Rulon Stacey seems to have done a little bit of everything on his way to becoming a nationally recognized expert on healthcare leadership and quality improvement.
He's run hospital systems. While CEO of Poudre Valley Health System in Colorado the organization won the Baldrige National Quality Award, and Stacey now chairs the Board of Overseers for the prestigious award. He's written books and influential articles and taught university classes.
But the secret to Stacey's success may be the ability to figure out what not to do. Stacey said a friend once told him, “You can do anything. But you can't do everything.”
“That's a valuable lesson for leaders,” Stacey said. “You have to prioritize.”
Now working for consulting firm Navigant, Stacey will have a chance to focus more on changes to improve quality in healthcare delivery and implement ideas for improvement more broadly. Stacey was hired in May as a managing director in the firm's healthcare operation and as head of the Navigant Leadership Institute.
“If a physician changes a practice pattern, it's going to impact 30 or 40 patients,” Stacey said. But if systemic changes are made by multiple hospital systems, “you're going to impact 100,000 or 500,000 patients a year. We have an ability to impact care on an extraordinary scale.”
Stacey, 56, a past chairman of the American College of Healthcare Executives and a former recipient of the organization's Robert S. Hudgens Memorial Award for Young Healthcare Executive of the Year, this year is being presented the ACHE's Gold Medal Award, its highest honor.
Colleagues say part of what has made Stacey successful, and others open to his ideas, is his collaborative style.
“He likes to work the problem with you instead of just 'I'll tell you what to do and you implement it,' ” said David Burik, also a managing director in Navigant's healthcare practice.
Stacey said being open to others' ideas is essential. “One of the things that makes me know an organization is on the verge of significant, sustainable improvement is when people find out someone does something better and people are no longer intimidated by it—they look for it.”
Colleagues also like working with Stacey because, they say, he is genuinely a nice guy who looks out for others' interests. Stacey said that's just his personality and who he is. And he can't see operating any other way.
“I've seen mean people destroy careers—and lives—and I don't get it,” Stacey says. “You can't be successful long-term stepping on people.”