Friday, April 8, 2011

What Does Leadership Look Like?

Before I begin to talk about leadership, I wanted to do something different.  I'm going to start backwards.  I would normally talk about leadership and then highlight an extraordinary leader.   I wanted to share a story about one particular leader that deserves something different.  It is this premise that makes her what she is today.  She thrives from being bold, pioneering and spiritual.  She is a leader in every definition.  This story will forever resonate in my mind as inspiring.  

Listening, Inspiring, Taking Action
Several years ago, I rode in a car with this remarkable leader along with the Sr. VP of Human Resources.  During the ride to and from our destination, we talked about many things.  I don’t remember exactly how this subject came into the conversation but I mentioned a worker who was not employed by our organization but worked for a small company contracted by the organization.  I brought up the fact that I felt sorry for the contracted worker because he had some health issues, didn’t have health insurance and the small company he worked for did not have paid sick days.  Whenever he took time off from work for his health issues, it was unpaid.   I also mentioned that he often came to work feeling ill.  It was only a blur of a conversation and we continued to talk about other things during the ride.
The very next day, the Sr. VP of Human Resources came into my office and said that this leader heard what I said the day prior.  We talked about a lot of things during the ride, so I asked him, “what did I say.”  He told me that she listened when I spoke about the contracted worker.  He told me that whatever it takes, she wanted me to hire this person for our organization at a comparable rate and offer him health insurance.
 I was amazed and excited at the same time that a person in her position listened to a small statement that came up in a conversation; a statement that I barely remembered but resonated in her.  She not only listened, she took action. 
Who is this leader?
This leader currently leads a hospital system of multiple hospitals and over 24,000 employees, 5,000 physicians and 5,000 volunteers in four states.  The hosptial System is SSM Health Care, based in St. Louis, Missouri.  Some of her personal beliefs have become a part of the organizational culture.   Some of her notable accomplishments and beliefs include:
  • This leader believes that quality is everything.  She instills that all hospitals within the organization strive continuously to achieve national and state quality awards.  The accomplishments are not solely based on recognition on being a quality-focused organization, but more importantly, the rigorous requirements that each award requires.  She believes that pursuing quality awards pushes organizations to excel far beyond what they ever expected.   SSM Health Care was the first healthcare organization to ever receive the Malcolm Baldridge Quality Award.  This is the highest quality award achievable in the United States.  A number of hospitals within the organization have also won several state quality awards.
  • Investing significant resources into patient experiences and loyalty, physician satisfaction and employee engagement.   Continuous surveys are conducted and action plans are implemented for feedback.  An employee opinion survey is conducted every two years and a pulse survey is conducted during the alternate years. 
  • Creating a "Just Culture" environment where a fair process is developed in which employees are not punished for making mistakes.
  • Creating an “Always Safe” environment where employees are encouraged and highlighted for catching near misses and given full ability to “Stop the Line” when they see an unsafe practice, especially when it may harm a patient.
  • Investing in and creating an atmosphere of preserving the environment by insisting that each location within the organization have a preservation of the earth committee.   The main purpose of the committee is to implement recycling programs and other initiatives that focus on preserving the earth.   All locations are required to have recycling containers throughout and employees are highly encouraged to recycle.   The leader also responds to ongoing environmental changes.  Due to a growing concern of plastic bottles, a ban was put into place.  Plastic bottles are no longer sold in any location within the organization including vending machines, cafeterias, or snack shops.
  • Creating a smoke-free environment by taking a bold step to ban smoking on any of the organizations campuses.  At that time, the organization was the first to do so in many of its primary markets.  Other organizations simply waited for the outcome prior to following suit. 
  • Creating a diverse and inclusive environment by focusing efforts on women and minorities in management and professional positions and by creating policies and practices that ensures all employees are valued throughout the organization.
  • Creating an environment that is mission focused, where all employees learn the history of the organization, that the mission is understood and that it is connected to each individual.  Each entity in the system has a mission focused team that highlights the mission and show appreciation to employees for their contribution.  Annually each employee completes a “Passport” that links individual, department, hospital and system goals.  Every employee has constant access to organizational goals and how they contribute. 
  • Creating an organizational culture where violent language is not utilized throughout the organization.  A culture where “war” rooms are transformed into boardrooms or classrooms and “bullet” points are transformed into “dot” points. 
  • Creating a learning environment where education and continuous learning are highly encouraged.
  • The leader believes in shared decision making, where decisions are not just top down, but throughout the organization.  She believes and encourages all employees to be leaders.  Shared governance or shared accountability has been implemented throughout the organization.
  • The leader went a step further in sharing decisions.  The organizations mission statement was developed by a number of employees from varying levels throughout the organization.  This resulted in a one line mission statement.  "Through our exceptional health care services, we reveal the healing presence of God."  The key word was "exceptional."  Everything was driven from that. 
The notations above are only a small portion of this leaders contribution to her organization and healthcare in general.  She has been named seven times by Modern Healthcare Magazine as one of the most powerful people in health care.  She is internationally known for her inspiring speeches and I am in awe of her words.  She works continuously and tirelessly for issues involving healthcare.  What’s most inspiring is her vision of how health care should be.  She continues to pioneer and implement ideals because she believes them to be the right thing to do rather than wait to be regulated or simply follow other organizations.  She is not timid in making bold steps.
She believes in her cause and inspires others to believe and share her vision.  Her commitment is evident and unwavering.  What’s most remarkable about her is that she does all of this, for free.  As a nun, she is one of very few CEO’s that do not receive a CEO salary.  Talk about commitment! 
This leader has a mass of followers within her organization and external to the organization.  She has inspired me and I share her vision as well.  Wherever I go, I take what I have learned through her and incorporate it into who I am as an individual and as a leader.   I highlight her today because she has highlighted me in so many ways and I am proud to have worked in an organization under her leadership.
If I could visualize what leadership looks like, here’s what I’d envision.   

