The title of the blog this week might seem a bit strange. Let me explain. Those that have read these posts for a while know what a fanatic I can be about leading from the front, by example, in everyday work. I know it is so important and so often overlooked. So when I experience an example of it in real time, it focuses me even more on the impact it can have. In fact, I have two examples today.
Picking up lint
I spend a lot of time coaching and consulting at a local hospital. It is a flagship hospital for it’s parent institution with several hundred beds. Over the past several years I worked with several of their C suite leadership. I shared some of the CEO’s wisdom last year during the series of posts regarding healthcare leadership. She was the one, you might recall, who was driving people home in the snowstorm from the hospital when public transit wasn’t working…and, never ever let on to any of them know her title or position.
Earlier this month I was sitting by the elevator doing some work before a meeting started upstairs in this hospital. My chair was a bit back from the elevator so I was out-of-sight, to some degree. As I watched, this CEO and the hospital COO, another superb leader, came over to wait for the elevator. As they approached, both of them were bending over, picking up items off the carpet.
Since I know them both, I spoke up and made some comment about them multi-tasking, yet again. The CEO responded with a laugh and made some comment that the new paper towels supplied by a system vendor were making a mess of the carpets.
Does this hospital have environmental service employees? Yes. Do they have a lot of them for a multi-hundred bed hospital? Yes. Could this CEO have just made a simple call and had them come over to clean up the carpet? Yes. Were there other items on this CEO’s agenda that were more pressing? Yes. Did she cancel her next meeting to clean up the carpet? No. However, in the time she had she set an example of “This is my hospital – down to the lint on the carpet. Anything that takes away from the clean and efficient operation of this place will be attended to, including by me, if I have the time to do it”.
The Rule of 24 Inches
As I thought about this, I reflected on another example of leadership that I observed a couple of years back. I know this company well. Annual revenues are growing. They have been voted in the top five places to work for their state several times. No effort is spared to make the place a showplace of employee morale. My coaching client and I were reviewing some pictures of the annual meeting he had just attended. I saw one picture of one of the founders, who I know and who is a pillar of exemplary leadership. He had a ruler in his hand and was crouched down, measuring the distance between the chairs. I asked my client about this. His response was “oh, he is measuring to make sure the chairs are 24 inches apart”.
Again, some questions and answers: Why was that important? He knew that this distance allowed for easier movement for those that attended. Why was he the one doing that, and not some hotel employee or perhaps another lesser paid employee? Because the way he leads is by involvement. At that moment, as they were setting up for the meeting, he needed to be visible. He was still teaching those that would take over the C-suite from him, that attention to the smallest details is a foundational principle of their company, even down to the distance between the chairs.
This is not theory. These are live action examples of leadership at the pinnacle. What is your attention to the details of your institution? Can people, by observing you, see that this is YOUR place?! That you own the details? I am not saying that you should spend your life “in the weeds”. However, when the weeds are right in front of you, and you can attend to them, what do you do? What is your dedication level to quality at the highest level? These are incremental measure that are so difficult to define, and yet seem to be foundational for most high achievement.