Chuck Lauer: The measure of a true leader

How do you evaluate the impact of a healthcare leader? Of course, there are hundreds of metrics you might use, from net operating revenue to market share to the many quality awards and designations.  

All of those are important, but there are other ways of assessing leadership. They may not plug neatly into a data analytics platform, but they may be even more powerful.

One of those ways is something I encountered recently while having some blood drawn at the Naples Community Hospital in Florida, near my vacation home. The nurse who was attending to me asked me where I was from and I said Chicago. I asked her the same question and she told me she was from a small town in New York State. It turns out she had worked for Long Island Jewish Hospital, which has since gone through a name change and dramatic expansion. 

I told her I was quite familiar with Michael Dowling, the CEO of that system, which prompted her to tell me that it was such a great place to work. "They treat their people so well there. Everybody cares about each other and the reason for that is Michael Dowling. If I ever move back to the New York area I would go for a job there as fast as I could."

A couple of days later I had to go back to that lab to have a second blood draw. The same nurse was there. This time she showed me a ring she had received from Long Island Jewish for her five-year anniversary. She was so proud of it and once again told me how caring the management of the hospital was to all the people who worked there. You can't buy a better testimonial.

This wasn't the first time that I had heard such nice comments about the system and Michael Dowling. I am a great fan of his for a lot reasons, but the most important is the way he treats people. Believe me, that is not always the case when I have talked to alumni of other hospitals.

Michael manages to convey a human touch to his organization, no small feat given its scope. Long Island Jewish is now known as Northwell Health. Based in New Hyde Park, it is the largest integrated healthcare system in New York State with a total workforce of more than 62,000 employees. It has 21 hospitals, more than 550 outpatient physician practices and a full complement of long-term care services.

Mr. Dowling has won numerous awards from all sorts of organizations (the B'nai B'rith National Healthcare Award and the HIMSS-Modern Healthcare Technology Award are just two) and is called upon time and again to speak at many distinguished gatherings of healthcare leaders. The last time I heard him speak was when he won the 2011 Gail L. Warden Leadership Excellence award from the National Center for Healthcare Leadership. He gave one of most definitive and inspiring talks I have ever heard about how the industry needs to change to meet the demands of a changing marketplace and patient needs. In essence he told the distinguished audience that it couldn't afford to sit and worry about the implications of the ACA and instead step forward aggressively with new systems and plans to give patients better and more efficient care. He also told them to become more familiar with the term "customer service" because in the new developing healthcare environment, that term would be become a rallying cry for better patient care. It was a passionate talk and he was given a standing ovation by the attendees. In reality, it was simply typical Michael Dowling, a man who brings great energy and enthusiasm to every task.

My purpose for highlighting Michael Dowling is because he represents the very best in enlightened leadership. He not only cares about his patients but he cares about the people who care for them and treats them with the utmost respect and dignity.

This is a big reason that Northwell Health has such a stellar reputation throughout the industry. Yes, there are all sorts of awards and recognitions for all kinds of things in healthcare, but the most precious kudo that any CEO can get is what I heard from that nurse, a former employee giving unsolicited testimony on how much she loved working for that organization, and singling out the CEO for making sure employees feel treasured. 

Take a bow, Michael Dowling.

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