It’s interesting to look back to see choices we have made and how these actions have created the lives we lead. At the time, most of us are just trying to put one foot in front of the next and do the best we can, especially now, when the world and our lives have become more complicated. But it’s good to take the time to think about what got us to where we are and take pride in our accomplishments.
I grew up in a little town called Bethpage on Long Island, NY. People worked hard there, were straight with people and you just moved ahead together. This foundation of values provided me with the confidence to do the right thing. I was a professional school teacher, taught the first mandatory ecology class in New York State and then served under Nelson Rockefeller as a New York State Assemblyman. I thought my life was over after being defeated during the Nixon years and then had the privilege of becoming the CEO of Dale Carnegie where I was responsible for turning the company around without an infusion of capital. I learned the importance of strategic communication that engaged people and built staff in a collegial way, based upon data and standards. In my personal life, I was asked to serve on a small local community hospital board and learned about the importance of quality outcomes in the healthcare arena.
Whether engaging doctors or engaging employees, it all comes back to sharing and expressing a common ground, with common values that enable good decisions to be made. Without identifying your own personal values, its difficult to know it you align with those of the organization. In my personal experience, recognizing that the quality of care at this small healthcare institution was not at a high enough level, it required major preparation as a board member, working in advance to understand the strategy, the board minutes and then forming up smart conversations at the board level to agree to a merger based upon clinical outcomes that would be good for all our families. Getting agreement on the data which is collected from an intelligent source and then having the values and commitment to preparation and strategic communication, is what enables movement forward.
Looking back, these experiences provided learning on what is needed to better serve patients, customers and client needs. Making sure that the collection of meaningful data becomes part of the CEO’s dashboard and is shared at the board level, is critical. Taking field trips to actually see what’s going on is not only key to your understanding of situations, but these actions ripple throughout the organization and reflect respect and caring values. One of the largest healthcare institutions in the country today, provides important bi-monthly updates via phone to board members on the status of infectious disease and the pandemic, featuring physicians and clinicians to recognize their work and to say thank you. This is what good leadership does. Learning together, sharing a common ground and putting names and faces to the people you serve, understanding your actions impact your patients and customers every day, often in life saving ways. If you drift too far away from what the data means at a personal level, you miss the responses at a human level and what the numbers imply.
Today even more than ever, people have choices of where they want to work. Look at the culture you create in your organization as a strategic recruiting weapon. Understand the cultural issues – are we retaining talent, what is our employee turnover? Getting under the hood as to whether these things can be remediated or not and how is an important role of management and the board. Having the courage to share the data and insights, whether good or bad, is critical to moving discussions to the right level.
Over the years, I have mentored over 20 people to become global CEOs. If a person is willing to listen and learn, they can achieve anything they want. People who sit on the sidelines, become lazy, and don’t have the courage to respond to what they see and take actions, will never succeed. This demands extraordinary self-confidence based on beliefs and values and a commitment to continue to learn. It doesn’t have to involve going to an Ivy League school either. Asking the right questions of future employees on their experiences in serving the community or other organizations, will provide you with insights on how they will respond to your existing team and the impact they will or will not make.
I am proud of the experiences I have had that have been difficult but rewarding. Its not in the easy stuff that confidence and meaning is built. It’s through the challenges, doing the right thing which in turn ripples throughout the organizations and ultimately improves and positively impacts the lives of people being served in quiet, but powerful ways. You may never know the depth of those influenced, but knowing you fought and succeeded is true joy for a life well-lived.