Christus clinical chief's leadership lessons from legendary basketball coach

Sam Bagchi, MD, executive vice president and chief clinical officer of Irving, Texas-based Christus Health, has taken a page out of legendary Indiana basketball coach Bobby Knight's leadership playbook to achieve greatness amid digital transformation.

Bobby Knight is a complex and controversial figure in college basketball, winning three NCAA championships while at Indiana University and 11 Big Ten Conference championships. He also set the record for 902 NCAA Division I men's basketball games won at the time of his retirement.

Dr. Bagchi attended Indiana University and the team's 87 National Championship made an impression, solidifying his allegiance to the Hoosiers.

"[Mr. Knight's] leadership style is that he was all about the fundamentals and the fundamentals of how you shoot, how you take free throws, passing, the motion offense. Those fundamentals proved that the process can drive the outcomes, and you knew no matter how much they may struggle in a certain year when they didn't have the right team, they'd be fundamentally sound," said Dr. Bagchi on the "Becker's Healthcare Podcast."

He sees parallels in his role as chief clinical officer, especially as new technology, artificial intelligence and digital transformation take center stage.

"It's easy to get swept up in what's hot today, but those things won't work or you won't have success if you aren't doing the fundamentals right," said Dr. Bagchi. "If you're not working with your team to develop those fundamentals in whatever profession or sport that you're trying to excel at, I think those things matter, along with relationships. Bob Knight's relationships as a leader are still echoing around basketball today."

Clinical leaders have more accountabilities than ever and need to build relationships with other leaders across the health system, as well as their patients and communities.

"Those relationships you build compliment those that focus on fundamentals and can really drive success for yourself and your team, and those that you influence throughout your leadership career," said Dr. Bagchi.

Healthcare delivery is changing quickly with technology advancement, and there is some natural skepticism based on the pace of change. Dr. Bagchi is addressing the skepticism with his team to help them "the promise of the technology."

"It all comes down to the basics of and how your people are engaged with you, how your people are connected to the purpose of your organization and the mission of your organization," said Dr. Bagchi. "It's really only then that you have that foundation to use technologies or innovative best practices to drive improvement."

Mr. Knight also spent time coaching the U.S. Men's Olympic basketball team in 1984 and won the gold medal that year.

"I think it was the comradery, the focus on the team and getting through a challenging travel schedule, and all the things you have to do to stay with a group for that intense period of time," said Dr. Bagchi. "He's just an incredible leader in that sense."

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