I felt so empowered by the best boss ever, Jim Bulger, Executive Director of a managed care company. After I had been Director of Quality Management for 3 months, I told Jim that I didn’t think we were moving along at the speed he wanted us to go. “What do you think we should do?” Jim asked. “Frankly, I think we need to start with you.” OMG, what had I said? Have I no filters?!! To my joy and consternation, Jim responded, “Ok, teach me. Every morning 7am, 30 minutes, your agenda.” I had to get my act together fast. Several years later I asking Jim why he had done that. “I would have been an idiot not to. I hired you, didn’t I?” This was a gift to me. A gift of trust, a gift of leadership. I’ve learned over the years to value this gift of leadership.
Leadership is a foundation stone of maximizing the experience of people at the center of care. It’s not sufficient, but it’s necessary. Many opportunities exist to steer the boat, set the tone, build trust, value contributions, empower, take care of each other – opportunities for leadership. You can lead an organization. You can lead a team. Leader can be in your title or not. You can lead for a moment or a career. There is no ultimate leader. It’s a relative position – a relationship position.
My mom led her health team during end-of-life. She set the tone, admitted and expelled team members. She set the culture. Once you were admitted to her team she listened to and empowered. It worked well. It’s an art as a leader to pull back and let others lead. She chose to lead.
I have led many teams. It’s a gas when team members feel empowered, when leadership shifts from one member to the next depending on the setting and the task. I once led a team of three, each of whom wanted to move into management. We set up our work so that each of us led a project. We were each other’s team members when we led.
Yesterday, an architect was telling me about a group of high school students exploring design as a career. Their project was to retrofit an apartment to be accessible for a person who had a stroke. The students came up with design ideas in moments that would have taken him weeks. Each student led the design project of their idea. Leadership!!
Leaders are role models. Leaders must want to be leaders.
At Harvard Business School, they talk about a VUCCA world (Volatile, Uncertain, Chaotic, Changing, Ambiguous). The business of healthcare is VUCCA, whether it’s your personal health journey, health team, or health company. A VUCCA environment requires intentional, committed, empowering leadership. In my work now, I see organizations that want to improve patient experience. Usually, they have something specific in mind – rounding, portals, open notes, patient family councils, improving access, whatever. Inevitably, the success depends on leadership. Who leads? Who’s accountable for what? Do the leaders live the behaviors with each other that they expect from their staff? Do they foster empowerment? Can they step back and risk the unexpected. Good leadership is a gift to everyone.