16 phrases CEOs never want to hear

Honesty and candor are traits CEOs usually appreciate in their colleagues and staff. However, some things are better left unsaid.

We asked, and CEOs from hospitals and health systems across the U.S. told us which statements make them cringe.

1. "Because that's the way we've always done it."

Michael Patterson, president and CEO of Davenport, Iowa-based Mississippi Valley Health, says, "This phrase is often utilized when people and/or teams are resistant to change. With that said, we shouldn't seek change just for the sake of change. Rather, if there is an opportunity to improve the patient experience, better serve our physicians and clinicians, and/or create better value for consumers, then we should actively seek change.  We can't change the future while holding onto the past." 

Ginger Williams, MD, president and CEO of Marshall, Mich.-based Oaklawn Hospital, says, "We collectively dislike that phrase at Oaklawn because it means that our employees, who know their work better than anyone, aren't asking 'why' when they have to repeatedly do something that makes no sense to them. It's probable that there was once a good reason for doing 'it,' but that reason may have become obsolete years ago. If we don't continue to challenge why we do what we do so we can make it better, we will become increasingly inefficient and probably become obsolete ourselves!" 

Rodney Hochman, MD, president and CEO of Renton, Wash.-based Providence St. Joseph Health, says, "Communities are never stagnant, so how we serve people can't be based on the past. We must always be thinking about what our communities need tomorrow, not just today."

2. "We know what patients need."

Dr. Hochman says, "Today, we live in a world where the patient is a consumer and they should feel like the 'chief medical officer' of their own health. How we deliver care must continue to push towards the patient feeling empowered and in charge."

3. "We've tried that before." 

Nancy Howell Agee, president and CEO of Roanoke, Va.-based Carilion Clinic, says this phrase, "shuts down thinking and suggests closed mindedness."

4. "I have good news and bad news." 

Ms. Agee says she hates to hear this statement, too. "[It] always seems to be a euphemism for 'I actually have only bad news.'"

5. "That's not my job."

Chris Van Gorder, president and CEO of San Diego-based Scripps Health, says, "During my entire management/leadership career, I have enjoyed working with people who want to learn and really commit to the success of the unit and organization. I hire for "attitude" — everything else can be taught but it's the rare time when I have been able to change a bad attitude to a positive attitude."

6. "No." 

Mr. Van Gorder says he also doesn't like hearing "no" without an explanation why not. "When I have to make a decision, I always think first — what is the downside of saying yes? If the downside can be managed or mitigated, I try to say yes. Sometimes I do have to say 'no,' but I see that as a teaching opportunity. While I expect that of myself, I expect that of others as well."

7. "We've never done that before." 

Maria Ryan, PhD, CEO of Cottage Hospital in Woodsville, N.H., says this statement typically comes from people who resist change and are satisfied with maintaining the status quo. "I am passionate about innovation and decreasing wasteful steps," she says.

8. "We have a lot of things going on right now, maybe we can look at it later." 

Randy Oostra, DM, president and CEO of Sylvania, Ohio-based ProMedica, says, "I always see it as my job to create urgency… urgency to change, urgency to get things done — to get solid plans created and executed, to not accept the status quo, to not accept inappropriate behavior."

9. "I cannot communicate with my staff member, colleague or physician."

Bernard Wheatley, DBA, CEO of St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands-based Schneider Regional Medical Center, says, "Every failure to communicate should be an opportunity for decisive dialogue to begin and to reach a win-win."

10. "We're not interested in exploring this."

Divya Joshi, MD, CEO of the Children's Service Line at Peoria, Ill.-based OSF Healthcare System, says, "It is important to keep an open mind and remain flexible. Transforming healthcare requires innovation. We must consider new ideas to revolutionize how healthcare is delivered."

11. "I can't get it done." 

Anthony Avellino, MD, CEO of Peoria, Ill.-based OSF Neuroscience Service Line & Illinois Neurological Institute, says, "I'm a firm believer that anything is possible, and everyone has something to contribute. I would rather hear someone say, 'Let's collaborate and work as a team to find a solution.' Remember what TEAM stands for: Together Everyone Achieves More."

12. "Why would we talk to others outside of healthcare?"

Dr. Hochman says, "Getting different perspectives is critical when making decisions. We can't be insular in our thinking and sometimes the most important perspective comes from someone less close to a process."

13. "It's not in my budget." 

Barry Arbuckle, PhD, president and CEO of Fountain Valley, Calif.-based MemorialCare Health System, says, "Your budget is our budget (in a health system), so figure it out."

14. "No, I don't have time."

Dr. Arbuckle is also irked by this statement. "CEOs are willing to hear that once, maybe twice, but after that they are likely to stop going to that person for just about anything, which could very well be career limiting," he says.

15. "It's not my rule — it's the CEO's rule."

Teri Fontenot, president and CEO of Woman's Hospital in Baton Rouge, La., says a supervisor said this to a nurse after sending her home to change for being out of compliance with the hospital policy on proper attire.

16. "Title, office size and location are very important to me."

Tom Sadvary, CEO of Scottsdale, Arizona-based HonorHealth, says, "Although I believe that all executives should be paid and titled in an appropriate and competitive manner, their focus should be in serving their staff and patients, versus how we can serve their egocentric needs."

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