Chuck Lauer: The successful CEO as a member of the team — 5 observations

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I recently had the pleasure of participating in a meeting with six current and two about-to-retire healthcare CEOs. The main topic was leadership. I believe the thoughts expressed by these veteran and highly regarded executives were interesting enough to share with you.

The CEOs put a lot of trust in their staff and relied on them to carry out the mission and vision of the organization. From the beginning of the discussion, this became apparent. I heard the words "team" and "teamwork" a lot. Increasingly, it seems, these CEOs see COOs, CFOs and CMOs, among others, as colleagues rather than subordinates. The daily work of implementing new systems and programs and contending with the regulatory world of reform now requires all hands on deck.

Not so long ago, the health system CEO was a local rock star, a one-man (usually) band playing all the parts except medicine. Today it's an orchestra, with the CEO as maestro but only guiding the music of the players. If one player is off-key, everything quickly turns to chaos.
 
Along with shared responsibility comes shared credit. I am not talking out of school to say the CEOs of not that long ago took a bow for any successes and made themselves the one-and-only public face of the hospital or system. Today, the chief nursing officer or chief IT leader are as likely to be quoted in the media as the CEO. It may not be purely servant leadership everywhere, but we are a heck of a lot closer to that ideal than we were a number of years ago, when it was mostly empty rhetoric.
 
Mentoring came up, but not as often as I thought it would. It seems that with the complicated lives CEOs live today, the good old days of mentoring others have virtually disappeared. Seldom heard are the words, "If it wasn't for the hours and days my old boss spent guiding and training, me I wouldn't be where I am today." A few years ago it wasn't unusual to hear that kind of remark.
 
As one CEO remarked in the meeting: "I simply do not have the time anymore to really mentor my people. I feel badly that is the case, but that's the way it is." Another echoed the statement: "Being a CEO today is just too complicated, I have to wear too many hats and I simply do not have the time to spend with my people one-on-one. I feel guilty about it, but what can I do?"
 
Time seems to be a common issue for today's CEOs. The lack of it bothers all of them, and the fact they cannot spend more of it interacting with their people on a regular basis concerns them to no end.
 
How CEOs keep themselves motivated on a day-to-day basis while under heavy pressure and tight deadlines was another aspect discussed. The responses were most interesting. One said one thing keeps him inspired: Watching his people develop and become seasoned and productive in their work. Another cited the fact that her system was preparing for a distinguished award program, which has energized her whole executive team. Another CEO said simply that any leader should find what is transpiring in healthcare today so interesting and challenging that they can't help but be motivated.  
 
One thing I did not hear was a sense of feeling sorry for themselves with their respective workloads. Instead, I sensed a generally positive and entrepreneurial type of attitude — a consensus of finding satisfaction in the pursuit of excellence in patient care.
 
Here I must pause and note that this group of highly seasoned leaders is not likely to be representative of top leadership across the nation. They were brought to the discussion because they were already known for their leadership skills. I have written before about a lack of commitment to the job on the part of a large swath of healthcare leaders. My point in highlighting this group is that despite decades in top positions and witnessing several waves of profound change in the industry, they remain willing to take on whatever comes their way and turn it into a positive experience for their patients, communities and staffs. Sometimes this side of things doesn't get much attention, drowned out by bad behavior on the part of others.
 
So it was a true pleasure for me to spend some time simply listening as some of the most revered CEOs revealed how deeply they care.
 

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