Most of the readers of this magazine are leaders, and most are interested in finding new ways to lead with grace, honor and effectiveness. Many of us buy books that espouse theories on how to lead, and when it is feasible we try to implement some of the ideas and theories we have read about.
I just finished reading Followership by Tom Atchison, president and founder of Atchison Consulting Group. He's been in the consulting business since 1984. He has authored other books, including Turning Healthcare Leadership Around, and co-authored Leading Transformational Change: The Physician-Executive Partnership. He's consulted with all kinds of stakeholders in the healthcare industry including the military, vendors, governmental agencies and senior executives.
A number of things caught my fancy as I read Atchison's book. One had to do with U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell. Powell has a reputation as a great leader. People trust him and believe what he says and because of these obvious strengths they are willing to follow him. Atchison mentions the appendix to Oren Harari's book The Leadership Secrets of Colin Powell in which Powell provides 18 lessons in leadership. The rules underline Powell's belief that, "Leadership is the art of accomplishing more than the science of management says is possible."
Here are some of my favorite Powell rules:
* Being responsible sometimes means making people mad.
* Don't be buffaloed by experts and elites. Experts often possess more data than judgment.
* Don't be afraid to challenge the pros, even in their own back yard.
* Never neglect the details. When everyone's mind is dulled or distracted, the leader must be doubly vigilant.
* You don't know what you can get away with until you try.
* Organizations don't really accomplish anything. Plans don't accomplish anything, either. Theories of management don't much matter. Endeavors succeed or fail because of the people involved. Only by attracting the best people will you accomplish great deeds.
* Organization charts and fancy titles count for next to nothing.
* Perpetual optimism is a force multiplier.
* Powell's Rules for Picking People: Look for intelligence and judgment, and most critically, a capacity to anticipate, to see around corners. Also, look for loyalty, integrity, a balanced ego, energy and the drive to get things done.
* Great leaders are almost always great simplifiers, who can cut through argument, debate and doubt to offer a solution everyone can understand.
* The commander in the field always is right and the rear echelon is wrong, unless proven otherwise.
* Command is lonely.
In one of the more provocative passages in Followership, Atchison explores some common myths about mission statements. One myth is "Mission statements are for the community, not for management." A mission statement stands for one thing and that is what an organization or business is all about. Unfortunately, too many healthcare executives have found out the hard way that if they don't have a well-defined mission statement that everyone believes in and practices, then there is no basic purpose for the organization. Mission statements are critically important to the success of any company, and they should be simple and basic. For instance, Atchison uses the mission statement of H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center & Research Institute in Tampa, Fla., as an example of how a mission statement underpins all decisions and leaves no room for confusion as to what the organization is all about: "To contribute to the prevention and cure of cancer."
Leadership is a hot topic right now, and there are a lot of leadership models that make good sense, but they all have a few things in common. They all revolve around humility, a positive attitude, treating others with dignity and respect, and surrounding one's self with good people. Atchison offers characteristics he believes are essential to quality leaders: competence, integrity, consistency, courage and humility.
In his epilogue, Atchison issues this warning: "The sadness in writing this book came from the realization that a large group of healthcare executives seem to live only to create an environment that ensures self-preservation. These are the titled executives who at best do not hurt anyone and who at worst are so self-absorbed that they create toxic work environments. An executive title without followers has an illusion of power. These titled executives create a workplace without a soul."
There is no question in my mind that we can do much better, and I know from personal experience that a great number of very competent leaders are working hard to earn the respect of their employees in pursuit of a better healthcare industry. After all, great leadership is an art, not a profession, and it needs to be replenished frequently with heavy doses of common sense and an appreciation of others.
Now is the time,
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Lauer is the author of two books, Reach for the Stars and Soar with the Eagles, and is an experienced guest lecturer available for public speaking engagements. For more information, visit www.chucklauer.com.