Patty White, former President and CEO of St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center
The first example of good leadership comes from Patty White, who was a leader in the Dignity Health Arizona Service Area for more than 30 years.
“I was managing a big department at a hospital. We wanted to collaborate with another health system, which caused some friction. There was a lot of misinformation floating around, the staff got wound up, and hence, a particular manager was in crisis mode, too. Instead of going on the warpath, she brought the problem forward with leadership. We realized two things. One is that change is scary for people. The other is that if you don’t give people enough information, they will just make it up for themselves."
"So we came up with a strategy to keep staff informed. We formed a task force of different professionals for updates on a monthly basis. We sent that task force on a small retreat because they were so wound up. They got to understand the benefits and downsides of the merger, how it would impact them, their teams, their patients, and the health system as a whole. They learned to see the larger picture, and they were also given opportunities to understand what would happen if we moved on with the status quo. By the end, the task force acted as ambassadors for change. The staff gained understanding of the overall strategy and they started to trust us."
"A large part of being a good health leader is managing people through the constant change that is happening in healthcare; taking an emotional topic and using leadership and strategy to calm the waters to always return to the original goals and focus, which for us, is taking care of patients.”
Thomas Brink, former President and CEO of Indiana University Health Workplace Health Services
An equally experienced health leader, Thomas Brink, also vividly remembers the good and bad leaders that he has dealt with in his career.
“I’ve encountered all kinds of different leaders — just to give you a little perspective, in my 23-year career in IU Health, I had 11 different bosses — some were great, some sucked. I always felt very clearly when I was under a poor leader. I would dread meeting with them. I would bring up ideas which I knew wouldn’t go anywhere. They might have a good understanding of finance and managing operations, but when it came to people, you wouldn’t want to be in a room with them. I would like to say that it didn’t affect me, but it did. It affects your motivation, your job, and thereby, it ends up costing the organization dearly because a poor leader doesn’t maximize potential and the poorest of them end up suppressing it.”
"On the other hand, the best boss I ever had was John Fox, the CFO of IU Health. John wasn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but I liked him because he was very direct and you always knew where you stood with him. He taught me a lot about business because he came from the business world and applied that to healthcare. John always fostered a mindset of accountability and responsibility for your actions. He would say: ‘You kill what you eat, and if you don’t kill, you don’t eat.’ While accountability can be scary for people, it also allows them to bring forward new and bold ideas. He always trusted the data I brought forward and gave me room to try new things — and always with accountability."
"Another thing that I noticed about great leaders is that they are often great storytellers. It’s hard for people to understand the abstract, and concepts are much easier to grasp when people are given a concrete example of how it plays out. That’s just the way we’re wired as people — I know this because I have ten grandkids and they all love to read. That’s why in my opinion, you have to work on your storytelling skills if you want to develop your leadership skills.”
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