The advice 12 healthcare leaders remembered most in 2021

The Corner Office series asks healthcare leaders to answer questions about their life in and outside the office.

In each interview, leaders share the piece of advice they remember most clearly. Here are answers collected by Becker's Hospital Review this year. 

Odette Bolano, BSN. President and CEO of Saint Alphonsus Health System (Boise, Idaho): To move forward, you must be able to take calculated risk and be willing to fail. Most important lessons in life, and in your professional life, are coming back from a failure and how you choose to respond to that failure. You learn a lot about yourself when you reflect on how you managed a situation, what you learned about yourself and others, but especially about yourself and how it molds you for the next challenge. 

Denise Brooks-Williams. Senior Vice President and CEO of Detroit-based Henry Ford Health System's north market: The advice I remember most clearly is from my mother — "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you" (Matthew 7:12 and Luke 6:31).  It reminds me that our actions matter to all we encounter. I understand that being a servant leader that cares for all humankind is important. I am respectful and thoughtful in my actions toward others as a result of this advice.   

Keith Churchwell, MD. President of Yale New Haven (Conn.) Hospital: Make sure you are working to be an expert in your profession and enjoy what you do. If you don't, you need to do something else. 

Joan Coffman. President and CEO of St. Tammany Health System (Covington, La.): My father and two of his brothers owned a True Value Hardware in Metairie, La., where I worked summers in high school. Their active efforts to serve their customers in a genuine and positive way — leading with integrity — was an important lesson that has remained with me throughout my career. Many years later when the store closed, my daddy received a letter from a customer that ended with the following statement: "There are places to go for what you sold, but none for what you gave away." Extraordinary service and positive relationships add value in any industry — particularly healthcare. That is a profound responsibility and one I am grateful to be a part of and live out each day. 

Conor Delaney, MD, PhD. resident and CEO of Cleveland Clinic Florida (Weston): First, focus on providing the very best care you can for each individual patient, and relate to each patient to the best of your ability. Secondly, focus next on your team and being the best part of your team that you can be — this is how you can provide the best care.

Bill Gassen. President and CEO of Sanford Health (Sioux Falls, S.D.): Always surround yourself with people who are smarter than you — working in healthcare makes this pretty easy for me.

I've learned so much by listening carefully in places where passion, intellect and diverse perspectives are shared daily. I have always sought to build a team around me with people who help make us better by contributing their unique talents and expertise.

I am also a believer in servant leadership — a philosophy that tilts toward the deliberate sharing of influence and decision-making. It means putting the needs of employees and patients first and paying it forward by providing resources and encouragement to help the team develop and excel. 

Vedner Guerrier. CEO of Memorial Hospital Miramar (Fla.): A mentor once told me there are three types of people: those that watch it happen, those that ask what happened and those that make it happen. He then asked, "Which kind of person do you want to be?" I always want to be the person that makes it happen. 

Rich Liekweg. President and CEO of BJC HealthCare (St. Louis): One of the best pieces of advice I ever received, and that still serves me today, is always to use what I call MRI — the "most respectful interpretation" — of somebody's words, actions or comments. It means always try to interpret things first through the most respectful lens. If somebody has done or said something, assume they have good reason and earnest intent, rather than jumping to being critical or suspicious.

Another bit of advice that has served me well in healthcare is to follow the platinum rule: Do unto others as they would like to be treated. Too often in healthcare, and in everyday life, we assume others would like to be treated the same way we want to be treated — what we traditionally refer to as the golden rule. In fact, it's often better to ask somebody what they need to feel supported, listen to how they respond and then act with empathy. Be curious. Always ask, "Please, tell me more?"

Michael Mayo. President and CEO of Baptist Health (Jacksonville, Fla.): "God gave you two ears and one mouth; use proportionately." That always reminds me to listen twice as much as I speak.

Cynthia Moore-Hardy. President and CEO of Lake Health (Concord Township, Ohio): While growing up, my father shared with me an analogy for life's hardships. He always told us that to make it through life, we sometimes must be like a willow tree — firmly planted, but when the high winds and obstacles occur, the tree bends but doesn't break. As soon as the storm passes, the tree straightens back up and goes on with life. It was his way of saying, "Do not be afraid of a crisis or challenge, but to weather life's storms by hunkering down, to focus on resolution, be flexible and create new plans, always with an eye on the goal."

Jaewon Ryu, MD. President and CEO of Geisinger (Danville, Pa.): A piece of advice that has stuck with me, especially over the past several months during the pandemic, is to embrace change and uncertainty. There is so much uncertainty in healthcare, and especially so with COVID-19. Our team at Geisinger has tackled this pandemic head on, pivoting when needed, shifting gears along the way and remembering that flexibility is what will help us come out the other side of this. I've never been more proud to be a part of a team, as our Geisinger team has just risen to this occasion in these ways. 

Mike Slubowski. President and CEO of Trinity Health (Livonia, Mich.): I can't share just one piece of advice, since I've had many amazing mentors. Be a servant leader, empower people and support them, but also let them grow through challenging assignments and learn through mistakes. Keep moving forward. And revisit your personal mission statement periodically. The most important things for me are faith in God, love of family and friends, good health, happiness and service to others. Those serve as litmus tests that I revisit often to see if I've wandered off. Finally, one of my wise mentors once told me to regularly ask myself, "Are the communities you serve better off as a result of your work?"


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