In recent years, I’ve written and spoken a lot about consequential leadership. History has presented us with far too many examples to share here: Abraham Lincoln, Ernest Shackleton, Rosa Parks, Amelia Earhart, and John Lewis are a few names that immediately come to mind.
As we watch Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine unfold night by night, attack by attack, and tweet by tweet, the gut-wrenching and heartbreaking scenes expose an unimaginable magnitude of inhumanity. At the same time, we’re witnessing an unforeseen spirit of resilience, patriotism, and heroism emerge that reveals the best of humanity.
No one personifies the consequential leadership we are observing more than Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy. It has been said that a crisis doesn’t build character—it reveals it. The heroic response to this crucible has demanded much of Zelenskyy and his people. But it has revealed even more about the character of this unfamiliar leader and country than any of us ever expected.
As I reflect on this past week, there are five virtues of consequential leadership Zelenskyy and his brave comrades are illuminating for us we can learn from.
Conviction: Consequential leaders know—and honor—their purpose. They recognize their responsibility to use the talent, health, education, opportunities, and influence they are blessed with to solve big problems and do really hard things. And in rare circumstances—like Zelenskyy’s— they are called to do things no person should ever have to do. While most of us devote our lives to preparing to be the leader we want to be, in moments of consequence, we must become the leaders the world needs us to be.
Courage: Consequential leaders have the fearlessness to live their purpose—even under life-threatening conditions. It’s easy for us to talk about our convictions when times are good from the comfort and safety of our corporate suites and government offices. But how many of us and our political leaders would, or could, summon the primal valor we’re seeing Zelenskyy and his lieutenants model?
Composure: Consequential leaders thrive under fire and in times of great uncertainty. There is no blueprint for moments of consequence like the one Zelenskyy is facing. There is no playbook for responding to the unprovoked invasion of your country by a neighboring world superpower. However, leaders of consequence like Zelenskyy don’t panic. They stay calm, rational, and in control. They know that panic fuels fear and that composure catalyzes confidence.
Communication: Consequential leaders communicate frequently, authentically, and truthfully. They speak to our minds, move our hearts, and have the intuition to know when and how to deliver the hard truth as well as realistic hope. Consequential leaders like Zelenskyy are brutally blunt about the abundance of resources they are lacking, but they also remind us of the prosperity of blessings we have—things like family, friends, country, and faith.
Compassion: Finally, consequential leaders put serving others ahead of serving themselves. Zelenskyy and leaders like him put the public interest ahead of their self-interest. While most leaders measure their success in the world, consequential leaders measure their significance on the world. It is never too late for any of us to rethink how we gauge our leadership impact.
It is unclear how the battle over Ukraine will play out. But it is unambiguously clear this moment will redefine leadership for generations. As in all moments of great consequence, history will judge Zelenskyy and Putin, as well as other world leaders, by how they acted–and the consequences of their humanity and inhumanity.
As New York Times columnist David Brooks tweeted yesterday: “Would you be Zelenskyy? Would I? What a high and heroic standard that guy has set for us in the years ahead.”
In the era of great awakening, leaders have to step up and be conscious about building trust with people they work with.
The old rules and hierarchies, that were already becoming obsolete, have now been thrown out of the window. People look for integration of work and well-being knowing that work is what you do, not a place you go to.
Opportunities are abound and excellent people have ample choices (they always had). It is high time that organizations and leaders think this through carefully to first align their own mindset to this new reality and then take conscious actions to build teams, practices and processes that are not just high-performing but also have a strong fabric of trust woven in.
Employees, after all, are volunteers who exercise their choice of working with you. Effective leadership is about making it worth for them.
Building high-trust environment means putting the human back at the center of how a business functions and building everything – purpose, culture, processes, structures, rituals, systems, tools and mindsets – around it.
How would we know if we are working in an environment where we can trust others and that we are trusted? We can always answer this based on our intrinsic feeling but if you are a leader who is working hard to build trust, here are a few vital signs that you need to look for.
A lot of communication in the workplace is conducted electronically. However, it is essential for hospital and health system leaders to have face-to-face conversations with employees in some situations.
Becker’s asked healthcare executives to share the interactions they prioritize when they’re in person at their organizations. Many expressed their preference for the deeper connections in-person interactions allow, citing inspiration and team building as reasons to facilitate face-to-face communication. Below are their responses:
Russell F. Cox. President and CEO of Norton Healthcare (Louisville, Ky.): Healthcare, by its very nature, requires in-person interactions.
With the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, we made a quick and successful shift to virtual visits for the safety of our patients and providers. This enabled patients with a variety of time and transportation constraints to receive convenient care from a trusted provider. However, telemedicine will never completely replace in-person visits, and the opportunity for our patients and community to interact in-person with our patient care providers is very important to me, and to our team.
And, although the pandemic created the need for virtual meetings, I have always prioritized in-person interactions and meetings with all team members. Whether that be rounding in our hospitals and facilities, holding in-person meetings, celebrating employee accomplishments or milestones, or dropping by one of our community vaccine or testing centers — web meetings will never replace what can be accomplished face to face. It became even more important to interact in person with our caregivers and employees during the pandemic. It was important to show my support for their hard work and extraordinary sacrifices during this time. I’m thankful that with the vaccine, more in-person events, with proper safety precautions, are resuming.
Our motto has been and continues to be: Stay safe. Keep the faith.
