Start with yourself: A 6-item personal inventory for leaders

"What my work building and leading teams has taught me above all else is that the first step in defining a culture is to start with yourself." 

Many industry leaders would argue that there is no more challenging sector to manage than healthcare. And we are all too familiar with the criticisms of our industry — slow to change, broken, outdated, etc. While I believe there are aspects of the business of healthcare that can be dramatically improved, I also think it's a space for great innovation where moonshots are possible and we can transform lives.

So how then do we harness what is possible while improving an industry that can make do with an operational facelift? I believe the answer lies in shifting the paradigm and transforming the way we lead. Only then can we deliver the highest quality and care at an affordable cost.

In my role as president and CEO of Tampa General, I focus a great deal of energy on building teams and developing my leadership skills as well as those of my colleagues. I am grateful to Scott Becker and the folks here for giving me the chance to explore issues of leadership in healthcare (and frankly, management issues that cross sectors). Over the coming months, I hope to introduce you to best practices, as well as ideas for leading your teams, that allow your spaces of innovation to flourish. I also hope to learn from you and employ your best practices in the work I do.

So where to begin? What my work building and leading teams has taught me above all else is that the first step in defining a culture is to start with yourself. I like to say, "Disruption starts with you." By this I mean, you must be willing to look inward, take an honest personal inventory, and make adjustments in your approach and style to become the type of leader, teammate and colleague you want and need to be. Leadership requires a change at every level —from the personal to the organizational.

1. Courage

So I thought I would first examine attributes that I strive to practice in leadership and that have helped me develop and work effectively with my teams. I realize self-reflection is easier said than done. It is hard and requires courage. Courage is a crucial ingredient to leadership and one that I ascribe to and work toward each day. Side note: like everything in life, and certainly for me, the practice of leadership is a work in progress. Success does not come all at once but happens incrementally, in fits and starts.

As a practitioner of courage, you have to be open to taking personal inventory and ask yourself: What am I bringing to the table? How can I give more and do better? You also have to be willing to seek (and hear) feedback from those you trust. Sometimes these folks are your toughest critics. And while courage sometimes requires you to deliver unpopular news, it is at its core a willingness to be personally accountable for all you do and all you ask of others.

2. Questioning

Courage, like true innovation, also comes from questioning — questioning assumptions, capacity and ability. As a team leader, you need to lead by example, asking the same questions of yourself that you have asked of others on your team. What assumptions do I need to challenge? What skills do I need to harness to not only get the job done but to motivate others as well? How can I think outside the box? How can I be both innovative and strategic, and how can I coach and inspire others to do the same?

3. Vulnerability

By asking yourself these questions, you are also putting yourself in a position to be vulnerable. And by vulnerable, I don't mean in putting yourself in a position of which to be taken advantage. I mean just the opposite. Leading through vulnerability signifies that you are willing to take a 360-degree view of yourself to decide what work you need to do to help get your team across the finish line.

Leading through vulnerability demonstrates that you have an openness, a collaborative nature, a demeanor that is relatable and honest, and a demonstrated commitment to walking the walk and talking the talk — skills that are invaluable no matter what challenges your organization faces.

Finally, a willingness to be vulnerable is more than leading through innovation. It is about leading through it all. I believe vulnerability is a crucial trait of a transformational leader — a leader that I think we all aspire to be. As a transformational leader, your success (and that of your team) comes from your ability to connect and motivate others. And nothing is more powerful, more inspiring or makes a connection more meaningful than allowing yourself to be "seen" by your team members.

4. Kindness

In our culture, we often equate speed and accuracy — getting there first and doing the best —with being cold and tough. Leaders often believe that to drive results they must drive their team with an iron fist. They naturally assume that to gain respect and the most work out of those they manage, they must be hard as nails. They are afraid to be seen as "soft" or a "pushover." They prioritize being right with doing the right thing.

In my experience, acting tough does nothing but cause stress and friction. It results in high turnover and turmoil within teams. Who wants to work with someone who treats them this way? Loyalty and hard work aren't built on fear. They are earned through mutual respect, developing relationships and gaining trust — all of which are made possible through kindness. Specifically, treating all those you encounter with a basic level of compassion and respect. When you value kindness and demonstrate that value to others, you build loyalty and inspire others. You also make getting the job done easier and much more enjoyable.

5. Authenticity

Young(er) colleagues often ask my mentees and I, "How do you lead?" My short two-word answer is this: "Like me."

I don't mean to be glib. What I'm saying is that I practice authentic leadership. I lead as I live. Who I am as a leader is who I am on the golf course, spending time with friends or at home with my family. Throughout my career, I've found that leading authentically has allowed me to be the most effective, satisfied and passionate leader I can be.

Being an authentic leader is also about feeling comfortable in your skin, owning your leadership style and playing to your strengths. It is also about more than just showing up and being professional. It is about creating lasting relationships and connections with your team and colleagues that are built on trust, honesty and communication. This kind of true synergy enables you to collaborate, achieve your collective goal and face the challenges ahead.

6. Being Present

When I first came to Tampa General a little over 18 months ago, I met with nearly all of the 8,200-plus team members in groups of 200 to 300 to discuss our new organizational strategic plan. Throughout these two-hour sessions, my goal was to communicate the direction for the organization, explain their critical role in our evolution and engage with them — answering questions and gaining feedback and insight.

One of the biggest takeaways from these sessions for me was the reminder to be present — to entirely focus on my team members when I am with them, to listen and be in the moment. Being present and engaging with others in a focused way allows me to not only create meaningful connections with my teammates and colleagues, but helps the organization and I perform at a higher level. Being focused, and thus being present, demonstrates to team members that you are engaged, empathetic and understanding. You show them you are actively listening to and hearing them. You build camaraderie and connection.

Being present also improves your skills as a leader and manager as it enhances one's ability to cope with stress, stay level-headed and operate from a proactive position as opposed to a reactive one. Often, problems don't need a definitive solution. They merely need clarity of thought and attention.

Moving Forward

A colleague recently told me, "Leading is a conscious choice." It was a strong reminder and one of the most valuable pieces of advice I have received in a long time. Each day, we wake up and choose how to lead — whether we will act courageously, question assumptions, show our authentic self, demonstrate kindness and be present. By deploying these behaviors, we create cultures that allow us to drive innovation, make a positive impact on those we serve and transform our teams.

In the months ahead, I look forward to sharing best practices, innovative ideas, lessons I have learned, successes I have experienced and failures I have endured. (You learn the most from the failures, I believe.) Most importantly, I can't wait to enter an ongoing conversation. Please feel free to connect with me on LinkedIn, via my website at or via email at

John Couris is the president and CEO of Tampa General Hospital. He writes about issues surrounding healthcare and leadership at

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