: The Pensacola native, helps individual players become a cohesive team, motivates the team to be the best they can be, and aligns the team’s shared vision, mission and values.

During his 23 years at Sacred Heart Pensacola, Justin has learned a coach is only as good as his team. “I’m grateful for influential mentors who saw something in me and gave me a chance,” said Justin, who was the fastest miler in the State of Florida in high school (4A) and won a conference championship with the University of South Alabama's cross-country team.

His first day as an accountant at Sacred Heart Pensacola is etched in his memory. “It was the most challenging first day,” he recalled. “I left Verizon Wireless in Atlanta and started working at Sacred Heart at 7 a.m. the next day. I was there until midnight.”

Over the next 11 years, he advanced from corporate to medical group accounting manager to director and later executive director. He recalled that in 2012, he held three leadership roles simultaneously—interim President, Chief Operating Officer and Chief Financial Officer. As a person who thrives in a collegiate environment, Justin said it was not a great experience because “I couldn’t bounce ideas off of anyone.” 

He credits ER physician Dr. Gary Pablo with teaching him an important lesson that he remembers to this day. “I sought Dr. Pablo’s advice on a difficult situation. He said, ‘Justin, not everything is black and white.’ “The accounting world is rules-driven; it’s either right or wrong. When dealing with the medical group, I learned there are a lot of gray areas.”

Throughout the years, Justin has developed a keen eye for spotting talent. Many of the medical group leaders worked their way from the ground up, starting out as interns, office managers or medical assistants. “Whether it’s within the medical group or other departments, I tell my team to do whatever it takes to make Sacred Heart better.”

Justin Labrato with Florida Governor Ron Desantis

One of his crowning achievements was his team’s response to COVID-19. Sacred Heart was one of the first in Florida to open a drive-through testing site in Pensacola in 2020. The site continued to operate for 54 consecutive weeks. In total, the drive-thru center tested approximately 100,000 people. His leadership during these uncertain times earned him the Greater Pensacola Chamber's PACE Awards Community Leader of the Year award. 

Every Monday, Justin recites an inspirational quote by San Antonio Spurs Tim Duncan to new associates during orientation: “Good, better, best. Never let it rest. Until your good is better and your better best.”

“I don’t ask my team for perfection, but I ask that they wake up every day trying to be better than they were the day before.”