This magazine is a member of the Healthcare Research and Development Institute, based in Pensacola, Fla. The group includes about 40 of the top hospital and healthcare system chief executive officers in the country and many top executives of vendor companies. The reason we joined the HRDI was to get advice and counsel from the healthcare CEOs about how they are fighting to keep their organizations healthy and viable. We also want to find out if we are living up to their expectations with our information products and what new products they need to satisfy an increasing demand for information.
In the past few years, we have heard an earful. CEOs have capital access problems, personnel shortages, doctor problems. They are under a lot of stress from a variety of sources as they try to improve their business and clinical operations.
Sometimes it seems many executives take for granted what their organizations have achieved and that they are involved in one of the nobler professions, providing care for everyone in our society who needs it. This is why most executives got into the business. And that brings me to the real reason for this column.
I was lucky enough to participate in an early-morning session at the spring meeting of the HRDI, one of the most stimulating and inspirational sessions I have attended. Of course, with two of the most inspirational CEOs leading the session I shouldn't have been surprised. Erie Chapman, former president and CEO of Baptist Hospital System in Nashville, has always been one of my favorites. He always has believed in treating everyone in his organization with dignity and respect. He worked with everyone from housekeeping to nurses to doctors to get a better understanding of how and what it took to perform certain duties and what might be done to make working environments better. Erie is one of those people who has never forgotten his mission-taking care of people. (He now directs the Baptist Healing Hospital Trust.)
The other person serving as co-chairman of the meeting was Dan Wilford, the just-retired president and CEO of Memorial Hermann Healthcare System in Houston. His leadership style is the same as Chapman's. He cares about colleagues and patients and is dedicated to the principles of ethics and integrity. Dan is revered by all who know him, and that is why everyone was so saddened to learn of the recent automobile accident in which his wife died and Dan was injured. He is attempting to get on with his life with the support of family and friends.
The topic of the session was "Spiritual Leadership," which is a high-minded phrase but really is simple.
You can see it in the kind of leadership practiced by Chapman and Wilford. They believe in the golden rule. They believe principle comes before expediency, and they believe the real mission of any top CEO in healthcare should be ensuring the well-being of every patient and that every other decision comes back to that concern.
Of course, there are leaders who fail to follow any of that. They simply want to dominate others. They will not abide anyone questioning their authority, and if someone does they are either demoted or fired. Other views are not to be thrown into the mix, because arrogant leaders don't care what others think or are too insecure to tolerate disagreements or the give-and-take of decisionmaking. Everyone has been exposed to this kind of stupidity, which destroys morale.
Maybe if more people would re-evaluate the reasons they got into healthcare, they might find they have gotten off track and need to refocus. I know this only because later in that HRDI meeting the topic of spiritual leadership came up again and the response was an eye-opener for me. Many of the CEOs believed that all the leaders in healthcare spend much too much time worrying about the business side of healthcare and have lost their focus on patients. I think with all that's going on in healthcare, that isn't necessarily surprising. A CEO has to be on the ball when it comes to fiscal matters in order to keep the institution viable. But just maybe that preoccupation has swung some people too far away from the raison d'etre-patient care.
Frankly, I'm sick of hearing about things such as access to capital, or personnel shortages and compliance and all the other things that we hear about over and over these days. Of course, this magazine rightly devotes a lot of attention to those topics. But there is another aspect of running a healthcare enterprise that doesn't get nearly as much ink, and that is where spiritual leadership comes into play.
Spiritual leaders take responsibility, look out for their colleagues and lead by example, not by dictatorial orders and punishment. They don't get preoccupied by new technology that can never take the place of the human touch. They know that no machine, no technology, no new business practice or memo or regulation can replace a simple thing such as love and tenderness and a hug. I'll have more to say about this subject in the future, but thanks to the HRDI I was able to see a whole new side of the healthcare equation from some very caring and talented CEOs.
Balance is important,
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Lauer is the author of two books, Reach for the Stars and Soar with the Eagles. For more information, go to www.chucklauer.com