The first indication something was wrong was the letter from a friend who told me he was about to resign from his job and pursue other interests. I've known the man for a number of years and have always been impressed with his integrity, dedication and intellect. For a number of years he has run one of the most successful healthcare systems in the country. He's done it through risk-taking, team-building and personal courage. He's certainly not a status quo chief executive officer, and he doesn't sit on the sidelines. He chooses to lead by example. But being that kind of leader is dangerous for one's career. My friend finally paid the price. He got pushed out of his job by wary board members, disgruntled physicians and insecure staff members. That's a lethal combination no matter how good the CEO is.
This isn't an isolated problem. More presidents and CEOs are facing this kind of situation. They're grappling with a host of challenges including partnering with other healthcare organizations, negotiating managed-care agreements and outsourcing services. Change causes unrest, and people become insecure. The leader trying to bring about the necessary change sometimes becomes the sacrificial lamb. From what I gather, that seems to be what happened to my friend. People he had mentored over the years turned on him because they believed their own careers were in jeopardy. Physicians were frightened and confused, so the inevitable happened. Board members were lobbied, and my friend lost out. Life isn't always fair.
When we talked recently, I commiserated with him about what had happened. He tried to sound casual and confident, but you could tell he was hurting. He rambled on about a variety of topics without addressing his current status, which is when I interjected my thoughts. In cases like this I always ask how many friends the person has heard from. As is usually the case, he told me only a few had called. The fact is he hadn't heard from a lot of "friends" because they never were his true friends. They're what I call "front-runners"-people who pretend to be friends when you're enjoying success but who disappear when you're on the losing end of things. On the other hand, he told me a few people had shown great empathy for his plight, even though he had never thought of them as friends before. That's always a pleasant surprise.
The scenario never seems to change. I've been through this before with a number of friends. Naturally, they're shocked, disappointed and vulnerable. Their families suffer as well. I don't care what the separation package is-getting the hook is a tough deal.
As dark as it may seem, however, there's usually a silver lining. Invariably, after the initial shock, most executives regroup and start looking around for a new position. Sometimes they even open their own businesses. The truth is most individuals who are forced out will end up in better-paying jobs and be happier than they ever were before. I base my findings on personal observation. I can think of several top-notch CEOs who were asked to leave their posts and have resurfaced in even stronger and more favorable positions. I know that will be the case for my very capable friend.
Charles S. Lauer