When one door closes another door (or window) hopefully opens. And that’s just what happened to John Kenagy when the door he’d been walking through at Providence closed. Just off interim status, Kenagy is now the CIO at Legacy Health, and loving every minute of it. That’s because the Ph.D. with an expertise in CPOE will be able to bring his research to bear right at the point of care. Being closer to the “rugby sport” that is healthcare IT has this veteran charged up again. To learn more about his plans for improving care by implementing clinical systems at Legacy, healthsystemCIO.com caught up with the long time West-coaster.
- On leadership
- “People crave engagement and involvement”
- Collecting opinions, making decisions
- The value of mistakes
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… we spend so much of our waking time in our workplace and it’s serious and important and we have a critical mission to the organization, but we also need to make that fun and enjoy what we do and celebrate what we do.
I think that people leave jobs when they don’t feel part of a whole, when they don’t understand their connection to the larger mission.
I just think when you make a decision as a leader you need to stand behind it and stand up to it and explain it and then constantly be seeking what’s the right direction.
Guerra: About leadership, I want to touch on that again. When I was going through your LinkedIn profile there were some recommendations written by people who’d work for you. A couple of phrases I just want to run by you and have you expand on, one person noted that you’re very comfortable with yourself and you have a great sense of humor, and you joked earlier in our interview about bringing that into your work environment. We were kidding a lot about that. Obviously, you have a good sense of humor, you bring it to work, you’re very comfortable with who you are, what does that mean when we talk about those things and why does that make someone a better leader?
Kenagy: You know, I like people, love people. I love being around folks. As I said, I did the Myers Briggs here and I am an extrovert 30 so I mean maybe even 31. I just didn’t have that number on the extreme introvert. Extrovert is 30 on both sides, so if I’m thinking it, but I think that people gravitate around people who I think are comfortable with this. I think that’s a wonderful compliment. You know, we spend so much of our waking time in our workplace and it’s serious and important and we have a critical mission to the organization, but we also need to make that fun and enjoy what we do and celebrate what we do. After I was here about three and a half months, we had a celebration. We, for all intents and purposes, shut down everything for a couple of hours and just really reflected on the legacy of our work and celebrated our past and our present and our future, and I think that that really touched a lot of people. We highlighted some of our big milestones in the past and predicted some new ones for the remainder of this decade.
I think that people leave jobs when they don’t feel part of a whole, when they don’t understand their connection to the larger mission. I do think that people crave engagement and involvement, and I think leaders who show that, who are in touch with that, who like people, find others gravitate around them. We really feel the loss when that human connection is gone.
Guerra: I just have one more question for you — on your LinkedIn profile in a recommendation, someone wrote about your willingness to fully accept ideas and that you’re always open to suggestions. How can a leader solicit opinions in a respectful way but still leave themselves open to making the final decisions?
Kenagy: Well, you have to do that. I mean you have to do that. One, it isn’t democracy. That’s such an overused term, and it has such negative connotations, but ultimately the person accountable, the person who’s in the firing seat if something goes wrong is the CIO for good or bad, and I think that you can easily get into analysis paralysis. You know, as you were asking the question I kind of knew where that question was ending and what came to mind is a thought that there’s a phase that I go through that I think might be subtle and might be in my own mind between forming an opinion and seeking disconfirming data. Boy, do I find a lot of leaders are not comfortable with that, and it’s something I need to continue to practice, but it’s easy to find people who will agree with what you want to do. I know a couple people or I’ve worked with some folks who will actually mentally ignore disconfirming data because it doesn’t fit with their paradigm, and so you got a phase of where you’re gathering data, you’ve made a decision and direction and then you continue to go in a phase of defending what that decision is and explaining it to people.
What I would aspire to follow is where you do your data gathering and decision making as thoroughly and as expeditiously as you need or can, and then you make a decision and then are always open to people questioning it. Maybe not challenging the decision overly, I don’t like insubordination, but I think as a leader, one of the things is to stand up and say, “Here’s the decision I made and these are the facts upon which I based it and this is the direction I’m going and I want you all onboard,” and the being able to subtly or even radically change that when new information that wasn’t known or wasn’t perceived comes to light. You know I love the saying that experience comes from bad decisions.
I think that we’re doing a process here at Legacy that our Chief Nurse, Carol Bradley, has brought called the just culture. I highly recommend everyone in IS look out for this. The book is called Whack-a-Mole and it’s this whole effort around humans make mistakes and you need to be both accountable but also transparent and the whole thing about the airline industry and safety and being open to errors and the culture of safety and the culture of openness. This just culture is kind of a momentum around that. I just think when you make a decision as a leader you need to stand behind it and stand up to it and explain it and then constantly be seeking what’s the right direction. I respect people who are a lot more unilateral in their decision making, know a lot, make a lot of decisions by the gut, it’s just I am more of a team decision making player and I think people are different. That’s my style, and it’s not the only style that can be successful by any means, but I love it.
You know, it’s interesting when you are an inclusive decision making staff, particularly if you’ve followed people who are not used to that, and so when you say to them, “Well, what do you think of that opinion?” They said, “Oh my god, it’s the most brilliant thing I’ve ever heard. Wow, you are just great.” So I say, “No, actually, I am seeking your opinion, not just flattery.” That can be off putting until people get to know who you are and that it’s safe to say. “Here’s my take on it.”