Beware Your Leadership Shadow
Last week, at the 2nd annual Lean Healthcare Transformation Summit, I moderated the CEO Panel discussion that featured four excellent Lean leaders: Jim FitzPatrick of Mercy Medical Center (North Iowa), Scott Armstrong (Group Health), Alan Gleghorn (Christie Clinic), and Dr. Gary Kaplan (Virginia Mason).
The CEOs shared a lot of insights, but one theme that came up was the idea, introduced by FitzPatrick, of a leader's long shadow and how you have to be careful with where it lands.
During his introductory statement, FitzPatrick told a story from his hospital. I'm paraphrasing from memory, so some of the details might not be totally correct. FitzPatrick has been at this hospital 25+ years with at least 10 as CEO. He recalled how he was walking through the cafeteria and an employee said, proudly:
“We're finally serving peas again after 18 years.”
FitzPatrick asked why that was and the woman said:
“Don't you remember the time you said you hate peas?”
My corny transition comment, as referenced to yesterday, was “I think Jim's key message is to give peas a chance.” Well, it got a laugh. Always good at serious minded healthcare improvement events!
FitzPatrick clearly didn't mean for his statement to be interpreted as “don't you dare ever serve peas around here.” But it happened. People often misinterpret a leader the way a Myers-Briggs “introvert” might mistakenly take action on something an “extrovert” blurts out. In the Myers-Briggs framework, introverts tend to think through everything before they say it, while extroverts to think out loud. The introvert takes action on something the extrovert leader says… assuming (sometimes incorrectly) that if the extrovert said it, it must have been a directive statement (“don't serve peas”) instead of just an expression of personal preference. So there could be more involved than simple employee/leader dynamics.
I'm paraphrasing FitzPatrick's takeaway, but he learned to be much more mindful of his “leadership shadow” and how people might interpret things.
Gary Kaplan chimed in with stories of how what the CEO does gets seen and widely interpreted. He used examples such as “If I'm carrying coffee with me, then clearly it's OK for everyone to eat or drink in patient areas.” and “If I'm checking email during meetings, clearly that's OK.”
So he's mindful of leading by example – even if you think you're not being watched, somebody is seeing what you're doing and they're drawing conclusions from that.
Good reminders to be mindful of that shadow we cast…