I've been thinking a lot about leadership lately, and a couple of matters come to mind. First of all, it seems like too many of the people who have attained leadership positions don't think they really have to lead. And more of today's leaders just aren't up to the task of enduring the stress and anguish that are inherently part of their jobs. A big part of the problem is that so many of those who ascend to the top jobs make it there without the necessary background and training.
A course in human relations would be a good starter for all executives. Too often they think of people as expendable commodities, not flesh-and-blood human beings. Leaders have to understand that people need freedom, dignity and respect to be happy and productive in their jobs. Unfortunately, whether out of fear or confusion, a number of managers seem to be running for the hills because they can't deal with "people problems," uncertainty, change and all the other stress factors management involves. To my way of thinking, they're missing out on all the fun. The greatest reward a leader can be given is being in the right place when his or her skills are needed the most.
The healthcare industry is a prime example of some of these problems. According to a survey by a top executive search firm, many healthcare leaders are among those ready to bolt. The study was conducted last summer by Witt/Kieffer, Ford, Hadelman and Lloyd. I've cited some of the data before, but I might have missed something. In the current issue of Managed Healthcare, an article cites some provocative findings from the study. Questionnaires were sent to 1,590 chief executives in hospitals, healthcare systems, managed-care companies and other organizations nationwide. Among the results: More than 25% of the CEOs said their personal and professional lives suffer because of the cumulative demands they face at work and home. Some 38% said they are making sacrifices in their personal lives in order to accommodate the rigors of their jobs. But less than 3% said they made sacrifices in their professional lives to accommodate their private lives.
Meanwhile, almost 80% of CEOs reported increased job stress, and 95% reported increased workloads. While 90% said they were satisfied working in healthcare, 57% said they would seriously consider a job change, and half of those said they would also consider a change outside the industry. The numbers don't paint a pretty picture.
Being the boss is tough no matter where you are. Stress and sacrifice are not new. They will always be part of the leadership equation. However, most executives I know try very hard to keep their personal and professional lives in balance. Although it takes planning and hard work, they know it's worth the extra effort.
Couple those survey findings with a story that appeared recently in the Wall Street Journal. It chronicled the gradual disillusionment of a young factory owner in Akron, Ohio. The article was headlined "Losing Faith-Personnel Disorders Sap a Factory Owner of His Early Idealism." The subhead read: "He tried to Be Boss and Pal, But Workers' Drug Use, Absenteeism Ended That." The man's name is Alan Robbins, and in 1989 he founded Plastic Lumber Co., a small factory that converts old milk bottles and soda bottles into various products. The article chronicles the myriad problems Robbins endured over the years as he built his company into a success. Anybody who runs a business knows how difficult personnel problems can be. Those problems took a toll on Robbins' personal life, too. Citing the breakup of his marriage, he says: "When you start a business like this, you have to deny your family a certain level of attention."
Leadership is a tough business, and it's certainly not for everyone. As we've all been told before, be careful what you ask for, because you might just get it.
It takes courage
Charles S. Lauer