Leading Differently: How to Unleash the Greatest Resource in Healthcare

by | May 19, 2017 | Grow Article |

Let me tell you a story.

This story begins with the Johns Hopkins Hospital. No doubt you have heard of it. Today Hopkins is a world-famous center of healing, at the heart of an $8 billion healthcare organization. But 125 years ago, it began with a dream. Hopkins was the first American institution to bring together patient care, research, and post-graduate medical education.

The Johns Hopkins we know today would not have been possible without the leadership of four founding physicians. I learned about them during my decade of education, training, and practicing at Hopkins 40 years ago. Each of these founders was larger than life, and made a lasting impact on American medical care.

  • William Welch. Eminent pathologist and researcher, the first dean of Johns Hopkins, and the founder of the School of Public Health.
  • William Halsted. Revolutionized surgical technique, trained a generation of surgeons-in-chief, and introduced gloves into the operating room.
  • William Osler. “The Father of Modern Medicine.” The most influential physician of the late 19th and early 20th century.
  • Howard Kelly. Established both modern gynecology and the application of radiation therapy to gynecologic cancers.

The Flexner Report of 1910 castigated the rough state of American medical education, but pointed to Johns Hopkins as a rare diamond of good practice. The Johns Hopkins model, requiring admission standards and uniting medical school, hospital, and university, became the new standard. An achievement only made possible by the great leadership of its founding physicians.

Healthcare Needs Great Leaders Today, More Than Ever

Remember these four numbers.

5   18   30   45

Now is a tremendous time of discovery and innovation in biomedicine and medical technology. There’s unbelievable promise in precision medicine. Virtual reality and other new technologies are all just around the corner. But the one thing that really hasn’t changed is how medical organizations are structured and led.

That’s where our healthcare system is getting stuck.

Technology is innovating, but leadership is standing still. Today American healthcare runs on a system we have built, but not designed. We’ve built a healthcare system that’s expensive and very good at delivering acute care, but that fails in other areas.

Four statistics tell the story of our healthcare system today.

  • 5 percent of patients account for over 50 percent of healthcare costs.
  • 18 percent of the United States Gross Domestic Product is spent on healthcare.
  • The average lifespan has increased 30 years over the past century.
  • 45 percent of Americans (135 million) have at least one chronic disease.

We all share a vision of better healthcare. We all know that coordinated, patient-centered care is better than fragmented, health system-centered care. The problem isn’t lack of knowledge of the issues, or lack of a shared vision of how healthcare could be better. The problem is the failure of the leadership we need to get there.

So, let’s talk about leading differently.

Great Leadership is a Mindset. Do You Have It?

Over many years, I’ve seen everything that works and everything that doesn’t work in healthcare leadership. If we want to make change quicker, we need to lead differently.

Mindset is the key to how we lead. Most of us are trapped in healthcare’s economy of scarcity. We’re beaten down by the constant demand to find the next efficiency cut or report on the next required metric. We’re caught in paradoxes, one that most healthcare executives will know all too well, the choice between volume-based growth OR value-based performance.

What if we reject these paradoxes that force us to cut, trim, and consolidate? What if we traded in a scarcity mindset for a mindset of growth and abundance? What if we choose volume-based growth AND value-based performance? Will we inspire others to deliver better care if they can focus on doing the right thing for the patient instead of doing more with less?

We’ve learned a lot about leadership since those early days of Johns Hopkins. Proven ideas from business, psychology, and neuroscience provide a vision of how we might lead that is very different from the reality of how we do lead.

Think about these ideas, and see if your answers come from a mindset of scarcity or abundance.

  • It’s not what you know, it’s what you know that ain’t so.

Do you challenge what you know, as Mark Twain suggests, to find beliefs that are flawed or wrong? Oftentimes it’s our inability to recognize our own flawed assumptions that limits us and our organizations. As Dee Hock, the founder of Visa, said, “The problem is never how to get new, innovative thoughts into your mind, but how to get the old ones out!”

  • Skate to where the puck is going to be.

Borrowing from Wayne Gretzky’s famous quote on ice hockey, are you preparing for the future, or obsessed with the challenges of the past and present?

  • Fall in love with the problem.

Are you running away from the problem, “grasping at tools,” and adopting what others are doing? Or, are you developing a deep and abiding understanding of the problems, and looking for the solution hidden inside every challenge?

  • Tell a story with purpose.

Can you get past plain data, and tell a story that inspires others to believe?  It’s better to lead with the heart rather than the mind.

  • Give people time to let go.

Do you demand instant change, or honor the natural emotions people experience along with the transition time they require when change happens?

  • Leverage your own behavior.

Are you using what you say to drag people forward, or leading with your own passion and clarity of vision – and what you actually do?

  • Become a high-performance team.

Is there a single, cohesive leadership team in the C-suite driving change across all siloes?  A team that is not territorial but rather focused on optimizing the total enterprise instead of just optimizing the parts?

Leadership is the Most Essential Resource in Healthcare Today

If the American healthcare system is going to change today for the better, as Johns Hopkins changed it 140 years ago, we need leadership as great as those founding physicians. Leadership is the most essential – and powerful – resource in healthcare today.

The great leadership guru Warren Bennis popularized what J. Sterling Livingston termed “The Pygmalion Effect in Management.” In the old Greek myth, a sculptor imbues a statue with so many qualities he admires, that he falls passionately in love with it.

In other words, what leaders expect of their colleagues and the way they treat them largely determines their performance.

This is, as leaders, how we must work. This is how leaders thrive. And this is how leaders forge the future.