Jim Dunn, PhD. Executive Vice President and Chief People and Culture Officer of Atrium Health (Charlotte, N.C.): Recognition is part of our organizational DNA, and in-person delivery is an essential component of that — especially as we continue working through the COVID-19 pandemic. One thing our teammates love is the “Surprise Patrol,” which we employ for some of our most special and meaningful awards, such as our annual Pinnacle Award — the highest award given by our organization to those who best exemplify our Culture Commitments: Belong, Work as One, Trust, Innovate and Excellence. Executives, leaders, teammates and loved ones come together to celebrate honorees with balloons, cupcakes, cheers and even a few happy tears. Our honorees are shocked, uplifted and proud to be recognized in-person for their outstanding accomplishments, and our “Surprise Patrol” participants are honored to be a part of such a special moment. Whether we’re celebrating small wins, personal successes, birthdays or prestigious awards, in-person recognition — where and when possible — is a vital part of the teammate experience and culture at Atrium Health.
Robert Gardner. CEO of Banner Ironwood Medical Center (Queen Creek, Ariz.) and Banner Goldfield Medical Center (Apache Junction, Ariz.): Over the past few years in particular, I’ve spent some time reflecting on the differences between motivation and inspiration. More often than not, it seems like leaders don’t know the differences and often confuse the two as being synonymous or interchangeable. Put in overly simplified terms, I see motivation as being the metaphorical carrot or the stick. We can motivate with reward (aka the carrot) and with discipline (aka the stick), and both are used frequently in life. Motivation tends to be more surface level. However, inspiration is something much deeper, more intimate, and therefore much more complex. Inspiration is getting to a point of genuinely desiring to change, do more, be better, etc.
For me, knowing the differences is critical when it comes to prioritizing being in person in the workplace. Virtual meetings, emails, newsletters and other forms of electronic communication can work incredibly well when it comes to items of motivation; and believe me, there are plenty of these items. However, when it comes time to inspire the team, I heavily prioritize these meetings to take place in person. Items that fall into this category will be mission-critical initiatives and overall reminders on living our mission, purpose values, etc. It’s so ironic to me that despite the increasing complexity, regulation, bureaucracy and proverbial red tape that healthcare has become famous for, that an inspirational dose of simplicity has more effect on change than any other bestseller leadership book on how to motivate performance through some sort of complicated multistep process.
Brian Koppy. Chief Financial Officer of Cano Health (Miami): As a rapidly growing primary care provider, we have found that face-to-face interactions at our offices are as essential as they are in our medical centers. Our providers provide the best care when they see patients in person because it builds lifelong bonds that improve patient outcomes. In our offices, our team members feel more connected and integrated into the Cano Health family when we are together, both formally and informally. This, of course, does not mean we do not have a flexible work environment, which we do. It simply means our priority is on the employee benefits and outcomes that come from working in the office.
At the beginning of the pandemic, we moved many corporate employees to remote work and moved about 95 percent of our patient interactions to televisits. That did not last long, however. Within a month or two, our employees were asking to come back to the office. Our medical centers never closed their doors, and our visits rapidly returned to mostly in person.
It’s the seemingly inconsequential daily interactions that often have the greatest impact on a company’s employees and their connection to the mission, values and culture of the organization. The quick stop-ins to someone’s workstation, the chance hallway encounters, the team lunches — these are so important in developing relationships and, in turn, maximizing efficiency. Employees who know and personally interact with each other work better together. They discuss ideas, they strategize freely, and they execute on the company’s goals together and more effectively.
At Cano Health, our high-touch approach to primary care is key to our success. And we believe that daily face-to-face interactions among employees are equally important to create a rewarding experience for our employees, but also expanding Cano Health’s services across the country.
Christopher O’Connor. President and incoming CEO of Yale New Haven (Conn.) Health:We are prioritizing one-on-one meetings and small groups. With our vaccination mandate, we feel it is critical to have that in-person contact and fill that void that video can’t replicate. This is a relationship business, and spending the time to build and nurture those relationships is critical.
Thomas J. Senker. President of MedStar Montgomery Medical Center (Olney, Md.): Before and especially during the pandemic our priority has been the well-being and engagement of our front-line staff and essential personnel. And while in-person activities have been limited, our executive team makes regular rounds visiting each unit, expressing gratitude, providing snacks and refreshments, and sharing important hospital updates directly. We believe these face-to-face interactions are critical opportunities to gain feedback and focus on areas of improvement across different areas of MedStar Montgomery Medical Center’s operations.
After a confusing week of mixed messaging and conflicting opinions from the public health officials advising the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), late Thursday night CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky announced her decision to recommend COVID booster vaccines for adults over 65, residents of long-term care facilities, and those younger than 65 with underlying medical conditions.
Controversially, Dr. Walensky contradicted the CDC’s own Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) by also recommending that people who are at greater risk of COVID exposure due to occupation or institutional setting—including healthcare workers and teachers—receive a booster shot. Earlier Thursday, ACIP members voted down a recommendation to provide boosters to healthcare workers, despite the FDA’s endorsement of that approach earlier in the week.
By Friday morning, President Biden announced he would soon get a booster shot himself, urging those eligible to do so, and re-emphasizing the administration’s primary focus on delivering first doses to those still unvaccinated. There will be more to come on boosters: the FDA and CDC guidance only applies to those who received the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine at least six months ago; boosters for the Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines are still under review.
This week’s saga caps a month of back-and-forth between public health officials, the White House, and the medical community, following Biden’s August promise—considered by many to be premature—that boosters would be broadly available starting September 20th. The inclusion of healthcare workers in the booster campaign is welcome news; we were flummoxed by ACIPs decision to bypass that critical segment, given mounting hospital staffing shortages amid the surging Delta variant.
More broadly, we’re increasingly distressed by the relatively uncoordinated and poorly-managed communication approach of the Biden administration on vaccines—particularly following a campaign in which competence was touted as a key advantage over the previous administration.