Chair/CEO SSM Health Care

What is it that leaders such as Sr. Mary Jean Ryan have that make others want to follow?  History reveals some of our most famous and influential leaders.  Some of our most powerful leaders in our past were positive; such as Ghandi and Martin Luther King Jr.  Others were not so positive or destructive, like the Rev. Jim Jones who led his congregation to commit mass suicide. 
Leaders possess certain characteristics that people follow them willingly.  People follow them because they believe in the leader and share the leaders’ vision.  Leaders possess something significantly different than ordinary people can comprehend.  What is it that makes them different?  Why do people follow them?   What makes them able to convince others to share their vision and commit wholeheartedly to the cause that they support?   What makes them extraordinary that even masses of people are willing to follow? 
What is Leadership?Let’s look at the leader in perspective because their backgrounds vary widely.  One would assume that in a traditional sense, leaders are CEOs, vice presidents, directors, managers, etc., but these are merely management positions that may require leadership characteristics.  They do not necessarily equate to a leader.  A large number of individuals in these positions are great managers but very few have captured the essence of leadership by its true definition.  The terminology “leadership” is often used throughout the business world but there is a definite distinction between managing and leading.  Managers forecast and propose strategies, give direction, manage employees and processes.  In this situation, employees perform their roles as expected.  Leadership proposes a higher level of thinking whereas the leader performs those roles in addition to energizing, influencing and persuading people to excel far beyond ordinary limits.  Leaders have perfected the highest level of communication whereas people believe and are inspired to perform at higher levels. 
A leader does not necessarily have to be in a titled position of power, yet they may be even more powerful.   They possess certain characteristics but also require something more.  They are not defined by positions of power but by the ability to persuade others to follow without exerting power.   
Here are some of the characteristics of a great leader.  The list is not all-inclusive:
  • A leader has vision.  They visualize the future and somehow inspire others to share their vision. 
  • A leader creates the culture and cultivates it.  The culture can be created by short stories of the past to the present, and a clear vision of what the future might look like. 
  • A leader is extremely motivated, energized and enthusiastic.  They are never lethargic but extremely energetic.
  • They are highly committed to their cause and extremely passionate about their beliefs.  You can feel and absorb their energy and passion when they speak.
  • They are competent and highly self confident about their ability to lead us into a better tomorrow.
  • They possess charisma. 
  • Leaders stress the significance that everyone contributes and each role is an equally important contribution to the whole.  
  • Leaders leads by example. 
  • Leaders hold themselves accountable along with others.
  • Leaders share decision-making.  Decisions are normally top down, bottom up, and horizontal.
  • They are consistent, and they inspire and motivate others.  They are the main cheerleader of intended goals.
  • They listen and empathize.
  • Leaders delegate when appropriate, are willing to admit mistakes, constantly learn from others and emphasizes that learning and improving is continuous. 

Can leadership be learned or is it innate?  Are some characteristics of leadership within us or exhibited in earlier stages of life?  The terminology “leadership” is used in the business world as describing a position of authority.  Perhaps, it is believed that leadership is not innate but can be learned.  Developing leaders is key to organizations.  They continue to review, strategize and implement programs that emphasizes on leadership development.  Can organizations be successful without great leadership?  Of course, many organizations have been successful even though they may be lacking in great leaders.  The ability to effectively manage has been the key source of success.  
Managers make up a small portion of the organization.  The majority of the workforce contains employees who are not in management positions.  If the bottom line is continuously met, why is great leadership needed?  Great leaders do more than meet the bottom line.  They have the potential to expand it by producing greater outcomes, minimizing waste, increasing customer satisfaction and brand loyalty, and catapulting the organization in higher levels.  How do they do it?  They do it by creating passion and inspiring employees to believe and share their vision.  The simple ingredient of passion and inspiration equals high outcomes and productivity.           
One of the main qualities of great leaders is that they know how to inspire others.  They lead, yet people will not feel that they are being led.  Here are some notable quotes about leadership:
“Leadership: the art of getting someone else to do something you want done because she/he wants to do it.” -Dwight D. Eisenhower

“A leader is best when people barely know he exists, when his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say: we did it ourselves.” – Lao Tsu

Is there an inspirational leader that you know of in your past or present? 
I’d love to hear from you….

Joseph Conrod Sr., SPHR ~


Anonymous said...

I have personally experienced and reaped the benefits of this leader, Sister Mary Jean Ryan. I find this story inspiring and it inspires me that while listening is an important skill to possess as a leader, a friend and a human in general the innate care and concern that leads to taking action in coming to the aid of of others is an even more compelling attribute to have. I am inspired to help someone in need and to lead by example.

Anonymous said...

Great description of Sr. Mary Jean Ryan. She is truly a servant leader who walks the talk. I remember clearly her decision to continue to pursue the Baldrige award after applying and not receiving it. It was about the journey and each step closer made the organization better. Excellent blog!

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