Loyalty and The Life of a CEO

August 9th, 2009 by Nick Jacobs Leave a reply »

Since stepping back from my CEO role, I have had time to reflect upon the toll that a position like that can take on any individual regardless of the thickness of their epidermis. I have come to realize that anyone who is completely in charge of an organization faces many of the same challenges.

CEO_scales256As a young man, I had serious delusions about what it would be like to be in the role of President. It was kind of a Superman fantasy: Yes, I would be kind, understanding, and fair. It would be my further commitment to be honest, forthright, and ethical in every way. My obligation would be to the people and the patients at all levels. My motto would be “Truth, justice, and the American way.”

Then the big day came, and my tenure began. It took about an hour to realize that it was now my personal responsibility to do everything necessary to generate all of the money needed to make payroll for the employees. In an area with a disappearing population base, that was an extremely challenging task, and as the Sisters of Mercy used to say, “No money; no mission.”

During the money quest, the issues of loyalty and fairness were always rearing their ugly heads. Could you, in this very self-centered culture, ever really expect people to be loyal no matter what your commitment had been to them? I would minimally try to play the role of a benevolent, servant-leader.

I was the guy who would reach out to people who needed a break and then provide them with that break; sometimes against the conventional wisdom. What did I expect in return from them?  Simple loyalty. Time and time again, however, those same people who might never have had the opportunity that they were given would turn on me. It became almost predictable.

It took them a long time to believe that they were capable of doing the job that I had personally selected them to take, but usually as soon as they reached their comfort zone they would begin to turn away. Maybe it is just human nature, but even Mighty Mouse would have been disillusioned by this recurring situation.

The other CEO reality is that fairness is situational and so subject to interpretation that it becomes impossible to please or satisfy everyone. The nature of our new collective employee psyches seems to be one of “If it’s not done directly for me, then it’s not fair.” The list of individuals who were brought to the leadership stage over my 22 years in healthcare was voluminous. Dozens of people were given consideration for their education, salaries, promotions, and advancements, yet if one other person was recognized in a similar way, the hue and cry was often, “It’s not fair.”

superman_couch

So, looking back over two decades of running hospitals, foundations, a research institute, and several other spin-off companies, an appropriate summary for any future leader is to “go with your gut.” With that in mind:

You are not now and will never be a superhero.

You are a human being with human frailties.

You cannot right the world or repair dysfunctional childhoods, marriages, or lifestyles through your benevolence.

However:

You can do what you believe will result in the most good for the most people.

You can respect the fact that your efforts could help to continue payrolls for hundreds or even thousands of families.

You can embrace the fact that the vast majority of your mistakes will not be fatal to anyone, but you also need to learn to cut your losses and deal with the disloyal.

One of my mentors used to pull me aside periodically and say, “Nick, you’re doing a great job, but you need to lighten up. We only pass through here once. So, try to enjoy yourself, my friend.”

Now that was good advice.

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11 comments

  1. Benjamin Seo says:

    Nick, you are a true inspiration. I greatly enjoy your all your blogs. For someone who actually wants to accomplish all that you have accomplished already and still have such a noble outlook on life, I greatly look up to you and cannot wait to read more. Thank you for your candid experiences and invaluable advice.

  2. Nick Jacobs says:

    Thanks, Benjamin. It’s been one of the most difficult issues with which I have dealt. First was the bully mentality, second the lack of willingness to accept change, and finally, the complete lack of long term loyalty. When someone appears to have talent, and a leader goes way way out on a limb to give them a chance, one would think that they would be somewhat appreciative, at least appreciative enough to be loyal, but it has become an “EVERY PERSON FOR HIM OR HERSELF” mindset, and more of the “I’ve made it now, the hell with you,” response. The list of people with whom I have had this experience could fill this website over the years, and that is very disappointing.

    Nick

  3. Marty Bonick says:

    Nick, I just discovered your blog through a re-tweet on twitter and can completely relate to your comments. As an “up and coming” CEO of a large teaching hospital, the balancing act that must be performed on a daily basis is constant challenge at best. It is somewhat comforting to see a colleague who is able to validate the thoughts and feelings for which many of us can relate.

    I too have started a blog earlier this year in following Paul Levy’s lead and it has been a very helpful tool in connecting with our staff and trying to deal with the issues that we all are facing. I look forward to reading yours going forward for further inspiration and will add you to my bloglist!

    As to your mentor’s advice, that is something that I need to learn as well – thank you!

  4. Nick Jacobs says:

    Thanks, Marty, the irony of your note was that I was the first hospital CEO in the world to have a blog. Just goes to show you that it’s still an industry where bigger is better . . . or at least more visible. Paul and I have been blog buddies for a long time. Thanks for adding me to the bloglist. If you’re interested, I have been writing for hospitalimpact.org for years and years. Just hit the search on that site with my name and you will get years of opinions. Good lack and if you ever need a great consultant, let me know. Nick

  5. Diyah Du says:

    Good Day Sir Jacob,
    What an inspiration you have been to me.
    I recently sent you an e-mail through the blog@ windmere. Will you still be able to access that or do I have to resend the e-mail message.
    Thank you for all you are and aspire to be.
    Diyah

  6. Nick Jacobs says:

    Dear Diyah,

    Actually, the address is blog@windbercare.com, but I am not able to access that one anymore since my retirement. Thank you for your kind words and support. My second book is coming out soon, but I’m afraid it will only serve to lighten your day because I have decided to dedicate it to one thing, fun and stories about growing up, raising kids, and grandkids.

    Take care,

    Nick

  7. Nick Jacobs says:

    Dear Marty,

    If you ever need a good consultant who spells LUCK as Lack, give me some consideration. Actually, I’m currently at the Outer Banks with five kids six and under and I was lucky to be able to write anything.

    Take care.

    Nick

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