Our source of leadership insight today just retired from the field after three decades of highly successful leadership. This leader turned a very large clinic completely around. He is very well-known for his ability to connect with and motivate staff. I had not known him before this interview. I decided I needed to get some perspective from him when a very hard-driving and direct physician actually became emotional when mentioning that he was retiring. Now that is impactful leadership.
What made you so successful as a leader?
Persons in healthcare are normally very bright people who want to be fully engaged. So I saw my job as providing the setting that would activate this level of personnel toward engagement. A core aspect was approaching any situation with the question of ‘what did I want and how did I want to be treated?’. You can only be as good as what you are surrounded by. And then I would make sure that I made personal contact with every person. That is essential. They need to know why they are there and why they, individually, in their role, are important. Some of the newer, entry level people, have no idea of systems thinking. Amazing things can happen when they see their place in the bigger system. I thoroughly believe that engagement is a belief system.
It can be difficult to get people to buy into that belief system. How did you accomplish that?
Quint Studer mentions the importance of ‘quick wins’. I completely agree with that. As I got to know people I would find what was important to them and then would find ways to deliver on those items. People have core concerns about employment, and two of those areas are, obviously, comp and benefits. When those are addressed in a consistent manner, then belief grows. If I can retain people, I can then build a culture. That may sound strange, but culture takes time. If I have a turnover rate that churns staff every three to four years, which is not uncommon for MA level personnel, then I can not really ever build a culture, merely due to turnover.
Any other ways for culture building?
Yes. Celebrate. When I came to the clinic, no one celebrated. It hadn’t been the way of the previous leader. All they wanted was a Halloween party. That seemed innocent enough and certainly didn’t make a hit on the budget in a significant way. I would say the success of that started a belief in the fact that there was a new leadership style and that people should at least be open to that.
I have seen situations where physicians are disgruntled when their ideas are not used. How did you address that?
Again, the importance of a setting that promotes a culture of engagement is the first step. This is a trust building culture. When that exists, there can be an openness with the physicians. Just because they are physicians does it mean their ideas are good. There can be a tendency to think only within the department. What may be good for only the department can be damaging to the entire clinic. I had to use the team approach many times and push back a bit, even to the point of considering where the physician’s administrative skill set was. This is not a commonly addressed theme in medical school. They teach for another focus. What I would do is promise them that I would think through all of their ideas and would get back with them as to their efficacy. Sometimes it is not an easy task to disagree with highly successful physicians. As leaders, however, we have to let them know that their idea may not be best for the clinic and that it is not all about them or their department. Again, the ability to see a system need is a talent can be developed, but is many times left aside as people think that they can get around it by mere intelligence. I have not found that to be the case.