I was talking the other day with someone who speaks with executives in various industries, including healthcare. I was fascinated with some of his observations about healthcare chief executive officers and how they relate to their employees. He said that most CEOs he had met were "uptight" and walked around looking like they had just lost their best friend. I said he may not understand the tremendous pressure healthcare executives faced today. They have every reason to look serious, even glum. But he went on to make the point that what he has discovered both in and out of healthcare is that most executives don't realize the anger and disrespect that many people have for their bosses. He then cited many examples of his point.
While he was talking, I remembered an incident that happened to me not too long ago. I had asked a hospital CEO for a referral to a specialist affiliated with his facility. A few days later I went to see the doctor, who asked me how I knew the CEO. He then proceeded, unprompted, to say some unkind things about the executive. From what I could gather, his complaint had to do with an indoor garage the hospital was building, which didn't have adequate parking for staff physicians. Mind you, up to this point the doctor hadn't even asked me what it was that I needed to see him about. I had to listen to his tirade for some time before he finally got on with the examination.
I remember that incident so well because the CEO in question believes he has done a superb job of leading his organization and that physicians and others in his organization have a great deal of respect his leadership abilities. I have spoken with other staffers at the same hospital and they too are not happy with the way things are going. They mention the CEO as the reason there is not enough communication among staff and that morale among the physicians and nurses is so low.
I happen to believe the CEO in question is a hard-working, dedicated person. The problem may be he has spread himself too thin, with quite a few outside commitments, including boards. Whatever the reason, the man doesn't have a clue about the level of discontent in his organization.
In his book, Power: Its Use and Abuse, Terence Moore, the president of MidMichigan Regional Health System in Midland, Mich., touches on this very situation. He suggests, "Executives at all levels need objective feedback about how their actions are perceived. One way to do this is to have an evaluation form that guarantees anonymity for those completing it. Even then the results will be skewed toward the positive as the subordinates do not wish to invite the wrath of their superior by saying exactly what they think. ... I have an acquaintance who gave out seven such evaluation forms to his various subordinates which were to be returned to an independent party. The independent party received 11 responses. The subordinates ripped him apart and wanted to assure that he would never know who had done it." Moore also claims that most managers have a different view of themselves than their subordinates' views.
In the same chapter, Moore goes on to quote a prominent healthcare consultant's findings concerning how subordinates view their bosses. The consultant had been involved with more than 5,000 managers and here is what he found:
* Many employees fear their senior leadership. They feel intimidated by them and seldom see them as real people.
* Employees who talk honestly about their feelings toward top management speak with disgust and aversion.
* Many attitude surveys today show that senior management in all companies is less credible than ever before.
* Most senior managers are so distant from the employee population that they have little sense of what is really occurring in the organization.
* Many senior managers actually feel uncomfortable with employees.
Unless an executive has the courage and focus to realize that if his or her actions serve to lower morale in their organizations, the executive has to be willing to change his or her behavior. Most executives want to do the right thing and believe they are because they are surrounded by executives who try to protect them and not tell them what the real situation is. Executives worth their salt pay very close attention to how people are reacting to them.
No one likes to be criticized, but unless bosses are willing to pay attention to their people, morale and productivity eventually suffer. They have to know that people are afraid of putting their careers on the line to criticize their boss. It's up to the boss to create the climate in which a free exchange of information about performance is possible.
How many leaders today would be willing to have a third party take a poll of how their rank and file perceives their capabilities and actions? Sure we would say publicly it would be OK, but the real truth is that most of us would be apprehensive.
And yet anyone who wants to be a truly great leader must be willing to find out the consequences of his or her actions and be able to correct them if necessary. Great leaders worry more about their people than they do about themselves. They believe in what is called "servant leadership," which entails helping people to achieve success. And success is what ultimately reflects well on the person in charge.
Listen, then lead,
Charles S. Lauer
Vice President-Publishing/Editorial Director