Archive for the ‘Motivation’ category

Loyalty and The Life of a CEO

August 9th, 2009

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.”


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.


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.


Think Global and Act Local

October 1st, 2008

Over the years people who’ve liked me have referred to me as a real visionary, but, in all fairness, the people who thought that I was an incompetent also called me a visionary. One group called me that as a compliment. The other group used the description as a put down. Considering that my physician discontinued my prescription of Atromid S medication back in the late 70’s because he said the it caused early cataracts, I’m not all that sure about my actual vision.

As a kid it was fair to say that my approach to any problem that came my way was, well, it was just different. In fact, I’d spend hours trying to come up with unique solutions to problems that otherwise might have only taken a few minutes to solve the normal way. It was my thing.

In fact, my problem solving skills could only be described as journeys down the “Road Less Traveled.” Kind of the McGyver approach. What can I do to meet this challenge by using a Zippo, some thread, a chewing gum wrapper, and piano wire? Of course there were sometimes periodic episodes of near tragedy from this approach, you know, like the time I watched the front right wheel on my wagon roll past me as my journey took me down the 80% grade that my parents called the backyard. Thank God the axle dug in just enough to stop me before the approaching cliff. (The bobby pin didn’t hold.) Between Evelyn Wood’s Speed Reading course and Cliff Notes, I read Moby Dick in about 13 minutes.

By the time college rolled around, it was clear that my addiction had spread from alternative methodologies of problem solving to a pure and simple love affair with anything that was new, cutting edge, leading (or even bleeding) edge or avant garde. “Contemporary” was the catch word all those years ago. From art films to modern music, there was no end to my attraction to new and novel things.

Well, Inside Healthcare ran an article by Clay Sherman that was entitled Think Global and Act Local that contained some great tips for survival in healthcare. Mr. Sherman talked about the Joint Commission the way that most hosptial CEO’s would like to, but do not have the guts to do so. He described the Joint’s role as one of minimalism, and that was where his description stopped. His suggestion was to drop the Joint and to engage some larger, more aggressive organizations like NCOA or Leapfrog. His words of wisdom here were, “Either embrace a rigorous standards process, or watch your successor do it.”

Mr. Sherman went on to suggest the need for us to embrace best practices methodologies, new standardization techniques, online communities for patients with similar diseases, and he closed by saying “Stay centered focused in building human assets — its their brains that are going to get you there.” Hmmm? Sounds a little like last week’s blog.


Random Thoughts. . . Learn From Your Mistakes

March 21st, 2008

Make sure you know the question before you give the answer.

My kids taught me a lot about this job. At age seven, my son said, "Dad, where did I come from?" I knew that question was coming, but I had not expected it that soon. "Son," I said, "Let me explain about life" As I began my meticulously rehearsed tale of the birds and the bees, I slowly explained the nuances of life, love and more bees.

I was perspiring profusely as I stumbled over these sensitive descriptions. After about ten minutes of squirming, stuttering and stammering I said, "Do you understand, son?" To which he turned to me and said, "Heck, Dad, I knew all that stuff. I just wanted to know what hospital I came from, Mercy or Windber?"

Learn to share.

Hospitals deal every day in life and death issues. They are extremely complex and multifarious places. Emotions can run very high as well as we deal with the challenges and mysteries of life. Helping people to share has been a very large part of my life. Helping them to share resources, time, space and all aspects of life is a very important contributor to our success as both care givers and human beings. When I was eight, my Aunt Mildred gave me three pieces of bubble gum. As I was walking home with all three pieces stuffed into my jaw, a group of kids jumped me, pinned me down, took my gum right out of my mouth and divided it up between them. It would have been a lot easier on me if I had just kept a few pieces out to share.

Finally, don’t repeat it if you don’t understand it.

In any organization there always seems to be someone who takes great pleasure in telling the story when they aren't really sure of its meaning. After standing near Jack, a 15 year old sixth grader at school one day, my vocabulary expanded exponentially. He talked about mysterious things that made no sense to me, but he was big and I was small. In my world, that meant that Jack knew all. That night when my mom told me, the little third grader, to get ready for bed, I looked up at her standing beside my grandmother, aunt and dad and said, "I don’t have to go to bed, you @$#%&*$@!"

My limp cleared up right before I had to walk across the stage to pick up my college diploma thirteen years later.

Learn from your mistakes.